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10 Long Exposure Photography Tips

In the past few years many photographers, on a scale from beginners to professionals, have mastered many creative techniques with the help of a market flooded with exceptional technology, accessories and photographic filters.

And if there is one technique that has risen higher in popularity than others, it’s long exposure photography.

What is Long Exposure Photography?

Long exposure photography is a highly creative photographic technique that can produce incredible and effective results to show movement in a scene. And the perfect environment for such technique, is landscape photography.

Long exposure photography at night
Long exposure photography at night
Image with Long Exposure filter or settings
Image with 10 stop Long Exposure filter

Like everything in photography, the main protagonist of long exposure is light. By adjusting camera settings and opening the camera’s shutter for an extended amount of time, whether that be for 10-seconds or two-minutes, light floods in and opens the door to a wide-range of long exposure possibilities.

But leaving the shutter open for such a period of time would wash-out and ruin the image! Well, that’s where Neutral Density Filters come in.

SEE MORE Our 5-star neutral density filter set

By using a Neutral Density filter (preferably a 10 stop), the light is restricted to a certain amount of stops while the camera’s shutter remains open. Allowing moving objects in the image to become blurred or ghost-like, resulting in some fantastic imagery.

10 Long Exposure Photography Tips

Long exposure scenes and techniques can vary from low to high exposure times, but for the purpose of this guide we are focusing on exposure times of 10-seconds or more.

  1. Location:

    Do some research into the location of the scene. Keeping certain factors in mind, like the possibility of light pollution washing-out your long exposure night-scape.

  2. What do you want:

    Long exposure is all about capturing movement in a still image. If this is what you want, make sure it is achievable in your scene. For example, look for a scattered cloud pattern with some strong winds in your landscape or some flowing movement to the water in your sea-scape.

  3. Composing the image:

    When framing your shot, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. If you’re shooting long exposure during the day, keep the movement of the sun out of shot to avoid an unwanted yellow streak. Now set the aperture, keeping it anywhere between f/8 and f/11 for landscape photography.

  4. Steady the shot: 

    Any movement when shooting long exposure WILL be picked up. Make sure you have a sturdy tripod to use and a remote shutter release to trigger your camera’s shutter.

  5. Shoot without a filter:

    The long exposure filter that you’ll be attaching to your camera will be very dense, meaning it will be difficult to see the scene through the viewfinder. With this in mind, in order to achieve a good focus for the shot, remove the filter and press down on the shutter button with the auto-focus function turned on. Once you have composed your shot using auto focus, switch the focus back to manual and attach the filter.

  6. Keep the noise down:

    When shooting keep the ISO setting as low as possible to reduce noise, achieve a clearer image and reduce hot pixels (when shooting with the shutter open, some hot pixels may appear that are only visible once viewed at 100% on a computer screen).

  7. Set the exposure:

    As you have already shot the scene without a filter, you will know the correct exposure setting (see tip No.5). Now it’s time to attach the ND filter, which means the original exposure settings will have to change to accommodate the density of the filter. For example, if you shot your scene at an exposure time of 1/15 seconds and you want to use an ND1000 (10 stop) filter, you will need to change the exposure time to 60 seconds. See the shutter speed conversation table below for more options:

    Long exposure ND chart
    Source: photographytalk.com
  8. Shoot in Bulb mode:

    If the scene requires a higher exposure time than your camera’s standard 30-second limit, you’ll want to use the ‘Bulb Mode’ (check your manual as not all cameras have this feature). Shooting in ‘Bulb Mode’ doesn’t change anything to the set up, so keep the aperture and ISO settings the same.

  9. Shoot in RAW:

    Shooting in RAW is extremely handy for post-production. Here you can adjust white balance and any colour cast that may have affecting the shot.

  10. Shoot, shoot, shoot:

    Remember, practice makes perfect. This is the case when it comes to the trial and error process of long exposure photography. If the shot is too dark and underexposed, alter the settings and go again. The same goes for if the scene is overexposed.

Image with no Long Exposure filter or settings
Image by Mark Bauer with no Long Exposure filter or settings
Image with Long Exposure filter or settings
Image by Mark Bauer with Lee Filters Super Stopper Long Exposure filter

To conclude…

Long exposure photography is an incredibly creative technique that is achievable at all levels of photography. To achieve your very own spectacular images try shooting scenes that include clouds, waterfalls, rivers or even moving vehicles.

Keep in mind though, this can be a difficult technique that requires a huge amount of practice. If the first few shoots haven’t produced the images that you’ve envisioned, just keep trying! It may be a difficult technique to master, but when you do the rewards will be fantastic.

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