What is a long exposure?
The words “long exposure” means that you expose the sensor of your camera to receive more light because you keep the shutter open for a longer period of time. With moving objects and a longer duration of the shutter speed, this results in motion blur. This motion blur can be used in different techniques like light trails from passing cars, smooth out water from a running stream or waterfall, but also gives you the possibility to photograph the stars.
Below you can see what a long exposure does with a waterfall. The first photo is taken with a shutter speed of 1/125 second which shows the water falling down as seen with the human eye. The second photo is taken with a shutter speed of 1/3 second which smooths out the water what results in silky water. What you like more depends on your own taste!
How to prepare for a long exposure photo?
- Create a plan and make sure to check the weather conditions. This is not only important when creating long exposure shots, you have to be aware of the weather conditions anytime you go out for shooting. Scout your location through Instagram or Google and find some photo examples. Watching YouTube vlogs or videos of the location might also be a good way of preparing yourself;
- Make sure your batteries are fully charged and you have a reserve battery with you;
- Enough memory card space;
- Take a lens cloth with you so you can clean your lens, especially when photographing waterfalls or close to sea water;
- Pick a good, and safe, spot. Make sure your tripod is stable on the ground, so that wind or waves can’t bring it out of balance. Wrap the strap of your camera around the tripod, to prevent the belt from striking the tripod by the wind and causing vibration, which will result in blur as well;
- Do test shots! Don’t start shooting right away. Always do some test shots to ensure you are getting the right framing, composition, shutter speed, exposure and focus;
- Last but not least, make sure your lens is clean. Nothing so annoying than seeing your photos on big screen and find out that there were some dirt spots on your lens… Takes extra time in the post-production 😉
Always make sure your lens is clean before you start photographing
Long exposure photo suggestions
As long as there is movement, you can make a long exposure photo. Here are some ideas you can use for making a long exposure photo.
- Light trails of passing cars;
- Running stream;
- Seawater rolling over rocks;
- Clouds (and the sea);
- Star photography;
- Lightning during a thunderstorm;
- Passing people in a city.
Best settings for a long exposure
If you understand the theory of long exposure and what it technically does inside your camera, it is easier to find the right settings on your camera. You expose the sensor of your camera to more light because you keep the shutter open for a longer period of time, so you have to adjust the other settings.
- ISO. Keep your ISO as low as possible (100). This because during the daytime there is already enough light coming into the sensor. With night photography this is different and you need a higher ISO. To learn more about night photography read this blog post!
- Aperture. Because there is more light coming into the sensor, you need to adjust your aperture to F11 – F16, or sometimes even F22. This is not the same with night photography, then you’ll need to set your diaphragm wide open, for example on F1.4.
- Shutter speed. Depending on the speed of the movement of your subject and the effect you want to achieve you have to try some different settings of shutter speed. Especially when you want to achieve long exposures during the daytime, it’s often necessary to use ND filters which cuts down the light entering the lens.
- Focus. Focus manually and then turn off the autofocus. With an ND filter, you have to focus on your subject before you install the ND filter because a filter is usually too dark to be able to focus on your subject.
- Put on an ND filter if necessary. How strong your ND filter should be, depends on the effect you are aiming for, how much light is present at that moment and the speed of movement of the subject to be photographed.
Now you have all the information to shoot a long exposure photo yourself. If you have more questions about this subject, don’t hesitate to ask them in the comments! We are happy to answer them and help you.