Manchester by Night – The Big Wheel

So tonight I decided to get out of the flat and have a wander around the city centre.

Now that the nights are closing in early I thought it would be a good opportunity to get some shots of the city by night without having to stay out too late.

I have always been a fan of using long exposure to give a still photographs movement. It’s not exactly rocket science, simply extending the length of time the shutter is opened for will mean that any element of the scene that is moving during this time will become blurred in the photo. There is a bit of an art to getting the effect to work. It all depends on the speed of the moving items, the amount light in the scene and exactly how much blur you are after.

Being in the city centre there was a large amount of artificial lighting, some of which I needed for the photo, some of which I could have done without.

My chosen subject for tonight was the large wheel in the city centre, by the Arndale Centre.  Probably not the most original of subjects as a quick internet search would prove but I figured I would try and get something I hadn’t seen before.

Firstly, if anyone is interested in this sort of thing, for long exposure photography, a tripod is essential. The downside of leaving the shutter open longer is that the chance of the camera moving during the exposure is greatly increased.  Even the steadiest of hands would struggle to shoot a 30 second exposure without introducing the dreaded camera shake blur.

Mounting the camera on a sturdy tripod all but eliminates this problem. One thing that also helps is “shutter delay”. This is a setting available on most DSLR cameras.  Strangely, camera shake can be introduced by the camera itself. Vibration from the movement of the internal mirror during the exposure process can lead to the same effect as your hands shaking. The exposure delay setting simply adds a time delay between the mirror movement and the shutter opening in order to give the vibration time to die out. Simple and genius.

OK, enough of the tech, to the photos!

The first one is just to set the scene. The whole wheel, from right in front, to keep the circle as uniform as possible

Manchester Wheel by Night

As you can see, the long exposure has resulted in the blurring of the moving wheel, whilst the unmoving parts of the photo remain sharp.  As I mentioned earlier the city is full of artificial light, which can play havoc with the white balance in a photo.  For these photos I shot the image in RAW, knowing that the WB could be a problem. RAW, as well as a million other things, gives you the chance to alter the WB on your computer if the camera hasn’t managed to get it quite right.

OK, so basic shot there, as probably shot a million times but hey, it still looks cool.

In the first photo you can see that the individual carriages of the wheel are not visible. This is due to the fact that the wheel was turning throughout the whole 30 seconds exposure so at no point were they able to produce a still image of themselves on the sensor.

For the next shot I wanted to be able to see the carriages but maintain the movement aspect. For this I needed to time the shot so that for a part of the exposure the carriages were moving and for the rest of the time they were still. Took a little patience but here we go…

Showing the movement but keeping the detail of the carriages.

As you can see this has worked quite nicely. During the time the wheel was still, the carriages and the frame give a crisp image. During the time the wheel was moving, the blue lights give us the interesting trails of light we saw in the first photo.

Next I tried a similar close up but using the same technique as the first shot, ensuring a smooth blur with the motion of the wheel.

Close up of the Wheel

I really like this one, it looks like Saturn’s rings or the edge of some intergalactic racetrack.

For the last shot, I wanted to try and capture the wheel from a different perspective. Now the word wheel instantly makes you thing of something round, obviously. So how about this one…

A different perspective on the wheel

If you hadn’t figured it out, this shot was taken looking at the wheel from the side, so that the carriages were coming towards me and up in front of me.

Now this is something I haven’t seen before so I’m pretty pleased with this. To me it looks like a giant slide, but made of light.

So that’s it for the wheel. As you can imagine there are a million things you can experiment with when it comes to long exposure. Traffic makes a great subject, as you can see from the photo at the top of my blog, one of my all time favourites, taken on the glorius island of Madeira at Christmas.

Also, you don’t have to be limited to the night for long exposure. If you look up ND filters and their uses, you’ll find a multitude of subjects. I may well write a blog about the subject one day.

Right, that’s all for now, hope you’ve enjoyed reading.




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