Long Exposure Photography Basics

July 27, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

A quick disclaimer about this post. If your reading this post please keep in mind that I am assuming you have a camera that allows you to set your shutter speed, F Stop and ISO and that you know the basic's of manual or semi manual exposure. If not stay tuned for the next post featuring "Manual Exposure Basics".

One of the questions that keeps coming up on my social channels is "how does the water look so smooth?" Long exposure photography is becoming increasingly popular and for good reason, it looks super cool! In the following blog post I will identify what is a long or slow exposure and why we might want to use it. I will provide some examples of photographs that use a long exposure. The basic camera settings and the equipment you will need to make your own long exposure photographs. The awesome thing is that it's super easy and it can transform your photography into true works of art! 

First what is a long exposure? Basically a long exposure is referring to the cameras shutter being open for a longer period of time. As an example we can leave the shutter open for a number of seconds or more allowing any moving objects to become blurry such as a waterfall. However typically we will shoot with a fast shutter speed to stop any shake when holding the camera, shutter speed of 1/125 and faster are great because they are super fast, the shutter opens and closes very quickly, this only allows light to reach the sensor for a split second and this will stop the action, freezing the moment and enabling you to hand hold your camera without any noticeable camera shake. But lets say we want to show the silky moving water from the falls or the light trials on the highway from passing cars or movement in the fast moving clouds. To achieve this look we need to slow down the shutter speed leaving it open for a longer period of time such as 1-30 seconds or in some extreme cases longer. We notice this by default when the light is dim or trying take pictures in a very dark room or at night. But with landscape photography we often want the long exposure/slow shutter speed to help in creating drama by showing more motion through the picture but lets be clear objects that are not moving such as rocks, logs, mountains and so forth must stay solid and crisp without any blur! So a long exposure comes from using a slow shutter speed allowing for moving objects to become silky in your photographs.   In My DreamsIn My Dreams Golden Water Fall - Shot with a long exposure/slow shutter speed to allow for nice silky movement in the water. Specs ISO 200 @ F9 10 Sec (6 stop ND Filter used)

Now that we know we need a slow shutter speed in order to get these silky looking shots lets look at the equipment that we will need. 

1) First a camera that will allow for slow shutter speeds, most will go down to 30 seconds or Bulb mode. 

2) You must have a solid tripod, this stops most of the camera shake allowing all non moving objects in the picture to stay blur free and sharp.

3) A remote shutter release, this is great for remotely squeezing the trigger in order not to touch the camera which can cause some shake. You can use the self timer as an option. 

4) Polarizing Filter and or ND Filters, these filters will block some light and allow for a slower shutter speed in brighter lighting conditions. 

Silver Hope CreekSilver Hope Creek Silver Creek with a nice silky flow - the slow exposure enabled me to achieve this silky look. ISO 100 @ F14 2.5 Sec  (Polarizing Filter used) 

Some thoughts on camera settings. I would always recommend setting your ISO to the lowest number such as 100 or 200. Setting your F Stop to a larger number such as F11 - F22 will close down the opening to your sensor forcing you to use a slower shutter speed to gather the light thus a longer exposure. Aim for shutter speeds in the 1 - 20 second range to start with and experiment. Find a nice creek or waterfall to practice! The process is super fun and actually quite easy once you understand and experiment with the basics! I hope this was useful and keep an eye out for more short tutorials on the blog. Don't hesitate to write me with any questions and do check out the "workshops" page if your interested in some personal on location assistance! It will save you many hours of frustration..lol! Also all images seen in the blog posts are for sale through the galleries on this site. 

Thanks again for reading and taking the time. 

Eternal LifeEternal Life Lynne Creek - shot with a slow shutter speed. ISO 50 @ F13 30 Sec (6 stop ND Filter used) 






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