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trees near a lake shot under colorful and moving clouds

Best Tricks for Shooting Stunning Long Exposure Photographs

 What is Long-Exposure Photography?

There are many terms to refer to this type of photography, such as time-exposure, slow-shutter photography, or long-exposure. However, all of them refer to the principle involving a long-duration shutter speed to capture sharp images of stationary elements while blurring, smearing, or obscuring moving elements in a scene. In other words, long-exposure allows us to capture the stationary and dynamic elements of a scene simultaneously.

A Reminder of What Shutter Speed is.

The shutter speed is the amount of time the camera's shutter remains open and is measured in seconds or fractions of seconds. A large denominator such as 1/1000 is a faster shutter speed than a lower denominator such as 1/10, which means that less light will reach the sensor in 1/1000 example. The result will be related to the camera registering anything that moves while the shutter is open. A long-exposure image consists of maintaining the camera's shutter open for long periods - from 30 seconds up to several hours.

Clouds look like they are moving due to the exposure time of the camera

What Does Long-Exposure Photography Try to Achieve?

Many photographers and visual creators have honed their long-exposure skills; however, anyone can use this technique to achieve mysterious and surreal atmospheres in their images. You can achieve these artistic results with simple equipment; however, the photographer's creativity matters most.

Typical Long-Exposure Genres.

There are infinite options and examples of long-exposure images, but these are essential hints that will help you achieve aesthetic results:

  • Landscapes – blurring the movement of clouds or waving grass.
  • Seascapes and waterfalls – soften the water and make it smooth.
  • Architecture – smudging the skies with soft streaks of clouds behind static constructions.
  • People – making ghostlike forms of crowds of people,

milky way and moving cars at night

Composing the Shot.

When using a strong ND filter on a DSLR, composing your shot with the viewfinder can be tricky, since the photographer can barely see anything. (This is not the case with mirrorless cameras). The easiest solution is to compose the shot and set the focus before attaching any ND filter to the lens. If the camera has a live view, it might be possible to bypass this issue, allowing you to digitally zoom on a selected area of the scene to manually set your focus. Most importantly, you should set your focus modes to "manual focus" to avoid the frustration of carefully focusing the shot, press the shutter, and realize it's still on autofocus, forcing the photographer to re-focus again.

Proper Exposure.

The longest possible shutter exposure is not always going to make for the best shot, and results depend on personal interpretations of how blurred the image should be. As with any type of photography, using the lowest ISO will be more visually appealing. As for the aperture setting, it may be preferable to use one or two ND filters to obtain a longer exposure time, rather than using a smaller aperture as it will lead to an increased depth of field. Checking the histogram is very helpful in adjusting corrections.

colorful light trails

Essential Equipment.

The secret to great long-exposure images is having the right equipment. Here we have listed the essentials: 

  • Tripod - It is extremely hard or impossible to work without a good tripod when dealing with slow shutter speeds, as any vibration will affect the results.
  • Shutter release – to eliminate any camera shake by pressing the shutter button and affecting the image itself, it is recommended to take the picture remotely, without touching the camera. For this purpose, triggers such as MIOPS Smart, Remote Plus and Mobile Dongle, are very handy as they allow you to control your camera's settings from the mobile phone app, saving you time and assisting in getting razor-sharp images.
  • Neutral density filters – when doing daylight long-exposure photography, these filters will reduce the amount of light that will hit the sensor, causing longer exposure times without affecting color balance or contrast.
  • Wide-angle lens – these are recommended, especially in landscape photography, but not mandatory.
  • Extra batteries – as exposures can last seconds or hours, it is recommended to have an extra battery or having the camera connected to an external source of power.

Don't Forget!

Light is everything into photography, and doing long-exposures mean shooting in outdoor locations most of the time. Therefore, it is essential to mind the weather conditions, which means that you need to plan for the kind of equipment you need to bring, your compositions, limitations you'll need to overcome, and your desired final results.

star trails and the trees

Related Article 1: Using ND Filter in Long Exposure Photography

Related Article 2: Long Exposure Explore Site

About The Author Manuel Delgado: 

Manuel Delgado is an award-winning photographer with a specialization in travel and documentary photography. He writes for Contrastly and is a Mentor for NGO Photographers Alliance, having led workshops in Africa with a focus on ethical and humanitarian photography. His work has been exhibited in Europe and the Americas.

Driven by an innate curiosity for his surroundings, Manuel´s process is mainly focused on capturing people in their natural environment; translating through his lens the subtle threads of daily life that are shared across cultures, borders, and races. Depicting people from diverse backgrounds, his work is united by a shared aesthetic that serves to tell each individual’s story. Manuel is currently living in Düsseldorf, Germany. 

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