In this article, I will present you an extensive long exposure photography tutorial in the form of a step-by-step ultimate guide to creating award-winning artistic long exposure architecture photography, long exposure landscape photography and motion blur photography. I will be telling you all you need to know about this technique so you can start creating great long exposure photographs right from the start. In addition, I will provide links to all the equipment I am talking about, and, when possible, as in the case of Formatt-Hitech neutral density filters, also discount codes for it. To find out what the code is, read on.
I started writing this article as a long exposure crash course where I wanted to share the essential, but, as it happened with many of my articles lately, it evolved into an extensive tutorial, so you will get even more than it was planned in the beginning. I can guarantee you that this tutorial will be an excellent tool for the beginning long exposure photographer, but the advanced long exposure photographer will find some flavor here too. I have won many awards for my long exposure work and I hope this tutorial will help you win just as many.
I will be updating this tutorial periodically, to keep it up to everything new that is happening in long exposure and to add info and advice from my experience or from the experience of others that can help you get better at this technique all the time. If you want to get the updates you can subscribe to my website and you’ll get them as soon as I publish them.
I have many years of experience in working with long exposure, and if you ask around you will see that I am mostly known for my black and white architecture work and for my black and white long exposure images. It is not for nothing that I have been called (in jest) “the Queen of Long Exposure”. It makes me smile, just like it makes me smile the other nickname I have been given, “the Queen of Darkness” for my technique of creating dark black and white images (i.e. the series Ode to Black), but, even if playful, these nicknames say something serious about my work – that I am known for my long exposure and for my dark black and white work and that people appreciate it, appreciation for which I am very grateful. Speaking of which, here is my Complete Guide to Black and White Photography with my thoughts on what makes a good black and white photograph and a quick review of my black and white processing.
I have first come in contact with long exposure in 2005 through the work of Alexey Titarenko, an almost unknown Russian photographer at the time and whom I am recommending everyone ever since. The French-German cultural channel ARTE had made a short documentary about Titarenko, that you can watch here, that I happened to watch and after seeing his haunting people motion blur series City of Shadows (1991-1994) I knew this is what I want to do. From that moment on I fell in love with this technique we call long exposure. Now Titarenko’s work is much better known in the art world, but if you don’t know him, I warmly recommend you to go see his work. Fast forward 13 years and I still love this technique and use it extensively.
Of course, I couldn’t talk about long exposure without mentioning, next to Titarenko, one of the best long exposure photographers and one of the pioneers of this genre who provided inspiration for many other artists, Michael Kenna. Almost all black and white long exposure photographers I know mention Kenna as an inspiration and he is one of the first names you will hear when you start studying long exposure. His work doesn’t comprise only long exposure, but a big part of his photographs was created with this technique and they have set the standard for many younger photographers. So if you don’t know him yet, I would recommend you to look at his work.
I have taught long exposure techniques in my workshops and photography courses for a long time, which on one hand helped me study it even further, and on the other hand, it gave me an extended insight into what photographers wanting to learn long exposure need when starting to learn this technique. Since this is such a big part of my photography and since people respect my knowledge in this field, it is my duty and my pleasure to share what I know with you and I would be more than happy if this helps those wanting to learn or to perfect their long exposure technique.
Among the students I am working with and the readers of this blog, there are many experienced long exposure photographers, but there are also many who are beginning long exposure photographers and even those who haven’t worked with long exposure before but find it fascinating and want to learn it.
If you are an advanced long exposure photographer you may not need to study this course in depth, but I want to be fair and provide value and help all my readers and all my students and there are many people reading my articles that are just beginners in long exposure who will find great help in this extensive long exposure photography tutorial. And even advanced long exposure photographers may find some useful tips. I am always full of tips and tricks; my students can vouch for it anytime.
While there are resources out there dealing with long exposure in detail, as you can for instance find in my book From Basics to Fine Art – Black and White Photography with co-author Joel Tjintjelaar, and in my video tutorial Long Exposure, Architecture, Fine Art Photography – Creating (en)Visionography I was often asked by my students and the readers of this blog to write a long exposure tutorial that will get them up and running quickly, without needing to study extensively the respective literature.
This is why I am creating this extensive long exposure photography tutorial, to help you learn the essential and what you need in order to be able to get great long exposure images immediately.
Of course, honing your technique is going to give you better results and it will help you experiment with long exposure extensively, but having seen the frustration of so many photographers because the material they find available is either too basic or too advanced, I want to give you now the best advice and the most useful tips so you can start shooting long exposure tomorrow, or even today, if you want to.
I have had students coming to my workshops who hardly had a neutral density filter with them and had barely studied long exposure photography, who didn’t even know how to set up a long exposure shot, but who completed the workshop a few days later having a great long exposure portfolio and being really confident in their long exposure skills. Those like them will be the ones who will take the most advantage of this article and they are the living proof that learning long exposure doesn’t need to give you a headache, but it can be quick and fun.
In addition to this extensive long exposure photography tutorial you may want to have a look to my article Long Exposure Photography with Medium Format a tutorial about shooting long exposure photography with a medium format camera, more specifically with the Fujifilm GFX 50S, the camera I am working with at the moment and which I have reviewed recently in what turned out to be the most complete Fujifilm GFX 50S review available at the moment.
So, let’s get started!
LONG EXPOSURE PHOTOGRAPHY PRINCIPLES AND TECHNIQUES
WHAT IS LONG EXPOSURE
From a technical point of view, long exposure means to extend the time the analog film or the digital sensor is exposed to light, while taking a photograph, in order to be able to record the motion in the scene, be it clouds, water or people moving.
FINE ART LONG EXPOSURE PHOTOGRAPHY
From an artistic and symbolic point of view, long exposure can be whatever your vision needs it to be:
- A way of modifying reality
- A way of creating a minimal image
- A way of reducing a scene to its essence
- A new way of artistic expression
Long exposure is one of the most important techniques in fine art photography. And one of the most fascinating. The outstanding thing about long exposure and that makes it such a precious technique for fine art photography is the ability to alter reality in such a degree. Long exposure images look nothing like reality and those who see a long exposure image for the first time are always amazed, intrigued and impressed. Even people who are working with this technique for years are still fascinated by the results they get or that they see in images taken by other photographers.
Long exposure can be a huge and continuous source of inspiration for a photographer and for an artist.
CREATING EMOTION WITH LONG EXPOSURE – A TOOL TO EXPRESS YOUR VISION
I am working with long exposure for many years and, while it is not the only technique I am using in my photography, it is the one that fascinates me the most. It is one of the techniques that will always make me dream and will always able to transport me to a different space and time, to a different reality, to a story that exists only in my imagination and in the imagination of those who are looking at the images I create with this technique.
I know many of you think the same, either you are advanced or just beginner long exposure photographers. I know we speak the same language and feel the same emotion when creating with this technique.
Because it is such a powerful technique I consider it important for those who use it to know how to use it well, so they are able to make the best of the potential to create emotion and to express an artistic vision of this technique.
