How to get creative with Long Exposure Photography
Let’s get creative with a technique in the photography world that has helped create thousands of incredibly stunning and dramatic images with this simple Long Exposure Photography Tutorial.
Simple when you know how and this post will be keeping it simple giving you the basics to master this addictive photographic technique and help give you some top class results.
There are so many uses for this creative long exposure photography technique also known as slow shutter speed photography from creating silky smooth waterfall effects, sweeping dramatic cloudscapes, panning photography, light trails, star trails, dragging the shutter with flash photography and much much more.
What is Long Exposure Photography?
What long exposure photography does is stretches time, if you will, in an image, capturing whatever moves for as long as the camera shutter remains open which gives us endless possibilities to be creative with long exposure photography.
Long Exposure Photography Equipment
- Camera which allows manual control
- Neutral Density Filters (necessity for shooting during the day)
- Interval Timer for long exposures over 30 secs in duration
- Tripod essential for stability
- Wide Angle Lens in most cases (but not always)
3 Essential functions for Long Exposure Photography
There are 3 important functions that come into play with long exposure photography and one thing they all have in common is being able to control the amount of light which helps create a long exposure image.
- Shutter Speed
Controls the depth of field and the amount of light that hits the sensor so if you have your lens wide open which is the lowest f number eg. f/2.8 this will allow lots of light in.
On the opposite end of the scale we have what is known as a narrow aperture when the hole in your lens will only open fractionally letting a minimal amount of light in. This is important to know with long exposure photography as the slow shutter speed needed to create long exposure photography effects naturally results in more light entering the lens and hitting the sensor so more often than not a narrow aperture is very useful (but not always, in pitch black conditions at night doing Astro Photography or Star Trails the lens aperture being wide open is recommended.
Controls how long the digital sensor will be exposed to light and the amount of motion blur in the resulting image
Controls again how bright the image will be by measuring the sensitivity of the image sensor therefore the lower the ISO the less sensitive the camera is to light resulting in a finer grain. Higher ISO usually results in more blotchy digital noise in an image and long exposure photography can add to this due to the process heating up the sensor and creating much of the same.
Manual control of the camera is essential and will allow us in manual mode to set the duration of the long exposure by adjusting the Shutter Speed. Say we want a sweeping cloudscape in a landscape image, depending on how fast the clouds are moving will dictate shutter speed, probably needing at least 30 seconds to begin to get the result we want. This is fine because we can control the shutter speed but the maximum is only 30 seconds, Oh dear what are we going to do! Anything over 30 seconds we have to switch to the Bulb Mode on the camera and this is where we need to use the remote Interval Timer where we can dial in any figure from 30 seconds to a few hours! Fortunately the shutter being open a few minutes is generally enough to obtain the effect we are looking for. Naturally though if the shutter is open for a long period of time light will flood in to the camera and over expose the image causing unrecoverable blown highlights hence we need to prevent this happening and this is where the Neutral Density Filters (ND Filters) come into play to control the amount of light.
Long Exposure Photography in Summary
- Set the camera up on a tripod
- Frame your subject matter
- Focus on your subject (If using Auto Focus and using strong black filters such as 10 stop ND Filter don’t forget to switch to manual focus when your ND Filters are in place.
- If you are going for a maximum of 30 seconds exposure use manual mode and dial in shutter speed for how many seconds required.
- Use Low ISO whenever you can. High ISO increases digital noise and so does long exposure photography because long exposures heat up the sensor.
- Use a narrow aperture on your camera lens which also helps to restrict light entering the camera and allows both the foreground and background to be more equally focused. Try to aim for an f stop of f/6.3 and up to f/22 even f/32 on some lenses if your ND Filters aren’t strong enough during daylight shooting as this is another great way to limit the light entering the camera.
- And one last tip. Try to cover the viewfinder during the duration of the exposure in daylight even if it’s just shading with your hand as there can be light leak as bright light will find it’s way to the digital sensor through the viewfinder believe it or not!
- The same principles apply to doing long exposure photography at night minus the use of ND Filters for such things as light trails. For this you may need to use a wider aperture and a higher ISO.
PLEASE BE AWARE All images are my own and copyright protected, all rights reserved.