Long Exposure Photography Interview #32: Brian Day

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Long exposure photography by Brian Day

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.


Brian Day is a photographer from Detroit. Many people will be familiar with images of urban decay from the city. Brian’s work is different. Detroit is his hometown and he’s driven to show the beauty of the city and its architecture. He spends several hours a week photographing the city. He uses long exposure photography to create some of those images, and you can see the results in the photos accompanying this interview.

Interview questions

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

We live in such a chaotic, noisy world. Everything is constantly changing around us, nerves are always on edge, and there is always something competing for our time. Creatively, I would describe my photographic vision as a desire to push the mute button on our crazy world, and slow the pace way, way down. Like, bullet time slow.

Muted, and slowed down by means of the camera, the world sort of starts to resemble an oddly beautiful symphony, in my mind. I think, subconsciously, I gravitate toward very moody, brooding fare, but given some time to think about it, I like to create a dramatic, musical vibe to my photos, like the building crescendo of a symphony. To try to find order among chaos.

All that said, everything I’ve just mentioned sometimes feels like a crutch, creatively. Cliche. The truth is, my photographic vision is a wild contradiction, going from black and white to colour, from pensive long exposure to “decisive moment”, from fine art to journalistic to street photography and self-portraiture. I’m constantly in a fight with myself as to whether my “look” is visual or emotional, or whether my photographic vision is any good at all. But what I do know for sure is that I love the act of making a photograph, of stopping time, of framing the world differently so as to show something interesting that we may easily overlook in the hectic pace of life.

Long exposure photography by Brian Day

Your work is very creative. What inspires you?

Thank you. I’m inspired by the notion that the camera sees the world differently than our eyes and brain registers our environment. I’m inspired by the idea that photography can be the art of observation. I’m inspired by cinema, by music of all sorts, and by my cultural heritage. I’m inspired by art, design, typography, geography, geometry, and photometry. I’m inspired by mundane trivial things that tangentially mutate into photographic approaches.

But seriously, I’m most inspired by people who use the camera to transform the world around them. There are so many amazing photographers who push boundaries and try new things every day, that it’s staggering, humbling. But it’s also truly inspiring; the explosion of photography, for better or for worse in the digital age, makes me want to go out and attempt to articulate something in a new way. Whether I succeed or fail is less interesting to me than the excitement and creative joy of going out and trying again to create something different, something new.

When did you start taking photos? What made you decide to explore photography as a means of artistic expression?

I’ve actually gone backwards a bit; years ago I used to dabble (heavily) in video and motion graphic design. But the hours and hours of waiting for footage to render in Adobe Premiere and After Effects got old; so for a while, I lost my creative outlet. I started taking photos in 2009, after some encouragement and mentoring from a coworker.

Initially, I gravitated to photography for very simple reasons: between the day after aches and pains of basketball, and the many wasted hours playing video games to the frustration of my wife, I needed a more fulfilling hobby and I just couldn’t bring myself to pick up golf clubs, ha ha. Anyway, over time, I came to be more serious about my approach to photography, as something that was technical yet creative, challenging yet personally rewarding. Photography quickly became my creative outlet.

Name three photographers you like and why.

Wow, naming three is practically a crime. I wish I had room to name 30. But I’ll say Edward Steichen, Josef Koudelka, Alexey Titarenko, just to name three.

You know that strange phenomenon where you turn down the radio to concentrate when you’re navigating and looking for an address? Steichen’s work still makes me turn down the radio and stare in amazement at the way he pushed boundaries and evoked such mood.

Koudelka doesn’t feature long exposure prominently in his work, but still, he is an inspiration because of his complete disregard for pursuing a signature genre. He shoots whatever he is interested in, and shoots it well.

And Titarenko, while perhaps not nearly as prolific as the other two (yet), also evokes a silent moodiness and intellect through his work. Titarenko is probably my favourite example of using long exposure in the urban setting, almost abstracting the presence of humanity.

