Not long ago I was sitting in my car by a seawall, watching fishermen surf casting. As daylight faded, a nearly full moon began to rise behind them and light up the water in a beautiful silver and blue pattern.
Despite how bright the moonlight looked on the water, the exposure times were still far too long for handheld exposures, even when I raised the ISO of my Nikon D90 to its max of ISO 3200. I considered using a tripod, but with such long exposures and with the fishermen constantly moving, I knew a tripod wouldn’t help that much.
Trying Something New, Even Through the Windshield
As an experiment, I started shooting handheld exposures (mostly of this one fisherman) with the lens resting on my steering wheel. I had to focus on him manually because, as bright as the water looks here, the camera was still having trouble focusing and I was shooting through the windshield (something I would never do unless I was after an abstract image and true sharpness didn’t matter).
Rather than try to constrain my exposures to times when he was relatively still, I just ignored his motion completely. In fact, I hoped he would move around to add to the abstract nature of my experiments. I ended up shooting several dozen exposures of him and another fisherman using exposure times ranging from 1.5 to 6 seconds. The lens was almost wide open at f/4.5. As I watched the long exposures pop up on the LCD I began to love the shapes of the soft silhouettes against the silvery blue water.
Making the Most of What You Have
Surprisingly, most of the frames are interesting and each is somewhat unique. The fishermen’s motion, the motion of the waves, and the intensity of the moonlight were constantly changing. I’m really happy I tossed aside my usual obsession with sharpness and experimented using motion and moonlight to create abstract compositions.
You can’t plan a photo opportunity like this, you have to just watch the world around you and do whatever it takes to turn the moment into something visually different — even if everything you’re doing is technically wrong.