How to emulate Titarenko's long exposure stacking with digital?

For those that don’t know him, these are some of his more iconic photographs.

Crowd2 alexeytitarenko

I understand he exposed a single shot multiple times to achieve this effect and I’m wondering how I can get something similar with digital.

What I’ve tried so far is stacking multiple frames, shot at about 1s exposure times, with software like Starstax using Lighten or Average blend modes but the results are not quite there… Actually pretty far from it.

While I can throw all my exposure in GIMP as layers and just mask away, I’m looking for an automated way since I’m speaking of many dozens of shots.

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Try a median or average blend stack using gmic. You can also put all.of them.in gimp and set the blend to lighten, softlight, or lightness.

Lighten blend mode in GIMP is the closest, but still rather far. It just takes the lighter parts (doh) of the image, while what I’m trying to achieve should take midtones as well.

The other options you mentioned make for a very washed out image, quite the opposite of what I’m trying to achieve.

Very interesting. Thanks for posting this!

If I ever had to do something like this, I wouldn’t do it in post, but in the shot itself.

The first I would try is a very long exposure with the aid of a neutral density filter, and in the middle of the exposure shot a flash several times.

I think of it as a typical trailing lights shot, but done several times in the same shot.

The tricky part would be nailing the flash power to perfectly integrate into the main effect of the long exposure.

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You do make a good point, but I imagine this would indeed be hard to pull off.

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It’s generally the same technique as can be found here (with imagemagick):

Or here:

If you do this manually in GIMP you’ll want to bring all the stacks in as layers, and set the opacity of each layer as a percentage of the total number in the stack, from the bottom up.

So for 4 images, you can do:

25%
50%
75%
100%

But really, the easiest way is to just chuck them into imagemagick if you have many images and try median/mean blends.

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I’ve tried median stacks in GMIC but the result is… meh at best.

I think it is not only a postprocessing thing. I think the original photographer also used shutter speed on the slow side. If you look closely, the “sharper” elements are the ones that do not move or the body parts that are not always in movement: feet on the stairs and hands on the handrail.
When you walk, the feet and hands rest a bit longer in place than the other body parts between successive steps. Maybe half a second or so.
If I were to replicate this with a digital camera, I would try shutter speeds around 1/2 sec. a then try median or average stacking in post.

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That’s exactly what I did, 0.6 to 1s long exposures, median stacked. Howver, my results are far from intended.

Have you tried mean stacking as well?

Yes, I always end up losing a lot of detail, ending up with a washed-up image.

Like here, taking these five images

And stacking them in GMIC using Median I get this image.

And this is an Average stack

Thanks for your examples. From these, I see 3 things:

  1. I think a mean stacking would be a better fit than median
  2. You need either much more than 5 images to get enough people passing in front of the camera, or a much denser crowd. Or…
  3. From Titarenko’s images, you can also almost follow each person moving across the frame, as if he shot in bursts (see what looks like an Adidas sneaker in the first example image, you can spot it at least 4 or 5 times on the same image). Taking your frames in bursts would probably help “densifying” the trace made by people.

And turning the composite image in monochrome may help also.

  1. I can’t find a mean stacking mode in GMIC
  2. I have about 200 images, stacking them all doesn’t make much of a change.
  3. Good point.
  4. If you notice the rather garrish processing is because I intended to convert the result to monochrome, so I kind of pushed it with processing in color.

By “mean” stacking I thought “average”. Your average stacked image is smoother than the median stacked version in my opinion.

I’m sure Titarenko spent quite a lot of time finding the right combination of settings… You’ll have to fiddle a lot too! If 200 stacked images doesn’t improve, maybe it’s too many? Try several stack numbers (say 10, 20, 50, 100…) maybe there’s a sweet spot somewhere in between 5 and 200… That and shooting shorter bursts maybe.

Anyways, post your progress here, I find it very cool. I played with median and average stacks in the past for travel pictures to get something very different but “artsy”: by stacking all the pictures I shot from traveling into some cities, I got a sense of the dominant colors and shapes of each city rendered in something that looks almost like a painting (edit: here’s a showcase).

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I think the problem lies in your scene: The background is lit by direct sunlight, while the people is in the shade. This will make people’s trails to be lost against the background in the long exposures.

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@zerosapte Some information is given here:

Have fun!
Claes in Lund, Sweden

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I agree with @pitbuster: perhaps one of the problems is the dynamic range of the scenes.

It seems to me that Titarenko actively seached for lower dynamic range scenes, or developed film in a way to lower it, so the blurring was not lost.

Anyway, difficult to get it well.

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I think you also need a higher density of people or more shots.