Long Exposure Photography Interview #14: Gavin Dunbar

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Long exposure photography by Gavin Dunbar

This article is part of a series of interviews with long exposure photographers to celebrate the release of my ebook Slow. You can keep track of the interviews by clicking on the Long Exposure Photography Interviews link under Categories in the right-hand sidebar.

 

Gavin Dunbar is a Scottish photographer based in Edinburgh. Scotland is famous for its beautiful and rugged landscape, as you will see in Gavin’s images. For Gavin photography is a serious hobby and he shoot mainly monochrome long exposure photos of the sea and other minimalist subjects, such as architecture.

Interview

How would you describe your photographic vision? What kind of look do you try and create in your photos?

When I took up photography three or four years ago I did not have a specific vision or style at the time. Whether I was shooting landscapes, photographing my dogs or even macro shots it was all just about being outside with the camera and exploring more of Scotland. The more I shot the less content I began to feel with my images. I really wanted to be able to create something more than just a record shot of what I saw through the lens, at the time I just did not know how to go about it. I joined Flickr on the recommendation of a friend of mine and it was then I was introduced to long exposure photography and knew right away this was the style of image I wanted to be able to create.

As I started to focus primarily on long exposures my images became more and more minimal, and my style and vision just evolved from there. I’m drawn to simple and minimalist compositions and I’m always looking at what I can take out of an image rather than what I can add in.

Name three photographers you like and why.

There are so many people I’d like to mention who have influenced and inspired me over the years, but if I was to choose just three I’ll go with Joel Tjintjelaar, Michael Levin and Hengki Koentjoro. Joel’s work inspired me to start shooting long exposures in the first place, and his award winning architectural work is truly outstanding.

Michael Levin from Canada is another photographer I greatly admire. Anyone with an interest in fine art photography will know of Michael’s work. I was fortunate to be able to go on a workshop with Michael in Belgium back in 2010, and that was the real turning point for my photography. I learned so much that week not only from Michael but also from all the other participants on the workshop, and from that point my whole approach towards photography changed with a view to creating an image rather than simply taking an image.

Last but not least is Hengki Koentjoro from Indonesia, who captures such fantastic light and mood in his minimalist landscapes and underwater photography – a really talented photographer.

Long exposure photography by Gavin Dunbar

Long exposure photography – what’s the attraction and why do you do it?

Long exposures give you the ability to create something so much more than just what we all see through our own eyes. Capturing the passing of time in a single image can give a location or subject a wonderfully surreal and ethereal look.

I also like the process of taking long exposures as much as I like the results. I find it extremely relaxing to just slow down and take my time shooting without feeling rushed. Once you have opened the shutter you might have several minutes between exposures. I like to use that time to sit back and relax, perhaps questioning whether I have chosen the strongest composition or even just looking around more closely at what I might want to shoot next. Spending a lot more time thinking about an image as I’m shooting, and in particular how I want the end result to look has definitely improved my photography.

There are a lot of seascapes in your portfolio. What is the attraction of the sea for you as a subject? What is your favourite place to take long exposure photos?

Living in Scotland you are never too far from the coast and I always enjoyed frequent visits to the beach when I was young. I also used to spend a lot of time windsurfing both in Scotland and abroad, and loved just being out on the water for hours on end. This affinity with the sea has transferred into my photography and I enjoy just wandering up and down the coast with my camera with nothing but the sea in front of you, I find it extremely relaxing.

As for my favourite place to shoot, it has to be the east coast of Scotland between Edinburgh and Dunbar. There are lots of great spots with varied subjects, so if the conditions are good I can jump in the car and be shooting within 30-40 minutes.

Long exposure photography by Gavin Dunbar

You also have a lot of architectural photos. How does photographing buildings differ from the landscape? In what ways is it similar?

Shooting architecture is quite different from wandering about on your own down the coast. I definitely feel well out of my comfort zone and quite self-conscious walking about the city with a camera and tripod. You have to put up with the constant stares from most passers-by and occasional interruptions from inquisitive security guards!

Minimalism is something I appreciate in architectural images as well as landscapes and seascapes, so I tend to compose with the same thought process and try to remove any unwanted clutter from the shot whilst concentrating on strong shapes, patterns or symmetry.

You took part in the Berlin photo walk earlier in the year. How was the experience for you? What did you gain from it?