Maybe emotion in art does not directly come from the technique we are using, and it is rather an outcome of our artistic vision, but the technique we use is very important so we can actually create the object of art we are imagining in our minds and souls.
I want to give you the most important information and tips in this extensive long exposure photography tutorial, so it becomes easier for you to apply them in your work without even thinking about them. When these principles will become familiar it will be much easier for you to focus on your vision and on the scene in front of you when shooting, and not need to figure out the technical stuff at every step, which can be so frustrating and can make you lose great shots. I know how frustrating this can be, I’ve been there too. I may be a professional long exposure photographer for quite some time now, but believe me, I am human too. I’ve started where everybody started: at wondering “how on earth do they do this?” and at making mistakes and losing great shots while trying to figure out how to do it. So I know how frustrating it can be, just as I know how wonderful you feel when you got it right.
WHY SHOOT A LONG EXPOSURE WHEN YOU CAN JUST REPLACE THE SKY?
I can tell you I am hearing this question at each and every workshop I teach and almost every student I am mentoring or working with generally is asking this question. So I think it is an important question to answer even before getting into the tech details or tips and tricks, and I’ll try to answer it here the best I can.
First, I think this question is a little like the question “why shoot with a DSLR when you can shoot it with an iPhone?”. Isn’t that obvious? For me it is.
No offense meant for those who make an artistic choice to shoot with their iPhone, and there are photographers who raised phone photography to the level of art, but when this question is made in terms of simplification I will say that, in my opinion, simplification is not only the answer. And you are talking to somebody whose mantra is “simplify your life”. But that means simplifying things when you have a better result when you simplify them and not when you have to sacrifice essence.
Replacing the sky in an image to make it look like a long exposure, when you could have taken that image as a real long exposure, will mean missing all the essence of long exposure, missing the experience, the emotion you feel when you shoot a long exposure, the process of envisioning and creating an image where time is compressed and where you can capture the evolution of life over a period of time and show it in just one frame. I find that fascinating and I find that this is what makes long exposure a transcendental experience which results in the image you see in the end. Replacing the sky will only create the effect but will not give you the experience. Why would you want to lose that?
LIGHT QUALITY IN LONG EXPOSURES VS SHORT EXPOSURES – THE “LONG EXPOSURE SOFTBOX EFFECT”™
ANOTHER REASON TO NOT SIMULATE A LONG EXPOSURE
I haven’t encountered anybody else talking extensively about this so far, but I think it is a vital long exposure aspect and it is important to talk about it. This is one of the things I am extensively discussing with my students in my workshops and photography courses.
The reasons to actually shoot a long exposure image and not just simulate the effect, are not only related to artistic experiences or artistic expression but are also related to the practical results. Because the light in a long exposure image will look very different than the light in a short exposure image. You may not realize this but it is true.
Just have a look at the example below where I shot the same scene as a short and a long exposure, minutes away from each other and in the exact same light conditions, and you will see how much softer the light is in the long exposure image and how punchy the contrasts are in the short exposure.
This is happening because the clouds passing in the sky during the long exposure are filtering the light and are creating something that I call a “Long Exposure Softbox Effect”™, or simply LESE.
If you are familiar with portrait photography you know that softboxes are used to make the light more uniform, softer and more pleasant to the eye. The effect is more flattering for the subject and it creates a dreamier look.
Long Exposure – 330 sec (5 1/2 min), f/9, ISO 100, 24mm Canon Tilt-shift Lens – National Insurance Company Athens – ©Julia Anna Gospodarou 2015
Short Exposure – 1/200, f/9, ISO 100, 24mm Canon Tilt-shift Lens – National Insurance Company Athens – ©Julia Anna Gospodarou 2015
This is what is happening in long exposure too. The effect created by the filtered light is different than what we see with the naked eye so without even doing anything else you are able to create something magic just by shooting a long exposure instead of a short exposure.
So I am asking again, why would you want to lose that if you can have it?
WHEN COULD YOU CONSIDER SIMULATING A LONG EXPOSURE?
It may be understandable to try to simulate the long exposure effect when you have no other choice.
For instance when you are traveling and the sky is clean with no trace of clouds, and you cannot spend enough time in a location to wait for the best conditions, and cannot come back soon because you are at the end of the world, in a remote inaccessible location (you get the idea), but at the same time you don’t want to miss the shot that you have envisioned for the past few years. Then you “gotta do what you gotta do”, as I like to say. You need to make the best out of your conditions and get the best shot that you can get considering the conditions you have.
If there are no clouds in the sky and there is nothing you can do to shoot that location at a different time, that would be the only case where I would consider creating a long exposure effect in a still shot.
I’ve known students or fellow photographers who are living in countries with very few clouds, and I am living in one of those countries too – Greece hardly has any clouds in the summer which allows me to shoot long exposure mostly during the winter, and there are even more extreme cases. If you live in an area with no clouds, I may understand why you would consider replacing the sky in a short exposure image to make it look like a long exposure, from time to time, but why would you miss the experience in any other case when you have good conditions, as most people living in temperate climate areas have?
THREE YEARS TO GET A LONG EXPOSURE SHOT
As an example of perseverance in getting a real long exposure vs simulating one, if you look at the image showcased at the beginning of this article, the first image in my Enlightenment series, the image Enlightenment I – Eifel Tower Paris I can tell you that I needed more than 3 years to get the best conditions to shoot this image and I never stopped trying until I did it. I am not living in Paris but I kept going back time after time, year after year, until the conditions were right. I can tell you that I had all kind of troubles with this scene until I got the best conditions. It was either raining, or the sky was completely blue with no trace of clouds, or it was totally overcast, or there were different temporary structures arrayed in this space that were always ruining my shot. I did take a shot all those times but I didn’t rest until I got the shot I had in mind. And that is what you see in my portfolio, and it happened after 3 years of trying.
I think I gave a quite clear response to this question. There is a reason related to the emotion of shooting a long exposure and there is a reason related to the practical side of how the light looks in a long exposure image that will always plead for making a real long exposure and not just re-creating the effect in a short exposure.
The second part of the response to this question would be an even more practical one and that is that we don’t only shoot long exposure to record the movement of the clouds, but we can use this technique to soften the water in a seascape for instance, or to capture the movement of people or other objects moving in the frame. If you can re-create a long exposure sky quite easily, that doesn’t stand for water or people motion blur. In that case, your best bet is to actually do a long exposure.
THE MEANING AND SYMBOLISM OF LONG EXPOSURE – WHY I CREATE LONG EXPOSURE PHOTOGRAPHS
For me long exposure means to travel to a world I cannot access while doing classic photography, or when looking at the real world in a conventional way.
It is a mental and personal trip to the unknown, to my subconscious, to that part of my brain and soul that I can only explore through art.
Long exposure is a way of coming in contact with the unseen side of my personality and with my unknown sensibilities that I can explore only by changing the way I look at the world.
