I was practicing with long exposure on this water fountain and here is what I got. I would like to know what mistakes do you see I have made and how to improve such a shot? In this location if it were you what would you have done? So I can learn something new to improve.

I had a 24-70mm lens to use on a Nikon D610.

enter image description here


11 Answers 11


You wanted to use the effect of long exposures.

What effects of long exposure are visible in your image?

Lights are blown out. For the street lamp on the right, it seems to be ok. But the neon sign is rather ugly. The name of the restaurant is hard to read. So the long exposure doesn't work on lights close to you.

The fountain becomes a closed curtain, which is interesting.

There aren't many parts that are affected by long exposure and on some parts it even has an unpleasant effect.

What other things are in the image that could be interesting, beautiful, ...?

There's a statue on the fountain which looks good with the highlights on the dark material. There's a symmetry to the basin of the fountain, but with the neon lights and the bright ugly building in the back, it will be hard to incorporate it into the image. You can blur out the background, but it will still be visible.

What other image could be taken at this fountain that uses effects of long exposure?

Get closer. Most of the surroundings should not be part of the image as they tend to look ugly under these circumstances. Getting closer to the fountain will show less of those surroundings. Place the camera on the edge of the basin. Pointing up, framing the statue and filling the bottom of the image with the curtain of water. The background should be mostly night sky, which is nice and neutral. If the angles work out, you can try and get the street light in your shot as well, acting as a wrong sun in the background, giving the statue a nice side/back light.

Edit: What mode&settings can be used for the fountain shot? S is good as it let's you choose a shutter speed (a long one), right? Well, yes, it adjusts the aperture (and maybe even iso) so the exposure is "right". But the problem is that a "right" exposure for a camera means a grey one (not too dark, not too bright). Say there's a lot of black night sky in your image. The camera will try to find the average grey exposure and as a result it will probably over expose the rest of the image. This will also brighten up the sky and it will look mushy from all the surrounding lights from the city.

In your case, a "right" exposure could be an image consisting of a lot of pure black and that's not what the camera is looking for. In manual mode, you are in control of all the settings. This however requires a bit of knowledge about what those settings do. You say "S prevented me from picking f2.8". This implies that you want to use f2.8 on this shot. This won't work, because f2.8 means the aperture is wide open (probably as wide as your lens can go), which means a lot of light can go through the lens. With that much light, it won't take long before enough light reached the sensor for a good exposure, but you want a long one. That's why the automatic S mode picked f22, which means the aperture is closed and only a bit of light goes through the lens. So the camera takes quite a while untile enough light is captured -> this allows for a long shutter speed.

If this is new to you, it is a great opportunity to learn. Go ahead and use Aperture priority mode and dial in the f2.8 that you apparently want to use and see what your camera picks as a shutter speed, it will not be a long exposure. Now dial in f22 and see how much the shutter speed changes.

Both: Long shutter speeds and small f-numbers will make the image brighter, you need something to balance. that's what the S mode did by dialing in f22.

If you want to use f2.8 anyway, you have to darken the image by some other means. Often an ND filter is used to reduce the amount of light, but this is a story for another day.

This is a good stationary subject to experiment with all this. Set up the tripod. Keep two values constant (aperture and iso, for example) and play with the other one. Don't be surprised to see all white or all black images, just keep going until something shows up. You will get a feel for what these values do.

Good luck and have fun

  • Good info! thanks. So if I go there again tonight, should I switch to Manual mode? because last night I was on "S" mode and now realized that it prevented me from picking f2.8 .. I think it was set by camera on f22 Jan 14, 2015 at 22:02
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    I edited my post to add a bit of information regarding the choice of modes. It did not fit in the comment and I had the feeling this is all new to you.
    – null
    Jan 14, 2015 at 22:55
  • 2
    NOTE: On 'A' and 'S' modes you can use the exposure compensator (probably a button that has a '+-' on/near it) to adjust the overall exposure and get around the 'camera wants to make it grey' issue. Setting it to a negative amount will make the photo come out darker, a positive amount will make it lighter.
    – MarkP
    Jan 15, 2015 at 13:54
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    sidenote: the small aperture is why the street lamp gives off star rays. You'll lose that with a larger aperture setting.
    – inkista
    Jan 15, 2015 at 17:56

The question to ask yourself here: what are you trying to achieve with this photo? I'd guessing what you're thinking of the fountain and the water, but the building in the background is just as dominant in this photo, and (in my opinion anyway) not particularly interesting.

Try and find some way to get it out of the photo - would it be possible to move yourself round to the left and use the darker trees currently in the right-hand side of the photo of the background? Is it possible to open up the aperture to give more background blur (you'd probably need an ND filter to do this)?

As a more minor point, the white balance on your photo looks a bit funny (too yellow).

