Long exposure photography consists of opening the camera’s shutter a little longer than usual to allow more light to enter the lens.
When the lens captures more light, it can transform an ordinary scene – giving it an almost magical quality. For example, when we shoot cars at night, we will get the trace of headlights showing the paths of the cars (as below).
When we shoot water with long exposure, something magical happens too. While the water is moving, we will get a silk-like effect on it. This is particularly beautiful when capturing fast moving water, such as waterfalls
but it also works well for relatively still water.
Just opening the shutter for a longer time sounds easy, doesn’t it? But if we want great long exposure photos, there’s a little more to it than that. Here are 7 tips for improving your long exposure photography.
1. Set your camera to a slow shutter speed.
Shutter speed is the key factor to achieve long exposure photography. This value determines how long the shutter will stay open. You can set this up in two different ways: in manual mode or in shutter speed priority mode. The first one will allow you to control more than just the shutter, but the second one will allow you control only that element.
You can set the number of seconds/minutes you want the exposure to last. This is completely up to you, however, being a long exposure photography technique, we will need at least 8 seconds to do it right. Keep in mind the longer the exposure, the brighter the picture.
2.Use a neutral density filter.
This step is usually forgotten, yet it’s essential. This ND filter will allow us not to “burn” the photography with light. Remember overexposure can be deadly to the type of picture we want to take, at least in this case. And since shutter will capture so much light, not having a filter will turn our frame into white.
The number of stops this filter should have is up to you. However, it’s recommended to use a 10 stop ND filter to avoid any overexposure. Also remember that fixing underexposure in the edit is easier than fixing too much light. If your picture comes out a little bit dark, you can always use Lightroom or another program to tweak it.
If you are working during low light conditions, it won’t be necessary to use this kind of filter. In fact, if you are just learning about long exposure photography, you may want to consider going out at night and take a few shots.
3.Use a tripod.
Stability is essential for long exposure photography as the shutter will remain open for a long time. If you try to do it handheld, you will definitely notice that your pictures will be blurry.
This happens because the longer the shutter remains open, the more visible camera shakes are. If you don’t have a tripod, make sure you improvise some stability with bean bags, a rock, extra weight…Whatever the method, make sure the camera is completely steady the whole time the shutter is open.
4.Use a remote shutter control.
The less we touch the camera, the better. Any time you touch the camera there will be an element of shake and sometimes using a steady tripod is not enough – especially if you are on a non-steady surface. A remote shutter control will allow decrease the chances of getting a blurry picture.
If you don’t have one of these, you can try using the Wi-Fi connectivity of your camera (if available) and control it with a smart device. However, if that’s also unavailable, you can set the timer on your camera. Most devices a timer have it, so just check your manual.
5. Try covering the viewfinder if working shutter speed priority or other semi-automatic mode on your camera.
This is because the viewfinder could create a wrong “lecture” of the frame in front of you. You may be aware that your camera has an automatic light-metering function. This means the camera will try reading the frame and may set the wrong exposure.
This is why it’s good to work with manual mode. With it, you can even control the light metering function and avoid getting over or under exposure from the device. If you are still convinced of using an automatic exposure mode, then definitely cover your viewfinder with fabric or something that doesn’t cause troubles while you shoot.
6.If you want to get exposure longer than a minute, use the bulb mode of your camera.
Bulb mode is extremely helpful to create all sorts of long exposure photographs. This mode consists of letting you have a more customized control of the shutter speed. Usually it works in two different ways after you set it up:
One way is leaving the shutter pressed the whole time you want to capture light. The other way is to press it once to start, and press it again to end the exposure. Check if your remote shutter control can work with this mode, though.
You will have to be patient because you will make plenty of mistakes at first. In fact, everybody goes through a bit of pain while starting out in long exposure photography.
Trying and trying is the key to success. Remember, nobody gets it right first time, so don’t get frustrated, and don’t give up!