I use long exposure as a tool to create a perfect world in my images because I always dreamed of a perfect world, and the only way I could find to create one was through art.
Long exposure removes many of the things that interfere with the idea of perfection in a scene and help the artist and the viewer focus on the essence of the subject and on the vision that created the photograph.
TYPES OF LONG EXPOSURE – BY TIME OF DAY
NIGHT TIME LONG EXPOSURE
This kind of exposures are used mostly with the purpose of overcoming the lack of light in the scene, as it happens when we shoot at night. Here are some examples of long exposure photography taken by night.
DAYTIME LONG EXPOSURE
This kind of exposures are used mostly for artistic purposes, to create a different looking image than what the viewer is used to seeing in a photograph.
TYPES OF LONG EXPOSURE – BY SUBJECT MATTER
We could consider 3 main types of long exposure according to the subject matter of the image. These types may have subtypes and they may combine with each other.
The main 3 types are:
- Long Exposure Architecture
- Long Exposure Seascapes and Long Exposure Landscapes
- Long Exposure Motion Blur (People and Other)
LONG EXPOSURE ARCHITECTURE
Long exposure architecture photography is my specialty so I could talk about it for hours but since I’m trying to keep things more concise here I will leave this for another article where I can get into detail about everything.
The main subjects when you shoot architecture long exposure can be:
- Architectural Structures
- Abstract architectural details
And here are a couple of examples of what I mean by architecture long exposure.
LONG EXPOSURE SEASCAPES AND LONG EXPOSURE LANDSCAPES
Long exposure seascapes and long exposure landscapes can comprise everything natural, not only the sea but also other waterscapes and generally scenes where he can see little to no human intervention.
Some of the subjects you may find in this kind of long exposure are:
- Sea, Lakes
- Waterfalls, Rivers
- Moving vegetation
Again, here are some examples of long exposure photography from my work of what I mean when talking about this subject.
ARCHITECTURE COMBINED WITH SEASCAPE/WATERSCAPE LONG EXPOSURE
Architecture and architectural structures can be also combined with landscapes or with seascapes and then we can create hybrid subjects that can be very interesting scenes where we have in opposition the natural elements and man-made structures that are interacting with them.
Here are a couple of examples of this kind of subject from my work.
LONG EXPOSURE MOTION BLUR (PEOPLE AND OTHER)
The third type of long exposure is motion blur of people or other subjects. I consider this type of long exposure one of the most interesting ones because it can carry with it and convey such a deep symbolism of the human presence which can create very strong images.
Some subjects again think about when shooting this kind of long exposure are:
- People moving
- Individuals in motion
- Crowds in motion
- Birds flying
- Cars (vehicles) moving
These are a few examples of the images I created with motion blur.
FROM REGULAR EXPOSURE TO LONG EXPOSURE – WHAT IS THE MAGIC BEHIND IT
First let me tell you that, exposure being the main thing we concentrate on when doing long exposure, we obviously need a way to lengthen it so we can capture movement, and this is done by adding neutral density filters (ND filters) in front of our lens.
The neutral density filters will reduce the light that enters the lens and reaches the sensor, which means, in order to be able to capture an actual image, we will need to increase the exposure by an amount that has to do with how intense the neutral density filter is, and by extension with how much the light that reaches the sensor is reduced.
LONG EXPOSURE PHOTOGRAPHY EQUIPMENT
NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTER (ND FILTER) TYPES
REGULAR NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTERS – ND FILTERS
The neutral density filters are pieces of glass, or sometimes made of special resins, that are treated in such a way to be darkened in order to let less light pass through the lens and reach the sensor. This enables you to lengthen the exposure you need in order to create an image.
Neutral density filters exist in different intensities and are calculated in f-stops. The f-stop number of a certain neutral density filter has to do with how many stops of light that specific filter is blocking from hitting the sensor. This means that each additional stop in a neutral density filter means you will need to increase your exposure by one stop to be able to get a well-exposed image, when keeping constant the aperture and the ISO.
NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTER TYPES – BY SHAPE AND ATTACHING SYSTEM
Depending on their shape and attaching system, there are 2 types of ND filters you can use: Square ND Filters on a holder (type Formatt-Hitech http://www.leefilters.com/ or Lee http://www.leefilters.com/ , Tiffen https://tiffen.com/ Breakthrough Photography https://breakthrough.photography/ etc.) or Circular Screw-in ND Filters (the previous brands, plus B+W, Hoya etc.).
Both systems have advantages and disadvantages. These advantages or disadvantages are not related to quality, since each brand will use more or less the same filters for both circular and square filters, but they have to do with practicality.
I use both systems depending on the situation, and I tend to use the square filters when I need to also use an ND grad filter or when I shoot with ultra-wide angle lenses that cannot take a circular filter and you need to attach the filter to a holder to be able to hold it in place.
SQUARE NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTERS
The square neutral density filters are square or also rectangular and are made most of the time out of special glass and sometimes out of special resins. In order to be attached to the lens, they need to be fastened on a holder that is attached to the lens. The holder can be made in metal or plastic. The best holders are obviously those in metal since they are sturdier and will last longer.
Square Neutral Density Filters Advantages
- They fit on all types of lenses if using an adequate adapter holder
- The holder can take an ND Grad filters too
Square Neutral Density Filters Disadvantages
- They are easier to break and more cumbersome
- The system is more complicated
CIRCULAR NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTERS
Circular neutral density filters (from 37mm to 77mm diameter and from 82mm to 127mm diameter) do not need the holder to be attached to the lens so they can be more practical but they have some limitations as far as which lenses they can be attached to and as for their compatibility with neutral density graduated filters, something we would talk about in the following section.
Circular Neutral Density Filters Advantages
- Practical and easy to use and store between shots (especially the 13 or 16-stop Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra that do not need to be stacked)
- Do not break as easily as the square filters
Circular Neutral Density Filters Disadvantages
- They cannot take a square ND Grad filter (which is more versatile than the circular ND Grad)
- You need a step up/down ring to fit different diameter lenses
- They do not fit directly on ultra-wide angle lenses that have a bulky glass element
GRADUATED NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTERS – ND GRAD
For those who don’t know what an ND grad filter is, it is a filter that is transparent on one half of its surface and treated as a neutral density filter on the other half of its surface and it is used to reduce the light only on part of the scene in situations of high contrast, for instance when you have a bright sky and a dark ground, as it happens at sunset.
ND grad filters can also be circular or square, or rather rectangular. Since circular ND grad filters are not very practical – you only have the split line between the dark glass and the clear glass in the middle of the filter, thus in the middle of your frame – they limit your composition options. Also stacking a circular ND filter with other circular ND filters can increase the vignette you would get in the image. This is why I am only using rectangular ND grad filters and this is why it is preferable to use square ND filters when you also use an ND grad filter. In other cases, circular ND filters can be more practical.
Depending on the distribution of the neutral density area on the surface of the filter, the ND grad filters can be:
SOFT EDGE Neutral Density Grad Filter
The Soft Edge ND Grad filter has a soft transition between the clear and the neutral density area.
