Long Exposure Photography: An Introduction

Taillights, light painting, incredibly still waters, star trails, extreme details in low light conditions… No, I did not read your secret diary, but I might be reading your mind. It’s every photographer’s dream to be able to use light in order to create incredible effects that the naked eye cannot perceive. Fortunately, it’s easier than it seems and, by the end of this article, you’ll see that you don’t need much to create stunning nightscapes, just to put your wonderful mind to work.

Photo courtesy of Totororo Roro

What Is Long Exposure Photography?


Long exposure photography is a commonly used technique of using a long shutter speed in order to capture subjects in low light conditions (because we all know that no studio light can beat good old natural light, right?). Thanks to the amazing development in photography, using long exposure isn’t as difficult as it used to be when we only had film. You can always check the exposure balance on your camera and adjust settings by checking the photo you just took.

You’ll find that learning long exposure settings is a much faster process than you thought.

However, the technique’s usability isn’t limited to night time. Feel free to experiment with it in the middle of the day when it’s cloudy and you wouldn’t get much detail for landscapes. Moreover, you can easily avoid burning your photos by using neutral density filters that come in six, nine and ten stop. If you’re planning on buying such filters, here’s probably the most comprehensive guide to neutral density filters one can find on the internet.

Photo courtesy of Peter Levi

Why Should You Learn More About Long Exposure?


Well, first of all, because you’re not just a photographer, you’re an artist. You’re responsible of creating amazing art, of innovating, of putting your soul into every photograph you take. The learning process never ends and this should only be a basic lesson that will merely guide you.

The most astounding fact about long exposure is its ability to capture and express time by showing movement. You can almost feel the speed of objects moving when looking at a long exposure photograph.

Moderation Is Key


I know it’s tempting to test your camera’s longest exposures, but sometimes these might not produce the effects you’re expecting. Understanding light takes time, so use exposure time with moderation, always keeping your subject in mind. If you’re aiming to capture lightning on a dark sky, a 10 second long shutter speed won’t do much, but 3-5 minutes of exposure might be perfect.

However, if you’re still experimenting with light and exposure and don’t master the settings, look for the “Bulb” option on your camera (B). Basically, this is a setting that allows you to directly control the shutter speed by keeping it open for as long as you have you press the shutter button.

Photo courtesy of Moniza

Gear


So, what do you need for taking long exposure photos? Not much, actually. First and most important of all, you need a tripod. I don’t care how still you think your arms are, when you’re shooting a 5 second exposure the result will only be an embarrassing blur.

Pressing the shutter shakes the camera, thus creating an unwanted blur that will ruin your photo. If you don’t already own one, this is the perfect time to go ahead and get your hands on a remote. However, if you don’t feel like spending money on this, you can still take great long exposure photos by using the camera’s timer function.

Finally, filters, which I’ve already mentioned above.

The Perfect Combo


Finding the right combination of shutter speed, aperture and ISO is something you’re already familiar with. For long exposure photography, keeping the aperture at small values and the ISO to a minimum will result in a beautiful noiseless picture. For extra clarity, always shoot RAW and apply noise reduction. It will work miracles on the final photograph.

Photo courtesy of Norby Photo courtesy of Royce Bair Photo courtesy of Ben Heine

Photo courtesy of quornflake

Photo courtesy of Adam Debrovits