Click Here for Table of Content
What is Long Exposure Photography?
Long exposure photography is the use of a relatively slow shutter speed against a certain subject to capture an image so that you can capture the movement. What I mean by relatively slow shutter speed is to compare it to the moving subject in the scene.
Everything moves. Birds, cars and people move faster while clouds and stars move slower.
A relatively slow shutter speed is the range of shutter speed that is slow enough to blur out a subject.
Different subject has a different shutter speed range. For example, 1/200 sec is relatively slow on capturing birds; 1 - 2 mins is the range for capturing cloud movement; at least 1 hour exposure time for shooting star trails.
Effects that Long Exposure Photography Can Do
People always say "A good photograph is a capture of something people didn't notice it before". Long exposure photography is definitely capturing what the others have never seen.
Pro Tip: The most important thing you will need to get a good long-exposure is something that is moving. Oftentimes this will be water, or even clouds. But you can experiment with the filters and photograph moving people, or cars during the day, and more.
Blogger at NicoleSYBlog
I am going to show you some typical examples of long exposure photography. Of course, you can also create your own topic. There is always no boundaries for creation, right?
Long exposure photography is a great way to capture moving light. And do you know that the most famous moving light sources are from vehicles?
Cloud is an essential element in landscape photography. Without cloud, landscape photo would look boring. Long exposure of cloud will give you a brand new feeling of landscape photography. Famous photographers like Michael Kenna and Marc Koegel, they like to use long exposure to do fine art landscape photography.
When you look up to the sky at a starry night for a really long time, you will notice that the stars are actually moving. To be accurate, it is the self rotation of the Earth that makes you see the stars moving. In other words, when you expose long enough, you could capture the moving stars.
Feeling of Speed
There are different ways to create a "feeling of speed". You can either use a slightly slow shutter speed to blur out part of the subject or just simply use the panning skill. The former skill is to blur the subject while the latter skill is to blur the background.
While you are exposing for a long time, you can easily draw with the light. Like capturing the light trail, light painting is created by capturing the moving light sources. This time, the light sources are in your control. Warren Adrien, Patrick Rochon and Jeremy Jackson are three of the greatest light painting photographers.
best possible LP models would be Buddhist monks or yoga masters. People that can hold poses for a long time in a trance and such. It would offer more time to paint all the details in with light.
Light Painter at TrackyShackLightPainting
Long exposure photography is an advanced skill in photography. You’ll need some accessories rather than just a camera and lens to do it. I’d like to call them investments because I’m gonna use them in a long run.
Doing long exposure requires you to hold the camera still for minutes or even hours, so you have no other choice than to use a good tripod.
A good tripod is not only to stabilize your camera, but also stabilize it at any angle you want.
You have to eliminate all the possibilities of vibration while shooting. A shutter cable is a small but helpful stuff. It allows you to release the shutter without actually touching the camera.
Some latest technology, like the ioShutter, even have a build-in time-lapse and timer function.
ND filter have the power to reduce light entering in your camera. It is a great tool to help you lengthen your exposure time. Learn more in my tutorial on choosing the best ND filter.
Timer or Long Exposure App
When your shutter speed goes over 30 seconds, you have to set it at “bulb”. This means the shutter will keep releasing while the shutter button is pressed. A timer or an exposure app is definitely a must to time the exposure time.
Black Tape or Cloth
To prevent light leakage, black tape or cloth is a the best helper. Black tape and cloth and cover any light leak area without reflecting light. They can completely block the light.
Basic Camera Setting
The setting of long exposure photography is not that difficult. If you understand the exposure triangle well, you will find this technique just another piece of cake.
To lengthen the shutter speed, the easiest way would be close down the aperture.
However, if you step down too much for the aperture, you may find your image doesn't look sharp or you may even find it looks out of focus. It is because your image is suffering from diffraction effect.
Most camera and lens have the sweet spot at f5.8 to f8. In other words, you are getting the sharpest image in this range. From my experience, an aperture smaller than f16 will start to get a result that is too poor to be displayed on blog or social media.
In doing long exposure photography, we usually set the ISO to the lowest possible level of the camera. Since a very long exposure time will create more noise than usual, you might therefore want to keep the noise level to as low as possible.