HARD EDGE Neutral Density Grad Filter
The Hard Edge ND Grad filter has a hard (steep) transition between the clear and the neutral density area.
MEDIUM Neutral Density Grad Filter (between soft and hard)
The Medium ND Grad filter has a transition between the neutral density and the clear area that can be considered between soft and hard.
REVERSE Neutral Density Grad Filter
The Reverse ND Grad filter has a darker neutral density area on the edge between the clear and the neutral density side and it becomes more transparent towards the edge of the filter. It is comparable with a soft neutral density filter with the neutral density area reversed, thus the name.
BLENDER Neutral Density Grad Filter
The Blender ND Grad filter has a uniform gradation from dark to transparent on the entire surface of the filter, enabling the softest transition in light from one edge to the other of the photograph.
RECOMMENDED NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTER SYSTEM
Even if iI I believe that different things can work for different people, and that the ideal kit has to do with your own style of photography, in this extensive long exposure photography tutorial I want to also share with you my own experiences, not only give you cold numbers or stiff rules, because I think you can learn best from experience, so I want to give you my recommendations that come from my extensive experience with this technique.
The system I am using for many years now is the Formatt-Hitech filter system, a system that I am warmly recommending since at the moment it has the widest range of filters and accessories.
You can opt for the Firecrest line or the Firecrest Ultra line – the newest and most advanced ND filters, the best ND filters at this moment from my experience. Formatt-Hitech not only has some of the best quality filters available, some of the most neutral (no color cast) and sharpest filters, but they have the widest range of filters, covering from 1 to 24 stops (from 0.3 to 7.2 density).
BASIC LONG EXPOSURE KIT
In case you go for Formatt-Hitech, I would recommend as a basic kit a set of 16, 13 and 10-stop ND filters (both circular and square filter) that cut off 16 stops (13 or 10 stops) of light, or a set of 10, 6 and 3-stop filters, either circular filters, or square filters on a holder.
IDEAL COMPLETE LONG EXPOSURE KIT
Square & Circular ND Filter Systems – 3, 6, 10, 13, 16-stop Firecrest Ultra ND Filters (100mm Square & 82mm Circular)
Firecrest 10mm Anti Lightleak Holder Kit with integrated polarizing filter (Julia Anna Gospodarou Edition – you will recognize it from my photo on the box)
If you have the possibility and you want to cover all cases where you may need to work with neutral density filters, from shooting people motion blur to really long exposures, I would recommend you to get a set of 3, 6, 10, 13 and 16 stop neutral density filters. These are the densities I am working with and the combinations I am generally recommending in order to be able to cover most of the light situation you can meet.
I use both circular and square filters in this densities and I can tell you that I am covering all my long exposure needs like this.
To this, you can add the Firecrest 10mm Anti Lightleak Holder Kit an advanced holder that will eliminate the light leak you can experience when shooting with square filters. The holder also contains a polarizing filter and has incorporated a rotation system for this filter which is very practical and useful. Here is how this kit looks like below and you can get it, like all other Formatt-Hitech products with 10% discount with code JULIA10.
Firecrest and Firecrest Ultra filters are color cast free and they are my first choice. There is also the option to use Formatt-Hitech ProStop IRND filters, which is an older and less expensive line, but keep in mind you may have to deal with a slight blue color cast in that case, since they are resin and not glass filters.
If you want my advice, and this stands for any kind of gear you may want to acquire, buy the best gear you can afford because with gear the old saying “you get what you pay for” is always right. Gear may be expensive but buying lower quality gear would always be more expensive, not only because you will need to buy better one very quickly but because it is very likely that you will lose shots or get lower quality images if your gear is not good enough. You don’t need to go for the high-end products, but you need to have a decent set up if you want to do photography seriously.
One of the things that I recommend you to invest in when working with long exposure is good quality neutral density filters that will give you high-quality images, will not reduce the sharpness of your lenses, introduce color cast or reduce the intensity of the blacks, or other artifacts that lower-end gear can produce.
FORMATT-HITECH ND FILTERS DISCOUNT
Because I love Formatt-Hitech filters and I am working with them for many years, I have a very good relationship with the people over there and they were so kind to give me access to a discount code that I can offer to my students and followers. And I am happy to share it with you.
If you want to purchase any Formatt-Hitech filter or accessory, you can use my discount code JULIA10 to receive 10% discount off any purchase you make from Formatt-Hitech UK website or from Formatt-Hitech USA website.
You can use this code at any time and, if you want, you can also share it with other photographers who want to work with the best neutral density filters. I care for you and I am grateful to everybody who is reading my articles, and this is why I am sharing this code with you, so if you care for others you can share it further and I’d be happy if it helps other photographers too.
NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTERS RATINGS – HOW TO READ THE NUMBERS ON AN ND FILTER
Since I am not exactly the technical type and math is not exactly my favorite science, this is something that always drove me crazy and I still can’t say I can tell all the numbers off the top of my head.
How to read the numbers on the neutral density filters?
Well, from now on you don’t need to wonder anymore. You can just have a look at the table below that I made especially for this extensive long exposure photography tutorial and you can see clearly the relationship between the f-stop number, the optical density of each filter and the rating number each brand uses.
The table is mostly a guide to reading neutral density filters numbers. The brands mentioned in the table don’t necessarily have available all the densities you can find under each brand in the table. What you can do here is to see the relationship between the numbering system and what each brand uses as a denomination, and then you can check out the needed densities on each brand website. As I was saying earlier and you can see it in the table also, Formatt-Hitech is the only brand that covers densities from one stop to 24 stops.
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE TRIPOD IN LONG EXPOSURE?
Short answer: HUGELY important. Let me say it like this: there is no long exposure without a tripod (unless you expect to always find an ad hoc support for your camera, like parapets or such, or if you still believe that a beanbag can replace a tripod).
Having a good sturdy tripod when you shoot long exposure will pay off so be generous when you invest in your tripod, as it can become your best friend.
Usually, I would stay away from travel or small tripod for serious long exposure work and especially when it is windy.
One thing you always want to do, regardless of the tripod you are using, is to make sure you place the tripod on a steady surface and double check how securely the camera is attached to the tripod so it doesn’t fall off. You will be surprised to hear how many have broken their cameras when they fell off the tripod because they weren’t well attached or the tripod wasn’t stable. I almost had a heart attack too once because of this.
ALUMINUM OR CARBON FIBER?
You will find mostly 2 kinds of tripods, the aluminum ones and the carbon fiber ones.
The aluminum tripods, the classic tripods, are generally sturdy and resistant, they are also less expensive, but they tend to be heavy so I would only recommend an aluminum tripod if you can move from spot to spot on longer distances in your vehicle and you don’t need to walk around too long caring your tripod. Also I would not recommend this tripod if you need to travel often by airplane since it will increase the weight you will carry and as you know there is always a limit to the weigh you can carry when you fly and I can tell you from personal experience that I am always at the limit when traveling for photography assignments or workshops.
