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Long Exposure Photography and the Square Format

Square format black and white photograph

The rise in popularity of digital cameras over the past decade has coincided with the emergence of a new genre of photography – long exposure photography. Long exposure photography involves using shutter speeds of anything from one second to five minutes or more while using a tripod to keep the camera still. The result is a landscape or architectural study characterised by still elements, such as rocks or a building, contrasting with moving elements, such as water or clouds in the sky. Most long exposure photographers use neutral density filters to obtain long shutter speeds and would probably aim to use a shutter speed of at least thirty seconds to obtain their effects.

Digital cameras greatly assist with long exposure photography because there is no reciprocity failure with digital and the instant feedback provided by the LCD screen lets photographers see right away how effective the composition is.

Square format black and white photograph

If you are familiar with the work of some of the more well-known long exposure photographers then you would no doubt have noticed that many of them choose to work in both black and white and the square format. Why is this?

Let’s start with black and white. Monochrome is the medium of choice for many fine art photographers. It’s moody, timeless, evocative and expressive. Removing colour from the composition concentrates attention on texture, contrast, line and light – the visual building blocks of powerful imagery.

The square format is different from other aspect ratios because of its balanced shape. The four sides of a square are equal in length and encourage the viewer’s eye to move around the frame in a circle, rather than side-to-side or up and down. The square frame lends itself to compositions that contain strong shapes, lines or other graphic elements. The strong shape of the square frame seems to emphasise other shapes that appear within it.

Not all long exposure photographers work exclusively in black and white or the square format, but many of them do. The heavy emphasis on simplicity led composition in the long exposure photography genre marries well with the compositional strengths of the square format.

Square format black and white photograph

Long exposure photographers

Looking at the work of other photographers is an excellent way to learn more about the creative side of photography. The following is a list of some of my favourite long exposure photographers. Each photographer in this list works predominantly in black and white and the square format. You will learn a lot from their work.

I have interviewed many of these photographers on my website. You can work your way through the interviews here.

Photographer Nathan Wirth has also interviewed some of these photographers on his blog Slices of Silence.


I hope you enjoyed looking through the work of the photographers listed above. If you’d like to find out more about long exposure photography, then Joel Tjintjelaar’s website BWVision is an excellent place to start. The tutorials page has plenty of information to get you started.

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Andrew S. Gibson
Andrew S. Gibson

is a writer, photographer, traveler and workshop leader. He’s an experienced teacher who enjoys helping people learn about photography and Lightroom. Join his free Introducing Lightroom course or download his free Composition PhotoTips Cards!

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