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How to Shoot Long Exposure Timelapse with Direct Sunlight

How to Shoot Long Exposure Timelapse with Direct Sunlight

Just imagine you went to a beautiful beach. Waves are crashing on the shore, white clouds are moving really fast in the blue sky, lots of people are moving around and you decided to shoot a long exposure timelapse so you can show the silky smooth water and cloud motion.

You fix the camera on your tripod and set the lowest ISO and a narrow aperture so you can get a longer shutter speed. But your camera is showing 1/10 seconds shutter speed which is not slow enough to show the motion. What would you do?

Well in this article we’ll learn the techniques to shoot long exposure timelapse in the day time with direct sunlight.

What is Long Exposure Timelapse?

Long exposure timelapse is a combination of long exposure photography and timelapse. In this technique, we shoot timelapse with a long duration shutter speed so that moving objects look blurry and stationary elements looks sharp and clear.

What You Need:

Other than a camera, lens and a tripod, you must need a Neutral Density filter. ND filters are a piece of clear dark glasses that we put in the front of our lens. It cut the amount of light that is entering our camera so we get longer shutter speed. ND filters are made of very good quality glass so it doesn’t change the colors in the picture and that’s why it’s called neutral density filters.

ND filter is like a sunglass for your camera but these sunglasses come in different level of darkness. It’s an essential tool for long exposure photography.

Natural density filters come in different intensity. It mentioned in either number like ND2, ND4, ND8, or ND16 or numbers like ND 0.3, ND 0.6, ND 0.9, ND 1.2 and so on. Each increased number reduces one stop of light. Like ND 0.3 will reduce one stop of light, ND 0.6 will reduce 2 stops of light, ND 1.2 will reduce four stops of light. See the following image to know how much light each filter reduces.

How to Shoot Long Exposure Timelapse with Direct Sunlight - ND-FiltersND filters are available in variable intensity too. You can change it from 2 stops to 9 stops by rotating the front ring.

Some cameras come with build in timelapse option, but if your camera doesn’t have it, you need to buy an intervalometer too. An intervalometer is a gadget that clicks the picture in a set interval time to create timelapse. If you are planning to buy an intervalometer, I suggest you invest in MIOPS Smart. It not only capable of doing timelapse but you can do other kinds of photography like high speed, lightning and HDR too.

Camera Settings:

Camera settings are quite simple. Fix your camera on a tripod and set your frame. Make sure you have some still objects in the frame like some rock formation or a lighthouse or a building and also you have some moving objects like waves, clouds or people. It’s advisable to use a wide angle lens to make long exposure timelapse.

After you decided your frame, focus on somewhere middle of foreground and background. Since you are using a wide lens, you’ll get a very deep depth of field with a wide aperture like f/5.6 and everything will be in focus. You are making long exposure timelapse so you can narrow it to get slow shutter speed.

Now set the white balance to daylight so you get consistent colors in each frame and take a shot in aperture priority mode. Check the picture and if focus and exposure are proper, note down the shutter speed. It’s time to add the ND filter in front of the lens. You need to set focus and exposure before placing ND filter because after attaching the filter, you can’t see anything in the viewfinder.

Now you need to calculate shutter speed after placing ND filter. Let’s say shutter speed of previous shot was 1/30 seconds and you’ve attached a 10 stops ND filter so, your shutter speed would be 1/15 second > 1/8 second > 1/4 second > 1/2 second > 1 second > 2 seconds > 4 seconds > 8 seconds > 15 seconds > 30 seconds.

So you’ll get 30 seconds exposure time. Let’s say you don’t want such low shutter speed and for you, 8 seconds time is enough, you need to play with either ISO or aperture. It’s better to play with ISO instead of aperture, if your ISO is 100, you can increase it to 400 to get 8 seconds shutter speed or 320 for 10 seconds.


If you are using your camera’s timelapse function, do all the settings and start the camera and it will take all the pictures. If you are using MIOPS Smart, it has a long exposure timelapse option. You need to set your camera on bulb mode and MIOPS Smart will control the shutter speed too. Just set exposure time, the interval between shots and number of shots and it’ll take care of everything.

Remember that for one second of timelapse video, you need to take 24 shots so if you are planning to create a 20 seconds video, you need to take 480 shots.

Things to Remember:

>> Make sure that there is no time gap between the shots, you need to use a fast card for that. If there is a gap between the shots, it’ll not look good in the video. Let’s say you set 5 seconds gap between the shots and you have moving people in the frame, their location will change in each next frame and it will look like they are bouncing from one spot to another in the final movie.



Take impossible photos by turning your camera into a high-speed capture device!


>> If the sun is in front of the camera, don’t forget to use a lens hood. If you are using an ultra-wide lens, just check that it’s not creating a vignette in the corners because you have added one extra filter in front of the lens. If you have a UV filter on your lens, remember to remove it before placing the ND filter.​​

Related Article: The Beginners Guide to Bulb Ramping Timelapse


About the Author

Ramakant Sharda is an authoriOS App publisherpassionate photographer and a MIOPS Ambassador based in the beautiful “Pink City” of India, known as Jaipur. His work has been published in various magazines, newspapers, and blogs. He has published three Coffee Table Books, he writes about photography and also teaches photography in his workshops. Check out his website http://ClickManic.com to see the masterpieces created by him or download his free app for iPhone and iPad “30 Days to an Ace Photographer“.

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