The carbon fiber tripods are more expensive than the aluminum tripods but they are quite light so they are more easily carried from place to place and they don’t break your back when you hike or walk for a long time. Also as I said previously, it is going to be easier to pack them when traveling by plane because they will weigh less.
Back in the day, I started by using aluminum tripods but for quite a few years now I am using carbon fiber ones and I can tell you that, as tripod technology evolved, the carbon fiber tripods have become just as sturdy and stable if not sturdier than the regular aluminum tripods. They are still more expensive, and this can be an issue, but it is money worth spending because they solve you so many problems.
HOW MANY TRIPOD LEG SECTIONS IS BEST
Another thing to look after when you buy a tripod is how many sections the tripod legs will have. As a rule, if you want to save space but you are not so interested in sturdiness you will buy tripod legs with more sections since they will fold down into smaller and shorter folded tripods.
If you care for sturdiness though, as I do, even if this comes at the price of a more uncomfortable caring process, you will go for tripod legs with fewer sections. These legs will fold down into longer folded tripods and may not be as easy and comfortable to walk around with but they will give you more stability and I go for stability and quality any day, even if it breaks my back. But don’t worry, the difference in size is not going to be so big for you to not be able to overcome it.
So going back to the rule, I would say when you shoot long exposure the best bet would be tripod legs with fewer sections. Three sections is the most widespread for medium size tripods and for larger tripods 4 sections would be good too. However don’t go further unless you have a serious reason for it.
Also, you will want to get legs that fold down with a screw in mechanism between the sections and not with a clamp, which is a quicker mechanism and a safer one. I can’t even remember how many times I caught my fingers in the clamps of my old Manfrotto 055XPROB (new model Manfrotto MT055XPRO3) which other than that is a great tripod.
TRIPOD HEAD TYPES AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Whoever knows me knows that I prefer ball heads to any other heads because they give you the most freedom of movement which for me means freedom of composition. So I would recommend this kind of ball heads.
The setup I am using on my larger tripod is the carbon fiber FLM CP30-XL PRO tripod with an FLM CB-58FTR PRO ball head. This ball head is a very smart one that in a way combines the ball head idea with the geared head since you can move it freely and very easily so you can compose in different ways very quickly, but it also has a special knob that blocks the movement of the ball head on just one direction which makes it quite accurate if you need to compose with accuracy, like for instance when you need to control in the highest degree your composition – control your verticals, horizontals etc.
I am using a ball head for my travel tripod also. This is another great set up that I am recommending warmly. Just like my first set up is quite expensive but you can use a tripod for years and years if you treat it right so it is a great value. My travel set up is a Gitzo GT2545T Traveler Series 2 Carbon Fiber Tripod and a Gitzo Series 1Traveller GH1382QD Center Ball Head. It is a quite compact set up great for travel and for hiking or walking long distances which makes it perfect for the purpose I need it.
Except for the ball head, you can find other types of tripod heads that can be useful if used right.
The main tripod heads types are:
- Ball Heads
- Geared Heads
- Pan & Tilt Heads
- Fluid Heads (derived from Pan & Tilt heads – especially for video)
- Gimbal Heads (for large heavy lenses – wildlife etc.)
- Panoramic Heads
- Pistol Grip Heads
As a practical tip, it is worth talking about the Arca-Swiss Quick Release plates that have become the standard in the industry of tripod head plates. The Arca-Swiss plates have a quick release system created by Arca-Swiss that was adopted by many other manufacturers and this can make easier the combination of different brands of tripods and plates.
When you buy a tripod head you need to also buy a plate that you will attach to your camera, by means of which the camera will be attached to the tripod. The tripod head and the plate going on your camera have to fit with each other and this is something you need to keep in mind and check.
While they are dominant at this moment, there are still some other plate types and it is worth keeping in mind when you buy a plate or a tripod to check if they are compatible. One way to ensure that they are compatible is to check if they have Arca-Swiss style plates.
I find this a very good practical piece of advice especially if you are not very familiar with tripods but you still want to create the best system for you, which means buying the tripod parts and the head separately and not necessarily as a tripod kit.
TRIPOD PLATES – SIMPLE PLATES VS L-BRACKET PLATES – WHICH ONE TO CHOOSE?
There are mainly 2 types of plates that will help you attach the camera to the tripod: the simple plates that you can attach to one side of the camera, the lower side, and the L-bracket plates, that you attach to the lower side of the camera but that create an L shape along the lower side and the lateral side of your camera, allowing you to attach the camera to the tripod in vertical format too. I personally use L-bracket plates as they give me much more freedom when out in the field. You can see in the image below how this works in practice and how the L-bracket helps with placing the camera in vertical position without needing to rely on the tripod’s movements.
In case you use a simple plate and you want to shoot vertically you will need to have a tripod head that has the possibility to turn the camera 90° so you can shoot vertically. However many heads don’t allow you to go up to 90° but only close to that so you will not be able to align the verticals and the horizon correctly when shooting and you will need to correct that in post-processing. This may be a bigger or smaller drawback depending on the situation but it is much better when you give yourself the freedom to shoot both horizontally and vertically on the tripod. You can do that when you have an L-bracket plate.
USING A SHUTTER CABLE RELEASE, A REMOTE CONTROL OR A SMARTPHONE APPLICATION TO ACTIVATE THE CAMERA
In case your camera does not allow shooting long exposures automatically in Manual mode you will need to use Bulb mode to do it and in that case, you will need a shutter cable release or a remote control to actuate the camera so you do not introduce vibration when pressing the shutter.
Some modern cameras, especially the latest releases, will allow you to shoot longer exposures, but slightly older cameras will classically only shoot up to 30 seconds exposures in Manual mode after which you need to use bulb mode for longer exposures. In Bulb mode though you need to start and end the exposure yourself thus you need to actuate the shutter and press again to top it. Obviously, this will make the camera shake so you will need to use an external device to actuate the camera automatically. This will be the shutter cable release or the wireless remote control. In some cases, you can also use your smartphone and an application playing the role of the remote control. The application may be your camera manufacturer’s application or a third party.
If you use a cable release, like I do for shots I cannot program in the camera, attaching the cable release is not difficult, however, what you have to keep in mind is to switch off the camera when you do it because otherwise it can interfere with the correct functioning of the camera during the exposure. Alternatively, you can use a remote control with the same results. What I recommend is a shutter cable release with a timer that stops automatically so you don’t need to keep an eye on it and turn it off when the time is up.
BEST LONG EXPOSURE SETTINGS – ISO AND APERTURE VALUES TO USE IN LONG EXPOSURE – IDEALLY: ISO 100 AND FROM F/7.1 TO F/13
The exposure you will need to create a certain long exposure effect is related to the intensity of the effect you want to obtain, obviously, but it is also related to your ISO. Higher ISO will always mean more noise and you don’t want that, especially that long exposure images will anyway have more noise due to the long exposure itself that stresses the sensor of the camera much more than a short exposure, making it warm up, which creates noise.
