Top 13 Tips for Long Exposure Photography

If you love aesthetic shots and are a big fan of long exposure photography, then this guide is for you. Long exposure photography is a technique of producing stunning effects and dramatic shots by changing the camera settings. Although mastering long exposure photography requires some skills and a lot of practice, it is an excellent technique to add a fun element to your portfolio.

Following are the top tips you need to lean for amazing long exposure photography:

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1. Invest In a Tripod


The most important tip to take the best long exposures is to keep your camera still and avoid any vibrations. For this purpose, you need to invest in a high-quality tripod. Some exposures can last for minutes, so having a tripod to steady your shot is the best option you have got. If you don’t want to buy a tripod, you can also place your camera on a solid flat surface.

Additionally, if you are shooting in windy conditions, then placing a bag of raw rice or sand on top of the camera can also help.

Pressing the shutter button on your camera can create vibrations. Therefore, you can buy a cable release or a remote to trigger your shot. If your camera is Wi-Fi-enabled, then that would be great as you can easily connect it with your smartphone and manage your shot.

2. Scout the Location Beforehand


Long exposure shots look quite different if seen by our naked eye. Therefore, it is important to have a clear idea of what the location has to offer. Location scouting also means to make a rough sketch of composition in your mind when you see the area for yourself in real. By sifting through the location, you will have a good idea of the possible direction of sunlight and clouds.

3. Plan for a Shoot during Overcast Weather


If you are a landscape photographer, you will always have long exposures in mind when scouting for a new location. If you have an eye for long exposure photography, you will know where and when to find and capture a thing that moves at an adequate speed.

The two main subjects are clouds in the sky and water (including seas, streams, and waterfalls). But there are many more opportunities that you can explore, for example, moving vehicles or movement of stars in the sky.

However, what many might not consider is the weather. Although a sunset or sunrise is a beautiful time to capture portraits and landscape shots, it is not ideal for shooting long exposure photos. If there is no movement in the sky, then you won’t be able to get impressive shots. Therefore, you should check out with weather websites as they will show you the perception levels and movements of clouds.

4. Use an ND Filter


If you are serious about landscape photography, then consider buying a good quality ND (neutral density) filter. Don’t know what it is? Think of it as sunglasses for your camera lens. Technically, the ND filter limits the sunlight coming into the lens and allows you to shoot with slow shutter speeds even in bright light.

Moreover, the ND filter also comes in handy when doing long exposure photography. With the help of ND filters, you can extend your exposure time without overexposing your shot.

5. Use a Polarizing Filter


Like an ND filter, a polarizing filter is also a piece of glass that you can screw onto your camera lens. It is an excellent tool to be used in landscape photography as it cuts down on glare, minimizes haze, and helps the sky pop.

6. Pay Attention to the Composition


When shooting a long exposure photograph, especially of water (sea or ocean), you should bear in mind that the surrounding area will remain constant while the water will turn into a soft, misty, white fog.

So, when doing long exposure photography, ignore the waves and focus on the constant things like branches, rocks, cliffs, etc.

7. Set Your Camera on Manual or Bulb Mode


Many DSLRs come with pre-programmed modes that can automatically adjust all the settings for you, including aperture and shutter speed. But these modes may limit your photography skills. Therefore, you should opt for manual mode or bulb mode.

Go for bulb mode when you are doing an exposure of more than 30 seconds. When using this mode, the shutter will remain open from when you press the button till you let it go.

8. Lower Your ISO


Once you have decided on your subject and composition, you should move on to the technical aspects. For long exposure photography, you will have to set your camera on a tripod. So, keep the ISO as low as your camera allows.

9. Use Clouds to Add Dimension to Photos


One of the major aspects of long exposure photography is that you can capture movement creatively. To make your photography attractive and interesting, you can include the moving clouds in the scene. When shooting in the morning or late in the afternoon, look for clouds to make your photo look great.

To add color and contrast to the sky, wait until the sun is low enough on the horizon.

10. Act Fast Before the Scene Changes


Bear in mind that to capture amazing photos under perfect conditions, you might have a time window of only a few seconds. Therefore, act fast before the scene changes. For example, the wind that speeds up the clouds, the sunrise pastel colors, or the fire sunset can all be gone in a second. If you have set your exposure time to one or two minutes, you will have only one shot to capture it all.

11. Shoot in RAW


Shooting long exposure shots can be tough, especially if you are a beginner. Therefore, you should shoot in raw as this will give you more edge to recover a slightly overexposed image in post-production. On the other hand, if you are shooting in JPEG, your image will lose half of its data. Hence, it will become difficult for you to recover any technical issues, such as overexposure.

12. Do Several Test Shots


The most important thing in photography – be it landscape, portrait, or long exposure – is that you need to practice hard to master it. Therefore, you should not shoot right away. Make sure to take some test shots so you can finally land on the perfect settings according to the scene.

13. Use Post-Processing


Now that you are familiar with the top tips for taking the best long exposure photographs, you can learn how to do so without using filters. Although you can create amazing exposure shots without using the ND filter, you will still need a high-quality tripod. Then all you will need is a perfect scene with some still and moving elements to capture the shot. You need at least 20 to 30 images.

Once you have clicked your favorite shots, go to Adobe Lightroom, import all your long exposure photos into the catalog, and work on them. Then synch all the edits of this shot with the other edits of the series. Once done, you have to select all the images in the series, right-click on them, and open in Adobe Photoshop as layers.

After some wait, all your images will be opened in a Photoshop document in a stack of layers. Next, you should select all the layers and right-click on “create a smart object.” This will be your single layer that contains the data of all the selected layers.

Once finished, go to the “Image” menu, click “Smart Object,” then “Stack Mode,” and finally click on “Mean.” And then sit back, relax, and wait for the magic to happen. This process will combine your long exposure.

Final Words

Shooting long exposures can be tough and time-consuming. Hence, you should be ready to invest your precious time and effort to plan your shots well. If you have got the right equipment, location, and skills, you will soon be able to adapt all the tips mentioned above to your own working style.