  • yes my first goal was to take long exposure and blur effect on the fountain, then I saw oh the statue is nice, let's keep her in the frame, then I thought oh let's take it in a way that still the focus is the nice fountain but imagine the owner of the restaurant wants to use the picture on his website so let's refer to the restaurant too! Jan 14, 2015 at 16:06
  • In that case, I think this is a bit of "jack of all trades, master of none". Work out whether you want a photo of the fountain or a photo for the restaurant owner and take whichever photo you decide on. (Nothing here stops you taking two separate photos, of course).
    – Philip Kendall
    Jan 14, 2015 at 16:13
  • Ah I see, so with one shot can't achieve that, Gotta start learning Photoshop to do these things that combine multiple photos together. Jan 14, 2015 at 16:15

While it looks like your technique was pretty good, I think I'd have experimented a bit with composition. The fountain is clearly your subject, but there's a lot going on in the background of the photo, and I think it's really distracting from your subject.

Consider this scene:

enter image description here

As in your case, there are great details in the lower part of the fountain, but including them in the composition also pulls in a lot of busy background elements. Moving closer and shooting up at just the top portion of the fountain, however, changes the nature of the photo considerably:

enter image description here

In this case, the first photo is probably a more honest depiction of the entire scene, but I liked the simplicity of the second photo quite a bit more -- a case of "less is more", I think.


Apart from others said, what would really help this photo is blurred background (and the bright sign in top left would look great in such case!). I'm suspecting that you've had to close your aperture to get this long exposure time, thus it was impossible to get nice bokeh-y background. So what I would do if I wanted to get blurred water AND blurred background? Use a dark filter - it will allow you to have long exposure time AND wide open aperture at the same time. Focus on the statue and voila - you have a nice picture with beautiful, multicoloured blurred spots where now you can see trees, street, coloured lamps, building and neon sign!

  • " thus it was impossible to get nice bokeh-y background" yes exactly! I was in Shutter mode, so F automatically was chosen as 22 I think...Maybe should have gone to Manual mode? What is this dark filter? Do they have a commercial name I can lookup? Jan 14, 2015 at 16:14
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    I believe he or she was referring to a neutral-density (ND) filter.
    – bdesham
    Jan 14, 2015 at 20:34
  • Exactly, I just felt "neutral density" sounded too intimidating. Manual mode wouldn't help without a filter. When you have it, still stick to your camera exposure priority.
    – user100858
    Jan 15, 2015 at 7:10
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    If a camera has "raw" mode, what would you think of the idea of using a tripod to take many consecutive exposures and then averaging them together to distribute the exposure over time? Averaging multiple pictures would mean that one could afford to underexpose them, since some of the noise added by boosting contrast in post would be averaged out; underexposing would in turn give one more control over the brighter areas so one could avoid washing them out. Depending upon one's tools, using multiple exposures might also make it practical to take items which are moving during the shot...
    – supercat
    Jan 15, 2015 at 17:25
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    ...and either freeze their position (erasing the object from all but one of the frames, and copying it from that one to all of them) or remove them entirely. It would even be possible to use flash for one/some of the pictures but not others, and use weighted averaging in post-production to control the foreground/background balance.
    – supercat
    Jan 15, 2015 at 17:28

The building is just messy. Use it better, or lose it.

Move round to your left, so as to lose the building from the background. Will that put the "starburst" effect light over or behind the statue's head? Could be interesting.

Or get closer (wide-angle lens too?) and lose the fountain surround. Just have the statue and its enigmatic blurred watery support.

Or move to your right, see if you can frame the statue in the building's portico.


I would have come around to the left about 40 degrees and get the building out of the shot, which would also allow you to play with that street light. You could back light the statue etc.


The intentional blurring of the water is a nice effect. It might have been interesting to get much closer, and perhaps to shoot from a low angle, to see the effect of the lights coming through the water.

  • Strange, my immediate thought was to be further away and try to shoot from higher.
    – Holloway
    Jan 14, 2015 at 10:17
  • Try both... we're not shooting in 35mm any more, snap away
    – Jon Story
    Jan 14, 2015 at 12:17

Try to take the picture without the lights of the restaurant in the background. Try to take a side shot of the statue, so the bright lights of the restaurant don't show and take away the relevance of the statue. When you take the picture, think of a story in your head and try to create that story through the picture.


The problem with taking long exposure of illuminated subjects alongside other illuminated objects is you lose contrast with the fact it's actually quite dark. The outside of the fountain, its building, and the surrounding buildings are all far too prominent.

You want the fountain to be bright. You want to everything else to look like night.

I think you'd get the best result from stitching two or three shots together to make a sort of manual HDR image.

  • Long exposure for the fountain. Make it bright.
  • Standard exposure for the backdrop (and that ridiculous streetlight)
  • Perhaps something halfway for the nearby building.

Most proper cameras these days have exposure bracketing but that might not be enough. Play around.

Once you have a batch of images you can merge them in and raise clip out the exposure in the areas that give us contrast. This video has a pretty great workflow with Photoshop and Camera Raw. Essentially HDR merge to a 32bit TIFF with Photoshop (Hugin would probably work too for Linux users) and then use Camera Raw to "paint" on detail (or in your case, fade out detail).

Additionally, the angle of shot has the brightest part of the fountain in front of a brightly illuminated building, nuking the contrast. If this were a professional shot (and you needed the building in shot) you'd ask them to turn the relevant building lights off for five minutes.

And yeah, get that streetlight out of there.


If you find a way to avoid the bright sign (top left) the picture will be more balanced in sense of light. The same is true about the entire building. At least try to make it blur


I would use a longer lens and a higher viewpoint, to avoid including the light sources.

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