Long Exposure Photography -Beginners Tips

Have you come across breathtaking photographs with beautiful misty waterfalls, serene silky skies, smooth ocean waves with blurring effect, cars on a road appearing like lines and wondered how the photographer achieved such stunning effects ? They almost appear too good to be true . The trick that the photographers use is a popular technique called long exposure. If you are a beginner photographer and quite happy with your standard photos ,you may want to step up and move on to something different and unique .Long exposure photography is definitely something to look into.

Long exposure is usually popular with landscape photography. Let us directly dive into how long exposure photography works and what are the essential things to keep in mind for this technique.

Composition :

The effect of long exposure in photography is noticeable when there is a stable subject and subtle movements around it .For example, fixed rocks with moving clouds above and water flowing beneath would make a great long exposure shot.Another great example would be ,waterfall pouring from a mountain top into a stream. If there is no stable or fixed subject in the picture, it will give a dizzying effect . Plan in advance what you want to capture and decide the composition of your final picture.

Equipment :

The following gear is required for capturing long exposure shots:

  • DSLR camera – To manually adjust the settings for the long exposure shots, you need a camera where you can manually adjust the ISO, aperture and shutter speed. Having the bulb mode in the aperture settings is a big plus.
  • Remote shutter release – This allows you to release the shutter from a distance . The camera may or may not come with a remote shutter release .You may want to purchase one that attaches to your shutter, if you do not have one . For exposures over 30 seconds in manual mode , or in the bulb mode ,where shutter stays open as long as you want , remote shutter release is a savior and helps avoid blurs and hand shakes .Some photographers sometimes use the self timer in place of the remote .
  • Tripod – A sturdy and good quality tripod is essential to mount your camera.This is especially useful when taking long exposure shots .This again helps avoid blurs and hand shakes.It also helps the photographer to relax and enjoy the views and surroundings.
  • Neutral density filters – This may not be useful for night shots but very beneficial for daylight shots.As you already know, with long exposure ,abundant light reaches the sensor which may result in images being overexposed .This is where the filter helps .Filter reduces the light reaching the sensor .There are many kinds of filters ,of which the most popular are the ND Filter and Graduated filter. The former is a dark uniform filter and the latter non uniform filter which progressively increases the darkness. The filters also come with a filter holder that attaches to the camera.

Now that we have all the equipment in place ,let us see how we proceed with taking the long exposure shots .

  1. Find a suitable time for the perfect weather and light conditions ,like when it is not too sunny or when sun is hidden under the clouds .Plan ahead and fix your tripod in the right place , height and install all the accessories .
  2. Set the camera to manual mode or aperture priority mode and set your F-stop to f/8 or f/11 .Take a test shot and see how the exposure turns out on the histogram .Make adjustments as required.It should neither be too much on the right or left .Note the shutter speed at this point .
  3. Focus on the subject .If using manual focus ,well and good .For auto focus , half-press the shutter button so the focus is on the fixed subject . Keep holding the shutter button down and switch from auto focus to manual. This will help keep your camera in focus for the entire long exposure.
  4. Add the Neutral Density Filter .To calculate the exposure time after the ND filter is added is straight forward. You double your exposure time as many times as your filter blocks stop. For example, for 2 sec exposure time for a 3 stop filter, you get 2^3 = 8 sec, for a 10 stop filter 2^10=1024 sec(17 min). There are apps that you can use to calculate this as well.
  5. Switch to bulb mode by turning the dial for the aperture setting .This option helps to shoot images beyond normal 30 second limit .Leave the aperture and ISO settings as is.
  6. When its time to take the shot, use the remote shutter release. As long as the trigger is pressed, the shutter is open in the bulb mode . So it is up to you to use the long shutter speed from 1 sec or as many hours .
  7. Finally, you can also use the post processing software like Adobe Photoshop CC to fine tune the images to your liking.However most photographers are quite happy with the image captured as is.

How to calculate the Exposure Time? To calculate the exposure time or how long to leave the shutter open in the camera, consider the strength of the long exposure filter and the camera’s aperture setting. For example, if you set the camera at f/15, and you are using a 10-stop strength filter, you will add 10 stops to the f/15, which means you will leave the shutter open for 60 seconds. If the calculation is confusing you can use this chart as well Exposure Chart with filters .

Now you can confidently venture into taking long exposure shots .It may take quite a few shots to master and learn from the mistakes.So keep trying and clicking .Hope these tips come in handy .If you have any tips or tricks ,please add on in the comments .Have a good day!

Disclaimer: I am not a photography tutor or professional .This is only an effort to share the lessons and tips I learnt and compile my experiences using the digital camera .

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  • Sandeep
    March 6, 2020 at 1:12 am


    • InspiresNish
      March 6, 2020 at 1:13 am

      Thank you so much!

  • libas_lifestyle
    March 6, 2020 at 4:49 am

    Wow such an amazing photography 📸

    • InspiresNish
      March 6, 2020 at 4:10 pm

      Thank you so much!

  • libas_lifestyle
    March 6, 2020 at 4:51 am

    Can you make a short video about that dear?

  • Caz / InvisiblyMe
    March 7, 2020 at 4:34 pm

    I didn’t actually realise it’s possible with some cameras to buy a remote for shutter release, that’s such a good idea. Easier than setting a timer I imagine too. Fantastic tips, Nisha!
    Caz xx

    • InspiresNish
      March 9, 2020 at 12:56 am

      Thank you so much Caz, the remote is defintely useful for images beyond normal 30 second limit .Glad the tips are useful.

  • Diane
    March 12, 2020 at 3:38 am

    I am saving this! Great information, thank you!

    • InspiresNish
      March 13, 2020 at 4:38 pm

      Wonderful Diane , glad to hear that .Thank you!

  • Sandhya
    March 12, 2020 at 8:24 pm

    Great informative post! Thanks Nisha for sharing.

    • InspiresNish
      March 13, 2020 at 4:38 pm

      Thank you so much Sandhya, glad this post is useful!

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