A simple guide into long exposure photography
What can I call to be long exposure photography
Simply to put in practice, long exposure photography is that type of photography where the shutter remains open for a longer period of time, either to let more light in or to create a motion effect
As more light falls on the sensor, all the motion is basically stored into a single image.
Taking long exposure photographs can be done for two specific reasons:
- Take brighter photographs during the night (night scenes, astrophotography etc.) by storing as much light into the sensor but within a limit range, without over-exposing the image
- Control the light coming into a sensor during the day with a neutral density filter to create a specific motion effect (waterfall and waves will look silky, as well as the clouds, or some other scenes with motion where we want to create this effect)
Sometimes when we shoot photographs during the night, we tend to let the shutter open for a period of time without to increase the ISO, but this is not always possible.
Therefore, is it much recommend to use lenses with wide apertures like f/1.8, f/1.4 etc) to minimise the noise created into the image sensor from high ISO values.
This applies mostly in the case of astrophotography as we want to get as many stars as possible in the image, and to remain sharp by not inducing any motion due to the rotation of the planet.
Example of this photograph I’ve been taking a while back of the milky way
Trails or light trails can be done also during the night time when a car passes by, or a bus, and the shutter remains long enough to continuously capture the car lights.
You can read also my other guide on ‘how to photograph light trails‘.
Also, with the light trails created by using long exposure, we can be creative and use a torch, for instance, to write with the light on the air.
Therefore, I can say that without long exposure photography, we would not be able to do all those from above and many more, during the night.
But what about during the day? How can we use long exposure photography in this case?
During the day is another story. We don’t take long exposures to capture more light into the sensor, as there is more than enough.
Exactly opposite, we use one or more ND filters (neutral density) to stop the light coming into the sensor with even 99% or more.
Therefore, the shutter has to be opened much longer in order to take a normal picture.
When we do that, the motion is stored into the sensor, and the water movement as an instance, as the clouds, become silky, giving a special and unique fine-art effect.
I may’ve been trying to explain too much in detail the process of how the long exposure works, but it is relatively simple.
I will share with you a few tips about how to take (better) long exposure photographs.
- A tripod is absolutely necessary, and a good quality one is recommended, to minimise the possible movement resulted by cheap ones.
- Try to reduce the camera shake to zero. Any shake induced can ruin the photograph, beyond any recovery.
- Use a wireless shutter release. Alternatively, you can set a timer to take your photo, but there comes the possibility to add camera shake.
- Ensure there is no wind condition. If there is, add some extra weight to your tripod for stability.
- Make sure that the tripod is set up on a stable surface where nothing induces movement (such as a wooden floor with people walking nearby, or sand.)
- If possible, close the eye finder of your DSLR, to avoid additional light entering into your camera.
- Pick a very good quality filter for your lens. You have two options in this case:
- You either pick a screw-in filter with the diameter exactly for your lens (cheaper option, useless you own multiple lenses with different diameters)
- Also, you should invest in a good square filter with a specific mount which can be used more or less, on any lenses.
How to create long exposure photography with a DSLR?
Let’s say that in this case you own a DSLR> It doesn’t matter the brand or if is entry level or not, it would be the same process.
Taking long exposure photographs during the day.
- Set up your camera on the tripod facing the scene you want to photograph (waterfall, waves, river etc.)
- Switch to live view and focus on your subject, then switch your lens to MF. Zoom in for fine-focus. Do not touch the focus ring anymore
- Place your filter on your lens, set your ISO value to 100 and start testing: at first set up your camera in aperture mode, set your camera to values between f/5 and f/22 as an instance (at least those are the values I am using)
- Take note if your shutter automatically adjusts to compensate the light, and if it does, play with your aperture until you get the right shutter value you are looking for (10sec, 30sec or if you need to set to ‘bulb’ in manual mode). Skip this step if doesn’t work.
- Now switch your camera to full manual mode. ISO remains the same, and set the aperture and the shutter settings you noted in the aperture mode.
- Take your first shot. Compensate for extra light or less if you need. Adjust your settings now as you like.
- If you want longer exposures than 30sec, increase the aperture value and set your camera to bulb mode. Have a timer on (on your phone as an instance) and take different shots until you get the right exposures on the values of your wish.
Taking long exposure photographs during the night.
The process would be not much different as taking during the day, but still:
- Set up your camera on the tripod facing the scene you want to photograph (city, street for light trails etc) (for astrophotography the process is slightly different)
- Switch to live view mode and zoom into a source of light you may want to focus on your scene, focus on it then switch to manual focus for fine tune. Don’t touch the focus ring anymore after that.
- Set your camera directly into manual mode, set your ISO to 100 and decrease your aperture value to its maximum that your lens can support (f/2.4, f/1.8, f/1.4), where is the case.
- Take your shot. Compensate until you get the right results.
- The same as above, if you need to take exposures longer than 30 seconds, you have to set your camera to bulb mode.
Note that different scenes may need you to increase the ISO and/or use different aperture values
Different photographers may have different approaches on how to take long exposure photographs
At least this is how I do it with both my Nikon D500 and D750, and is working great.
Is it really necessary to write a conclusion about creating long exposure photography?
It is more than obvious that without this ability to manually control the shutter speed, photography would not be the same as we know it today.
I love to take long exposure photographs, as probably every photographer does.
If you want to read more related posts, you are very welcome to visit any of the links listed below:
- How to photograph light trail, guide.
- 5 tips to improve your DSLR photography
- Prime vs Zoom Lenses, in-depth guide
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