Aim to use ISO 100 – or your camera native ISO – to keep the noise low and not only, but to also help you lengthen the exposure time. Lower ISO means you need more time to record the image on the sensor, meaning longer exposure times.
Just like you need to control your ISO to get better quality images, controlling your aperture can help with this too.
I would recommend you to use as a rule an aperture going from f/7.1 to f/13 when you shoot landscape or architecture, in order to keep things in focus and get the best sharpness. This way you can also avoid the phenomenon of light diffraction that starts to occur at apertures smaller than f/13-f/14, especially at apertures smaller than f/16, and that makes the edges of your captured objects rather soft.
Try to shoot as close to the sweet spot of your lens so you get the most sharpness and less chromatic aeration or other artifacts. In most lenses, the sweet spot is close to f/8. If you know the sweet spot of your lens then stick with that as much as you can. If you don’t know the sweet spot of your lens then stick to f/8 and you’ll be fine.
ON THE OTHER HAND, FORGET ABOUT THE RULES – JUST GET THAT SHOT!
Let me be clear about this though. This doesn’t mean that increasing or decreasing the ISO or the aperture will ruin your image. This only means that, if you have the choice, you should shoot around these values, but don’t miss any shot just because you have to use different aperture settings or ISO than the ideal ones. The best image is the one you shot and if you haven’t shot any image, that is going to be no good anyway.
My advice is always to make the best of what you have. When you have good conditions use them but even if you don’t have good conditions or you have to push your gear to the limits, take that photo and you’ll see if it is going to be usable afterwards.
Aim for the best quality you can get under a certain set of conditions, not necessarily for the best quality that you could get in a testing laboratory conditions (that is never going to happen anyway), and don’t let images slip through your fingers just because you want to always follow the rules. Forget about the rules. Just think about your end goal.
The best rule I know is: “Adapts to your conditions”. That is when you get the best images. Show up for it, make the best of what you have and take that photo.
HOW TO CALCULATE THE RIGHT EXPOSURE
Calculating the right exposure to get the best long exposure shot is another thing that frustrates photographers starting out with long exposure. So let’s break that down and make it simple.
The best is to calculate the long exposure using a long exposure calculator on your smartphone. There are various applications that can help you with this. All you have to do is introduce in the applications fields the number of stops of your ND filter and the shutter speed you would use if you took a short exposure, so the image is well exposed. The application will indicate you the long exposure you need.
Alternatively, you can use a long exposure table, like the one you can find in my book, made by my co-author Joel Tjintjelaar, or you can do the math, but you should be quite good in math to do this because it takes a lot of counting. I know I started long exposure by doing the math, years ago when there were no applications or tables available, so I know what I am saying. I would sometimes need to do the calculations 3 times to be sure I got it right.
If you are completely against using a smartphone and you are stubborn enough to want to calculate the exposure yourself, a good tip is to count the stops between your short exposure and your long exposure and when you set the long exposure on your camera to go from the short exposure to the long exposure by counting the clicks the exposure wheel makes while you turn it to increase the exposure. You may want to calculate the number of clicks in half-stops or thirds of a stop, depending on how you set up the exposure increments on your camera. But honestly, in this day and age, it is much easier to get a smartphone and use a long exposure calculator.
Here are two long exposure calculators that you can install on your smartphone and use them to calculate the exposure.
If you use an Android smartphone:
Exposure Calculator App
If you use an iPhone:
Long Exposure Calculator App
Both calculators are reliable and you do not need anything else to get your exposure right. They are easy to use and very intuitive so I don’t need to explain them here. Just go on the applications themselves and you will understand how they work.
Slightly overexposing when you calculate your exposure on the calculator doesn’t hurt. It may even give you better quality in the shadows and smoother transition in tones. You could overexpose half a stop or even more, but do not exaggerate with overexposing, or you will blow out the highlights in your shot and if you go too far with the highlights it is going to be much more difficult to retrieve them than it would be to retrieve the shadows for example.
ADAPTING THE EXPOSURE TO THE GIVEN CONDITIONS – WHAT TO DO WHEN THE LIGHT IS CHANGING
Depending on the light conditions you have, you may want to increase or decrease the exposure you are getting on your calculator to be able to get the effect you are after, or simply to not overexpose or underexpose the image.
Sometimes the light conditions are very fickle. You may start an exposure in bright light but it can get darker as you advance with the exposure, like in the case where the clouds are fast and they are covering the sky very quickly, or in the case when you shoot at sunset when the light gets dimmer as you go. Or you may start an exposure in darker conditions, like when the sky is overcast and, in the process of taking the shot, the sky suddenly cleans up and everything becomes much brighter. It is not happening every day but in those cases you will need to adapt your exposure.
What you are going to do in those cases is that you are going to need to either decrease the exposure by stopping the camera before the time you have calculated or increase the exposure by leaving your camera shoot for longer.
Keep in mind that when the light is changing, for instance when you shoot at dusk and it is getting dark quickly you may need to overexpose when you calculate the exposure with a stop or even more. In case you haven’t but you see the condition changing you can just leave the exposure for longer. The opposite happens when the light is getting brighter and when you need to underexpose or stop the exposure earlier than the set time.
This is very important especially when you shoot at sunrise or sunset because the light is changing very quickly and if you miss an exposure this may mean missing that perfect light that only happens for a few minutes. That can be extremely frustrating so don’t risk it.
IS THERE SUCH A THING AS “IDEAL EXPOSURE”?
It all depends on your vision and intention with the image you are creating.
Just like in the case of short exposures, the length of a long exposure depends on what you want to achieve and there are no rules set in stone.
Depending on that and on the aesthetics you want to achieve in your image, you may want to use a shorter or longer exposure. A shorter exposure is going to give you more dynamism in the image as it will show more detail in the moving elements, while a longer exposure is going to soften things out much more removing the details in the moving elements in creating a more otherworldly atmosphere.
It depends on you what you want to achieve in your image but as a guideline, you can have these 2 following “rules” in mind.
RULES TO HELP YOU DECIDE THE LONG EXPOSURE LOOK
Softer details in the moving elements = Otherworldly Look
To smoothen out clouds, water and generally movement – go with a longer exposure – for instance, 5-7 minutes or even more.
More details in the moving elements = Dynamic Look
To retain more details and texture in the moving elements and create a more dynamic look – go with a shorter exposure – 2-3 minutes or even less.
HOW MANY ND STOPS YOU REALLY NEED AND WHY? – TRIED-AND-TRUE RULES
There is no rule set in stone. It all depends on what you want to achieve and the conditions you encounter in the field.
There are 2 main aspects that will influence the length of the exposure and implicitly the number of ND stops you will need.
- Intensity of light
- Motion speed: cloud/water/people motion speed
The combinations of the two, together with your vision, will give you the exposure length you need, thus the number of ND stops to use.
As a few rules of thumb, you can follow the principles below. These rules are tried-and-true and they are the only ones you need. Learn these simple rules and then you can let your imagination roam free.
