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Long exposure photography

11th April 2018

Cameras are great tools for showing us a world we can’t see with the naked eye. A great example of this is long exposure photography.

The basic principle involves leaving the shutter open for longer, let’s say for 5 seconds. Any light hitting the sensor during those 5 seconds will be displayed in your final image. This could be fire, car lights, stars or anything that moves and emits or reflects light.

We’ll be covering three main principles of long exposure photography in this guide.

  1.  Preparation and planning
  2.  Tripod and stabilisation
  3.  Camera settings and peripherals

Preparation and planning

One of the most important parts of long exposure photography is planning your shot, especially if you are going to be shooting at night. There are several variables to consider.

  • If you’re shooting at night make sure to scout your location in the day to get an idea of the composition you’d like to capture. Anything that involves shooting at night will be much smoother if you know the area and the exact shot you’re after before it gets dark. This applies to landscapes and portraits.
  • If you’re going to be on location for some time shooting long exposures, of the night sky for instance, make sure you have snacks, drinks and warm clothing. Headphones are a good idea so you can listen to some music while the magic happens!
  • If someone or something is moving through your frame to create light trails, like a car or fire, do some test shots to make sure you’re getting the kind of motion you want. Sometimes this is out of your control, but that’s ok, long exposure is often about trial, error and experimentation.

Tripod and stabilisation

After your camera, the most important item is a tripod. Keeping the camera perfectly still during long exposure photography is vital to getting sharp images. A tripod also allows you to keep the camera in the same place enabling you to potentially blend multiple images together when you edit your photos.

A cable or wireless shutter release is also a great bit of kit to have. This allows you to press the shutter of your camera without touching it. Even the vibration of your finger activating the shutter button is enough to upset the stability of the camera and cause a loss of sharpness in your shot. They’re really cheap and very easy to use.

Fun tip

If you don’t have a tripod and you see a long exposure opportunity, there are still ways to get the shot. You could use a jumper or jacket to act as a cushion and stabiliser for your camera. This is obviously not perfect, but in a pinch it will do the trick.

Camera settings and extras

Get to know your camera with Camera Assist

So, you’ve found your location and made sure it’s suitable. You’ve got your tripod set up and your composition is framed. Now what?

Firstly, your camera settings have a huge amount of variables in this situation. There are some good tips below to quickly get close to the ideal settings which you can fine tune to get it perfect.

If you are planning on shooting long exposures during the day you’ll need to use a neutral density filter. This is a dark piece of glass that sits in front of the lens that allows the camera shutter to stay open for long enough to capture the motion without overexposing your image.

Example settings for long exposure:

  • f/stop - f/11 and above.
  • Shutter speed - Depends on the speed of the subject you want to capture and the time of day. 1/5th of a second will start to get some blurring of motion.
  • ISO - The lower the better for ISO, but if you’re shooting at night and don’t want a very long exposure don’t be afraid to push your ISO up to 1000 and even higher.

Long exposure photography is a very rewarding and exciting type of photography. It can be a bit daunting at first but stick with it. Keep experimenting because the results will be well worth it.


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