Long exposure photography is the least practiced technique by hobbyists and amateur photographers because it involves dealing with manual settings. Frequently referred to as time-exposure or slow-shutter photography too, this genre is a gateway to create masterpieces.
It does seem difficult to understand if you aren’t aware of manual settings, but in reality, mastering the art of long-exposure photography is all about understanding a few basic principles of photography.
What is Long-Exposure Photography?
Long Exposure Photography is a technique of shooting pictures by utilizing the effects of slow shutter speed. This technique blurs mobile elements in pictures such as water, clouds, or vehicles using long exposures or slow shutter speeds. It almost gives them a surreal look usually achieved in post-production.
For example, we often see pictures with cars transformed into a long red line and clouds blurred, or water in an ocean or a lake looking blurry and unreal.
Long Exposure Photography is widely used to produce amazing architectural, landscape, portrait, and street photography shots.
What is shutter speed?
At the heart of this photography style lies the magic technique of slow shutter speed. Shutter speed is the amount of time the camera’s shutter is open. It is measured in seconds or fractions of seconds.
For beginners, it can get a little tricky because a larger denominator means a quicker shutter speed. For example, shutter speed 1/1000 means the camera shutter was open for the 1000th part of the second only, whereas 1/20 means it was open for 20 parts of the second is slower and termed as lower shutter speed.
Quicker shutter speed means shutter opens for less time and less light reaches the camera sensor, and vice versa is the case with lower shutter speed. As long as the shutter is open, the camera registers everything that moves within the frame. That’s why in Long Exposure Photography, clouds look stretched across the sky, and the water looks blurred.
It is alright if your confusion persists. The best way to master long exposure and shutter speed is by practicing it yourself.
- Adjust the camera on a tripod, so it stands steady.
- Set the shutter speed to 1/1000 and ask someone to move within the frame of the camera.
- Set the shutter speed to 1/500 and repeat.
- Repeat the process but use even slower shutter speeds such as 1/200, 1/20, /5 and end with 1 sec.
In the beginning, you might not feel any blurry effect or difference between images shot at different but near shutter speeds. However, the images will start to get blurry when you keep slowing down the shutter speed. It means that when you lengthen your exposure time, it is not possible to capture a sharp image. The moving objects become blurry.
This technique is used in multiple other proper photography niches, i.e., landscape, street, portrait, and abstract photography, to produce perfect, aesthetic images.
Equipment for Long Exposure Photography
Originally, a DSLR camera was needed, but using more equipment can only make your results better. Besides that, all this equipment is commonly used in all types of photography, so we recommend getting them.
1. Camera with manual settings
Long exposure effects can be achieved using most digital cameras and even some smartphones. However, the only important requirement is that the camera has manual functions such as ISO, shutter speed, aperture, etc. You do not necessarily need a fancy camera. Almost all entry-level DSLR come with these features.
Also, just having this camera is not enough. You will be setting everything on your own, so you should control and use the camera manually.
2. Tripod or Monopod
Like all other genres of photography, a tripod is one of the most essential and useful tools in long exposure photography.
Long exposure photography is all about using slow shutter speeds, which often exceed seconds and sometimes minutes. This multiplies the risk of blurs and shakes; not that “artistic” blur which one wants to achieve using this technique but the blur which can ruin your image. Also, it is difficult to capture these images handheld or resting a camera on anything other than a tripod because of the long time involved.
Investing in a sturdy and solid tripod <-Affiliate link 🙂 should be your top priority if you have a perfect long exposure photography experience. Besides, tripods and monopods are gears you can use no matter which photography niche you are exploring.
3. A Remote Shutter Release
This tool connects a photographer with a camera, either wireless or via a cable, and allows to release the shutter remotely without physically touching the camera’s built-in shutter release button.
This one tool can make the process of shooting so much easier. Using a remote shutter release helps to reduce unwanted camera vibrations and helps you shoot the image at the exact moment you want.
4. Neutral Density Filters
Unlike previous gears, this one is necessary to use, but it will help you produce images with much higher quality.
Neutral Density Filters, also known as ND filters, are useful in Long Exposure Photography. Dark filters are used to reduce the amount of light reaching the shutter—the darker the filter, the slower the shutter speed required to create a well-exposed image.
These filters are usually associated with night light or astrophotography and are used at night. Still, in long exposure photography, these filters are preferably used during the daytime since it takes a very long time for the light to reach the sensors at night.
There are two types of ND light filters commonly available: screw-in and drop-in or square filters. Both come in different strengths (3-stop, 6-stop, 10-stop, etc.). This strength describes how much a photographer needs to lengthen the exposure time to maintain a well-exposed image.
Shooting long exposure photographs:
Check the weather and location
Choosing a location for long-exposure photography is different from any other photography because the situation can change within seconds. Its world is completely different from how you see it with your own eyes. You have to find a perfect combination of weather and location that includes moving objects.
The most appropriate time for long exposure pictures is when the light is limited, early mornings or evenings. In this way, you will be able to produce a well-crafted long exposure image.
Always Use a Tripod
A Tripod is an essential tool in long exposure photography. Mount your camera on a tripod and install all the required accessories such as shutter release and filter holder. Keep in mind that you don’t have to install the filters beforehand.
Composition of the image
Refine the composition of the image by focusing on the subject and locking the focus. Once the focus is sharp, it’s time for a test shot.
Setting the exposure
Adjust your camera to Manual or Aperture Priority mode and take a test shot. Getting the right exposure means the test is complete. You can check that through the display screen on the histogram. If the test shot is successful, write down the shutter speed for that shot. It is important to note down this shutter speed since you’ll be needing this information in a few steps.
Adding the filter
Now it’s time to add the Neutral Density (ND) filters to your camera lens. Tighten the filter properly to the lens.
Taking Long Exposure shot
Finally, it’s time to shoot your long exposure shot. Recollect the shutter speed you noted down during the test shot. But this time, you have added filters, which were not there in the test shot.
Long Exposure Photography is not a new technique in photography, but recently people have started recognizing it as a genre of photography. It is an essential set of other genres, i.e., sports photography, street photography, landscape shooting, etc.
It can be difficult to understand the concepts if you want to explore this field, but we guarantee you will have fun and creativity. You will need more planning than any other technique, but the results are equally very unique and wonderful. It offers learning and experimentation.