- RIGHT light (sunny day – sun with clouds) – MORE ND stops – Stronger ND Filter – 16 Stops
- DIM light (overcast day/ sunrise/sunset) – LESS ND stops – Weaker ND Filter – 10 Stops or 13 Stops
- SLOW clouds – MORE ND – Stronger ND Filter – 16 Stops
- FAST clouds – LESS ND stops – Weaker ND Filter – 10 Stops or 13 Stops
- AGITATED water – MORE ND stops – Stronger ND Filter – 16 Stops
- CALM water – LESS ND stops – Weaker ND Filter – 10 Stops or 13 Stops
PEOPLE MOTION SPEED
- SLOW People motion – MORE ND stops – Stronger ND Filter – 16 Stops
- FAST People motion – LESS ND stops – Weaker ND Filter – 3, 6, 10 Stops
You can see these rules more analytically in the table below.
EXAMPLES – HOW TO CREATE LONG STREAKS OF LONG EXPOSURE CLOUDS
- BRIGHT day (sun and clouds) with SLOW clouds
6-7 MINUTES exposure f/13 – f/14 →16-stop ND
- BRIGHT day (sun and clouds) with FAST clouds
3-4 MINUTES exposure- f/9 -f/10 → 16-stop ND
- OVERCAST day (mostly cloudy) with SLOW clouds or close to sunset
6-8 MINUTES exposure – f/10 – f/11 → 13-stop ND
- OVERCAST day (mostly cloudy) with FAST clouds
3-4 MINUTES exposure – f/7.1 – f/8 → 16-stop ND
Again, you can see these rules more analytically in the table below that shows the best settings for long exposure photography, depending on the conditions and on the desired result.
These are rules of thumb but they are the only thing you need to get you started and even the only thing you need to help you become an advanced long exposure photographer. If you start from these rules it is sure that you’re going to get some great shots right from the beginning and then you can experiment to your heart’s desire.
IMPORTANT LONG EXPOSURE FACT
One thing to keep in mind as a rule (and this is a rule you cannot break because it is a rule of physics):
EACH ADDITIONAL ND STOP DOUBLES YOUR EXPOSURE
This is something very helpful to have in mind when you calculate your exposure.
It may sound like a no-brainer for those understanding well long exposure but for somebody who is still studying long exposure, it may not be very obvious. I can tell you there were plenty of students looking at me in wonder and telling me “Wow! I haven’t realized it” when I told them this. However, it is very important to understand this in practice so you know the value of each minute of exposure you are adding or subtracting when capturing your images.
MY TYPICAL LONG EXPOSURE WORKFLOW – STEP BY STEP
After presenting you the principles of long exposure and all these tips and tricks, this extensive long exposure photography tutorial has reached the point where I will share with you a few things about my usual long exposure workflow for setting up the shot. And of course, I will share more tips and tricks – don’t think I’m done with those.
What I do when I shoot long exposure are the following steps:
1. SHOOTING MODE – MANUAL
I always shoot long exposure in Manual mode. This gives me the possibility to set up and use whatever exposure I need, which is impossible to do with any other shooting mode: automatic or semi-automatic.
2. SWITCHING TO BULB MODE (UNLESS THE CAMERA CAN SHOOT LONG EXPOSURE IN MANUAL MODE)
The first thing I do is to set up the camera in Bulb mode so I can lengthen the exposure as much as I need and not be limited by the 30 seconds maximum exposure that I can capture outside Bulb mode.
Some newer cameras can shoot longer exposures than 30 seconds in manual mode, like the Fujifilm GFX 50S, and I think the Canon 5DS and the Nikon D850 too, but many do not so this is something to keep in mind.
3. SETTING THE ISO
I set up the ISO. The ISO will always be 100 (or the native ISO of your camera) so you get the least noise you can and also be able to lengthen your exposure furthermore. When the light is very bright and I need a longer exposure than my filter density and aperture setting allow me to shoot I may use ISO 50 to be able to lengthen the exposure even more. On the other hand, when the light is very dim and I don’t have a low enough ND filter, I may use ISO 200 so I don’t have too long of an exposure. I normally wouldn’t go higher than ISO 200 unless it is my only chance to shoot that image.
4. SETTING THE APERTURE
I set up the aperture. As I said before, do not close the aperture too much. It is better to add a stronger filter if you need a longer exposure than to use a too small aperture. Having the aperture too small, smaller than f/13-f/14, generally results in lower quality images because of the diffraction and also because of a higher amount of dust spots that you will see in your image (due to the large depth of field and how the camera is focused, dust spots are more likely to be seen at closed apertures, at more open ones they are not obvious at all).
5. FINDING THE COMPOSITION
I find my composition first handheld and then I set up the camera on the tripod and attach the shutter release cord. Once the camera is on the tripod I recreate the composition I have found handheld before. If you want to read more about how to compose an architecture photograph and how to generally approach architecture when photographing it, here is a tutorial I wrote about this subject that has become quite popular.
6. COVERING THE CAMERA TO AVOID LIGHT LEAKING THROUGH THE LENS WHEN SHOOTING WITH TILT-SHIFT LENSES
In case you are shooting with a tilt-shift lens, it is important to cover the lens so there are no light leaks through the openings between the moving elements of the lens. The tilt-shift lens is a lens that needs to have moving parts so you can tilt and shift it and even if the openings between these elements are very small and do not affect short exposures and exposures of a few seconds (up to 30 sec), in case you shoot a longer exposure light can enter through these small openings and reach the sensor damaging the exposure. This is why you need to use a cover to protect the lens from light. The cover can either be a ready-made cover, like the one in the image below, a custom-made one (you can make it yourself if you know about these things) or you can even use a scarf or a simple cloth to cover the lens.
7. METERING THE LIGHT
Without the neutral density filters on, I meter the light in the scene by setting the camera on Aperture Priority/Value. Usually, I set the camera for the Matrix metering mode (the general light metering mode that is considering the whole scene when metering) or the Center-weighted mode (the light metering mode that measures the light on an area around the center of the image). I use this mode when the shooting conditions are more contrasting – the light is harsher). I retain the measurement as I will need it to calculate the final long exposure.
I choose a neutral point in the scene to meter the light, so I do not get extreme results from metering on a very bright or on a very dark one.
I focus at the same time with metering by using AF autofocus. If you use a Tilt-Shift lens you will not have autofocus available, since tilt-shift lenses are manual focus lenses, so it will your eyes or the focus beep or dot that do the job. The best way to focus a tilt-shift lens is to do it using the Live View mode and zoom to 10x or to use Focus Peeking if you have this function on your camera.
9. TURNING OFF AUTOFOCUS AND VIBRATION CONTROL
When I am sure I nailed down the composition and I focused correctly, I turn off both auto-focus and vibration control/reduction on the lens or the camera, so the camera doesn’t introduce vibrations by itself. It happens when you have the camera set on the tripod and VR tries to make up for the lack of movement to actually introduce movement that will blur the shot. I know, this sounds counterintuitive, but it is true.