Berlin is an amazing city with lots to see and shoot, but most of all it was great to catch up with friends I had not seen for a while and also put faces to people I only had contact with online. A lot of work went into the planning of the photowalk, and it was a really well organised event. We shot some superb architecture, ate lots of steak and frequently sampled the local beers!

How important is light in your imagery? What types of light do you prefer for long exposure photography?

I prefer to shoot in cloudy and low light conditions, allowing me to push the exposure times and capture even and balanced tones in my Raw files. This gives me the control and flexibility over the tones and contrasts I need when processing the images to my liking.

Long exposure photographers must be the only people who celebrate cloudy days, so you’ll often find me uttering expletives if the sun tries to make an appearance while I’m shooting! I’ll always carry an umbrella with me wherever I go and I’m quite happy to shoot in the rain, and if mist is forecast I’ll be running out the door with the camera!

It’s the complete opposite with architecture though where it works better to have more of a blue sky with light cloud cover, which is part of the reason I started shooting buildings in the first place so that I was still able to be out with the camera on sunny days.

Long exposure photography by Gavin Dunbar

There is a strong design element in your compositions – an awareness of geometry, graphic design and negative space. Do you agree? How would you sum up your approach to composition?

That’s quite a tough one to answer, as I don’t have a background in design or art! I think it comes down to years of taking photos and over time as your own style and personal vision evolves along the way, you begin to learn what works and what doesn’t work for you.

I often find it difficult to visualise and compose an image if the scene in front of me has too much going on, which is why the majority of my images are taken with my 50mm lens. The extra focal length really allows me the flexibility to control what’s in the frame and I can easily remove unwanted elements. I do enjoy my wide angle lens for some situations, but often I’ll switch back to my 50mm in order to shoot something I’m more happy with.

You crop some of your photos to the square format. Why do you do this and how does it affect the composition? How important is aspect ratio for you?

I think the square format gives a lot more flexibility over composition choice compared to wider formats, allowing you can place your subject almost anywhere within the square and the image can still work. It’s all down to personal choice though and how you want to compose the image, something you can be restricted in doing with wider formats. This helps me to simplify the composition and create a nicely balanced image.

Whilst I almost always initially approach with a view to composing as a square, going wider sometimes just works better and occasionally I’ll end up with 2:1 or even 3:1 panoramic. I just go with what feels better to my eye.

Long exposure photography by Gavin Dunbar

Why black and white? What’s the appeal?

I would like to be able to come up with a unique answer, but it’s the same for myself as for most other photographers who work primarily in black and white – colour can be an unwanted distraction and as I started to work with longer exposures and was attempting to create a more surreal look with my images, colour simply did not fit with that whole process and I found was working against me as I tried move away from capturing the reality of a location.

Removing colour allows you to accentuate the other elements of the image, wether it be strong contrasts or the subject itself. You have so much control over the tones within a black and white image – from dark blacks to bright whites, you have the freedom to really create something completely personal.

Links

Gavin Dunbar’s website
Gavin Dunbar on Flickr
Gavin Dunbar at Google Plus

Photo Gallery

Here are some more of Gavin’s photos:

Long exposure photography by Gavin Dunbar

Long exposure photography by Gavin Dunbar

Long exposure photography by Gavin Dunbar

Long exposure photography by Gavin Dunbar

Long exposure photography by Gavin Dunbar

Long exposure photography by Gavin Dunbar

Long exposure photography by Gavin Dunbar

Long exposure photography by Gavin Dunbar

Long exposure photography by Gavin Dunbar

Long exposure photography by Gavin Dunbar

Slow

Slow: The Magic of Long Exposure Photography ebook by Andrew S. Gibson

If you’d like to learn more about long exposure photography, my ebook Slow takes you through the creative possibilities of using slow shutter speeds, from blurring motion with a shutter speed of 1/30 second all the way to long exposure techniques using shutter speeds of five minutes or longer.

 

All photos in this interview are protected by copyright. Please contact the photographer for permission to use in any way.

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4 Responses to “Long Exposure Photography Interview #14: Gavin Dunbar”

  1. Great interview Gavin,
    I was looking forward to this one.

  2. sylvia says:

    Great series, Andrew. I look forward to reading more of these thoughtful interviews.

  3. David Frutos says:

    Excellent interview, Gavin!

  4. Superb interview. Gavins work deserves viewing by a wider audience in my opinion.

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