Your web browser is out of date. Update your browser for more security, speed and the best experience on this site.
Find out more
The Shard From The North Bank
CREDIT: Mark Godfrey LRPS

Long Exposure Cityscapes

by Mark Godfrey LRPS

 Long Exposure Cityscapes by Mark Godfrey LRPS

I’m a member of the RPS Landscape Group, but wouldn’t call myself a landscape photographer, unlike my friend who spends weeks looking for the right weather conditions, traipses for miles over rough terrain and waiting hours to get the picture – but he takes brilliant landscape photographs. My main interest is street/documentary photography and capturing a moment where you have little time, but plenty of opportunities to capture another if you miss that one. However, cityscapes are something that really interest me and combines well with my love of street photography.

I recently attended, together with seven other photographers an RPS Long Exposure workshop with Nigel Wilson in London. We were on the banks of the Thames at the centre of hustle and bustle, but in our own world and ready to create a picture. 

The approach to long exposure cityscape photography reminds me of going fishing with my dad fifty years ago; enjoying the moment and the surroundings, taking your time to get everything in place, and not being able to predict what you might catch, or what the image will look like. However, as with every genre of photography, it’s all about the light.

To create a good long exposure cityscape a number of factors need to come together; the composition, the technical accuracy of the exposure and the use of filters. This is not a quick process, like all landscape photography, and nor should it be. 

Composing the photograph to me is key, before the technical aspects come into play. Once you have what you believe is a good composition, the amount of polarisation must be set and the exposure determined. As advised by Nigel, I set my camera to the lowest ISO setting, 64, to get the highest quality image and a small aperture in order to get a longer shutter speed. I was generally working at around F11, which gave me a metered shutter speed of between 1/30th and 1/15 th of a second.

The next step is to attach the Neutral Density filter, I mostly used an ND 3.0 (10 stop) filter. Using the Lee Filters Stopper Exposure app (other apps are available), I set the camera to the adjusted shutter speed which was calculated to be between 30 seconds and one minute. As the day went on, I gained more confidence to try longer exposures of between two and four minutes, which meant adjusting other settings. I also tried using more than one ND filter, an ND 3.0 and an ND 0.9, making 13 stops in total. This is definitely an area for more practice.

To me the results from this genre of photography can seem quite ethereal, with dramatic skies, dreamy water and a deserted landscape with the absence of people.

Nigel provided expert tuition and support throughout the day. He wasn’t taking photographs himself, but devoted all of his time to us individually and as a group. We had several opportunities for shooting as we walked the south bank from Blackfriars Bridge to Tower Bridge, and then the north side back to Blackfriars. 

I’d love to have come back with numerous images, but as photographers, my view is that we must manage our expectations. The reality is that if I get one from a day’s shooting, I’m very pleased, but I think I came away with two or three decent images, however, I’ll let you be the judge of that. 

It was a long day, in hot weather, which I enjoyed immensely and would wholeheartedly recommend Nigel’s workshop. I’m only beginning to learn about long exposure cityscape photography, but came away wanting to do much more. I think I’m hooked.

The Shard from the North Bank, 36 seconds at f16, ISO 64

The Millennium Bridge, 4 minutes, at f16, ISO 64

The Walkie-Talkie and the Cheese-grater, 36 seconds at f16, ISO 64

All images © Mark Godfrey LRPS

This article was featured in the RPS Landscape Group's Newsletter, September 2022.