10. CALCULATING THE LONG EXPOSURE
When I am done with all these steps, I use a long exposure calculator introducing the initial exposure that the camera has measured in the beginning in Aperture Priority and that I retained, also the number of stops my ND filters have (alone or when stacked calculated together) and I get as a result the exposure that I have to dial in and use for the amount of ND stops I use for the shot.
11. MOUNTING THE NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTERS
I then mount the filters on the lens. You can do this before measuring the exposure on the LE calculator too, but it happens you may want to change something after that so better do it when you are sure you have the right aperture and everything set up correctly.
Either you use a circular filter, which you will screw directly on the lens, or a square filter that you will attach to a holder that is applied to the lens, you have to be very careful when you apply the filter so you don’t change the focus. Be sure you also switch to manual focus and switch off vibration control before taking the shot.
12. SEALING UP THE SQUARE FILTER HOLDER OR USING AN ANTI LIGHT LEAK HOLDER
To avoid light leak during the exposure, when shooting with a square filter, you can seal up the theater holder by using duct tape or, much better, use a special holder designed to protect from light leak, like the Firecrest 100mm Anti Lightleak Holder I use.
To see what can happen if you don’t seal your holder or use the anti-light leak Firecrest holder, have a look at the image below. I shot this image a few years ago, when there was no anti light leak holder available, and the funny thing is that I had sealed my holder since I knew I could have light leaks if I don’t. What happened was that the tape I used was not thick enough and it was still allowing the light to pass. It wasn’t easy to realize what was happening and I had to make different tests to find the reason, but it taught me something that I can share with you and this is to use completely opaque tape, preferably fabric tape and not paper tape to seal the filter.
13. ACTUATING THE SHUTTER
Once everything is set and measured I introduce the exposure time in the release control. I use a release control with timer, which is much more practical than the regular ones. Then I click the shutter of the release to start the exposure, having sometimes previously added a half stop or even more. As mentioned before, I increase the exposure when the light is changing and it is getting dark to make up for the changes and the dimming light.
Instead of a wired release control, you can also use a wireless one, a remote control or even a smartphone application of your camera manufacturer or third-party to activate the camera without touching it and to control the exposure.
14. TAKING THE SHOT
I wait for the remote control to close the shutter after the exposure is over.
15. CHECKING THE SHARPNESS
After the exposure time has ended be sure to check the result carefully so you know the image is sharp.
16. CHECKING THE HISTOGRAM
Then I check the exposure by using the histogram to make sure it is not too dark or blown out.
This is all you have to do.
If you have any issues reset and re-shoot. Hopefully, this does not happen when the light is changing fast because you might lose a certain moment you wanted to capture. This is why you should use a long exposure calculator and not set the exposure by estimating; you could miss a masterpiece if you use too much guesswork in calculating the exposure.
PRACTICAL LONG EXPOSURE ASSIGNMENT
Now that you know everything about long exposure, you can start practicing with it and to help you with that, here is your first practical assignment that will help you get used to exposure times in long exposure.
You don’t need to search for outstanding subjects at this moment. Just exercise with long exposure in your backyard without concentrating necessarily on the composition or on the subject but just on the process of setting up the shot, calculating the exposure and getting the best exposure while using the long exposure calculator to help with it.
The goal of this exercise is to help you become familiar with the settings and commands of the camera when you shoot long exposure. It will also help you become more relaxed when you will shoot in the field and be able to take better shots since you won’t be fiddling with the camera but concentrate on how to choose the subject and compose the shot.
What to do:
Choose a day when you have mixed conditions of sun and clouds so you can observe the texture in the sky when you shoot long exposure. It is also important that the conditions are uniform so the images you will shoot can be comparable.
Shoot a series of long exposure images back to back, so you keep the conditions constant, starting from 30 sec for instance and going up to 7-8 minutes so you get used to each exposure length and the look and feel it gives you.
Then compare the results and observe the characteristics of every image in terms of texture in the sky, stillness or dynamism of the composition, how much or how little detail you can see in the moving elements, how smooth the clouds, water or other movements are. This will help you understand the possibilities of long exposure and what works best for you in each situation.
Even if you are familiar with long exposure it would definitely not hurt you to do this exercise so you learn more about each type of long exposure.
THEORETICAL LONG EXPOSURE ASSIGNMENT
Except for the practical assignment, studying long exposure more in-depth with also help you so here you have some reading and watching material related to long exposure and its technique that will help you get started. Even if you know how to do it and consider yourself an advanced long exposure photographer I warmly advise you to read this material, I guarantee you that you will get some very good and useful information from it.
- Book – From Basics to Fine Art – Black and white Photography – Long Exposure Chapters written by me and my co-author Joel TjintjelaarYou will find a lot of detail in this long exposure chapters and the entire book will be a useful read since it is considered by prestigious critics like George DeWolfe as “the best book on black and white photography written in the last 40 years, after Ansel Adams’ Basic Photo Series”
- Video Tutorial + New Processing Book – Long Exposure, Architecture, Fine Art Photography – Creating (en)VisionographyThis video is going to be very useful especially if you don’t have much experience in long exposure. In addition, I am talking about shooting architecture, about fine art photography and about (en)Visionography so I can cover more subjects than just long exposure which I think is more useful. Also, the video tutorial comes with a bonus e-book “Advanced B&W Processing” that describes my post-processing workflow for black and white fine art long exposure images.
- Firecrest 16 Stops ND Filter (IRND 4.8) Formatt-Hitech – Full Review An extensive review of the very popular and my favorite ND filter – the 16-stop Firecrest ND filter that I use preponderantly in my long exposure photography
- Long Exposure Photography with Medium Format – Fujifilm GFX 50S – Extensive ReviewThis is a review of how to shoot long exposure with medium format but even if I am giving a lot of details about shooting with the media format you can also find many general principles of shooting long exposure that apply to any kind of camera or subject. This is another one of my most popular articles.
This tutorial has evolved into something more than just a simple crash course. This is a result of my desire to share everything I know with you all so you are empowered to create the images you envision and dream about but don’t know how to do that from a technical point of view. Even if I shared a lot here, I still think that these are the most important things you need to know about long exposure and what will get you up and running in no time.
As I was saying in the beginning, getting more in-depth with studying long exposure, exercising more and experimenting more will help you discover new ways of expression and will give you more artistic satisfaction, but I can say that if you follow the things I’ve shared with you in this article you will already be able to make your vision reality.
I hope this extensive long exposure photography tutorial was useful for those of you starting out with long exposure and also to those of you who are more advanced, and that I was able to give everyone some good tips and advice that will help you advance your photography.
I’d be glad to hear your opinions or questions in the comments below and if you think this article will be helpful to others don’t hesitate to share it with them or on social media so the knowledge spreads out everywhere. We are better and happier photographers and artists when we know more and this helps all of us.
Thank you for your attention and good luck in your journey in long exposure photography.