There are not enough words to describe Daido Moriyama and Michael Kenna. There are guys like Mitch Dobrowner and Joel Tjintjelaar who just do staggering work. Oh wait, you said three…

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

I believe the general attraction to long exposure photography is to satiate our general fascination with (and perhaps fear of) time. I know that’s my reason, at least. Video is the undisputed dominant medium in the world today, but the fact that a still image can describe a lapsed interval of time is virtually incomparable. And irresistible.

Long exposure photography by Brian Day

There are two strands to your long exposure photography. One is the sea and the landscape. The other is long exposure in an urban setting, such as your photo of firemen or car photos. Can you talk us through your approaches to these?

The sea and landscape strand is most difficult for me, because it is being done so well already by so many guys. Even the urban settings, of architecture with sweeping clouds brushing across the frame. Everybody loves those, but the fact is, it’s hard to do one that says something that Joel or some of the other guys aren’t already saying so brilliantly.

What I’ve been interested in is the element of humanity in the context of long exposure. I’ve approached this from a self-portrait perspective many times, often through a series called “The Time Traveler”. However, also using it intentionally in the context of photographing firefighters has really intrigued me.

My approach with self-portraiture is a lot more predictable; taking my time to figure out an effective composition, choosing an exposure time appropriate to the moving elements in the frame, and repeating the process until I get the frame I want or the available light is gone.

With the firefighters, however, the challenge is much more complex. The setting is evolving quickly and the light changes dramatically during a fire. So all of the “calculations” have to be done on the fly, with the risk of missing a moment that won’t be repeated. The rate of missed opportunities is extremely high. I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re being paid to document the scene, that’s for sure.

What is your approach to long exposure photography? Do you plan the shoot first, and try to take an image that matches your vision? Or do you go out without a fixed idea, and respond to what you find?

As mentioned, my approach depends on the setting at hand. If it’s a self-portrait or landscape setting, I have the luxury of planning ahead, making multiple trips to a location to find better light or revise my technique, and so on. I have approached these images from both a planned and unplanned perspective, depending on the opportunities and time available. With candid long exposure photography involving people, I can only respond to what I find.

Long exposure photography by Brian Day

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

There are no photographs without light. Like many photographers, I prefer early morning light. Late afternoon light is just as good, but the benefit of early morning light is that you get another opportunity in the afternoon.

Here in the midwest, while I hate the cold weather, I also prefer winter light, because the sun is lower in the sky for longer stretches of the day, creating a nice dramatic angle to highlights and shadows.

Describe your approach to composition. Is there any benefit to keeping the composition simple?

Not only is there benefit to keeping the composition simple; that’s likely the hardest part of photographing any subject – choosing what to frame, and what to leave out. Simpler compositions, to me, tend to have more emotional impact and resonance in a body of work. It’s very easy for things to get muddled in a long exposure, and it’s tempting to shoot a long exposure just because the clouds are good that day, or because you happen to be standing on a beach – not because there is a worthwhile composition to pursue. To me, a good photographer knows when long exposure (or any exposure, for that matter) is appropriate, and when the available composition isn’t worth the time.

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?

Some of my long exposure work was actually shot with a 6×6 square format film camera, but primarily, I was hooked on square format for a long time even with digital because of the symmetry and simplicity of the frame. Mentally, I always associated the 3:2 ratio with journalistic photography more so than fine art work, but each day I keep at this, I realise how silly I’ve been. So, I’ve been expanding (no pun intended) to the rectangular frames more often in recent work, moving away from the square. The importance of aspect ratio going forward, for me, will always depend on the strength of the composition, and not merely on what’s popular amongst other long exposure photographers.


Brian Day’s website

Photo Gallery

Here are some more of Brian’s photos:

Long exposure photography by Brian Day

Long exposure photography by Brian Day

Long exposure photography by Brian Day


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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One Response to “Long Exposure Photography Interview #32: Brian Day”

  1. Great interview Brian.

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