The James Scott Memorial Fountain – Belle Isle, Detroit


I always get excited when I see the beautiful white fluffy clouds in the sky. They are such a joy to photograph. All day long I had watched them float by my house with some pretty good speed. That was why I was real excited when my wife came home and she realized I didn’t have to work that night. She had scheduled a play date for our kids with another mom and she said I was free to go. Before she changed her mind I packed up my gear and headed off to Belle Isle because after being down there a few times I figured these clouds would look great in motion as a long exposure behind the Scott Fountain.

After getting to the island and to the fountain it became clear I would have to hurry up. The clouds which had been around all day long were thinning out and moving out. The problem is, with long exposure, especially the length I was going for, time doesn’t really work in my favor. When I got there I watched the clouds and threw some grass in the air to find out which way the wind was blowing. Never being there before I scoped out the area to find the best location to shoot. The east side of the fountain was my first choice, but being it was the direction the wind was blowing, I would have soaked my equipment. I walked around to the north end and thought that would look nice but the sun would have been shining right in my lens, and during the course of a long exposure, that is not safe. I moved to the west side of the fountain and positioned myself where the clouds were moving from directly overhead. This way I would get good motion in the clouds moving directly toward the fountain.

Next was setting up for the shot. I knew the direction I was going to shoot, now I had to figure out how I was going to compose the shot. I was lucky in that I just had to off-center myself from the clouds only a little bit to center myself with the fountain. After I figured out my composition it was time to figure out the settings. I wanted to create some great motion in the clouds so I knew I was going to use a long exposure but how long was the question. I stood still for about a minute and watched how fast the clouds were moving to get a feel for how long of an exposure I was going to need. I decided I needed around 8-10 minutes to get the movement I was looking for. For this I pulled out my 16.5 stop ND filter and my Circular Polarizer. I know there are those out there that say never to stack filters, but rules are meant to be broken. Creatively, you have to do what you have to do to get your shot. This is where quality equipment comes into play. I figured my exposure to be 8 minutes and 44 seconds at f/11, ISO100 @12mm

I fired off the shot and the long wait proceeded. Many people walked by and asked me if I was filming the fountain, and I was able to have a few conversations with some of the passer-by’s. Once the exposure was done, I saw the preview on the back on the camera and I knew I was satisfied, and that was good because the clouds were almost completely moved out and we had nothing but clear skies. Here was the finished result.

James Scott Memorial Fountain

James Scott Memorial Fountain – 8minutes 44 seconds, f/11, ISO100 @12mm, 16.5 stop ND filter and Circular Polarizer.

One thing I absolutely love about really long exposure photography is how much it slows down the process for me. You don’t want to haphazardly fire off many super long exposure shots and hope to get one right. You spend so much time waiting that you want to make sure you have everything accounted for. You pay attention to more of the details. Some people will say this is what shooting film does for you, and I get it, but as someone who, for whatever reason, just cannot seem to pick up my film SLR when I have this fancy expensive DSLR, super long exposure has the same effect. It slows you down and makes you earn each shot, and figure it all out before you press the shutter, otherwise, you’re just wasting time.


About Michigan Photographer - Daniel Frei

Daniel Frei is a landscape photographer from Southeast Michigan. Daniel has always enjoyed taking photos while camping and hiking in the woods and has taken this joy to the next level. A stay at home dad by day, when he gets out he likes to visit local hiking trails with the occasional trip farther outside of metro Detroit. He enjoys being a home grown Michigan Photographer

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