Pro Tip: Play with different shutter speeds. With moving water, different speeds will give you different effects on the water. See which ones you like the best. Remember when you get back to the computer, you don’t want to be wishing you had shot faster or slower - so bracket your shots while in the field.
Wedding Photographer at TrevorAllenPhotography
Shutter speed is the critical setting for a successful long exposed photograph.
As I mention before, different subject requires different shutter speed. Below is a table to summarize a range of recommended shutter speed of different subjects from my experience.
Panning for Cars, Racing Horse, etc
1/50 - 1/10 sec
> 20 min
as long as you draw
When trying to determine the length of a shutter speed for a long exposure, there are two ways to do it. The first is to calculate it in your head. Determine your normal exposure, then extend the shutter speed by however many stops your neutral density filter is. So if it's a 10 stop filter, extend the shutter speed by 10 stops. I personally prefer using a calculator to do the trick. In the past I used a self-made printed calculator. However, more recently I began using iPhone apps which are more convenient. There are 3 which I love. The first is Slower Shutter made by my friend Mike (http://untitledapps.com/) and it's only 99 cents. The other is TriggerTrap which also acts as a cable release. (http://triggertrap.com) The app is free, but the cable costs between $30 and $40. The last is PhotoPills which also allows you to plan out your photo ahead of time. (http://photopills.com) The way these work is simple. You put it the normal exposure and then choose which neutral density filter you're using. The apps then output your new long shutter speed.
Photographer at ScottWyden.com
Problem of Long Exposure and How to Fix Them
There are always problems but there are always solutions, too. While you are trying out long exposure photography, any tiny mistake on the settings or imperfections of equipment may ruin your masterpiece.
You may probably never encounter light leaking problem. When doing long exposure photography, you are only allowing an extremely small amount of light to enter the camera. In order words, any unwanted light that goes into the camera - even at a very small intensity, will become visible.
Below are some examples of light leakage.
Before you can tackle the leakage, you have to know where the light leaks in. Most common light leaking areas are: viewfinder, the connection between lens and camera body, component port, and filter’s gap (if you use slot-in filter).
Once you discover where the cause of leaking comes from, you can cover them up to fix the situations. You can use a black cloth or black gaffer’s tape to black out the area. All strange light would be gone after you successfully black out the leaking area.
Pro Tip: Using gaffers tape to cover the viewfinder and all exposed camera ports, completely covering your lens barrel with dense cloth and also hanging a dense hat over the camera body as a final shade for the light are some tips that I use to stop light from penetrating your gear and give you a clean image free of destructive light leaks.
Blogger at MabryCampbellPhotographyBlog
There are a few reasons to cause an image blurry.
1. Camera shake
The most common camera shake comes from the accidentally tripod movement. Keep an eye on your tripod. Do avoid strong wind and try to hang heavy item below the tripod to stabilize it. I have seen some photographers using camping nail and string to hold the tripod firmly on the ground, well, it's a good try.
2. Subject movement
Although long exposure is the use of a slow shutter speed to blur out moving subject, you may also blur out something supposed to be sharp. For example, if you want to shoot a flying bird with a sharp body and blurry wing and you set a 1/2 sec shutter speed, then you are almost impossible to get the job done because this shutter speed is relatively too slow for capturing a sharp body. Instead, you should use 1/200 sec instead because the bird's body is moving slower than 1/200sec while the wing is moving faster than 1/200sec.
3. Out of Focus
Out of focus is another common mistake that even I am still making. It is because you may accidentally move the focus ring while set the focus to manual focus.
To tackle this, make sure you enlarge the image every time you shoot and check for focusing. If there is focus blur, refocus and take another shoot.
4. Light Diffraction
When I was learning long exposure, I had overlooked how serious the diffraction could be. At start, my images were always not as sharp as I expect. I thought that was because I had camera shake or unstable tripod. However, the other day I watched the above video which explains about diffraction, I knew I had been making a BIG mistake! Using f22 was the reason why my images were not sharp!
I urge you to try it out yourself and you will get the feel how serious light diffraction could be when using tiny aperture.
Pro Tip: Switch off the image stabilizer when there is motion in the scene, such as moving water or wind in the leaves. The image stabilizer attempts to stabilize these movements, which results in blurring the overall image.
Blogger at PhotographyBlackWhite
If you are using a circular ND filter, or stacking more than one, vignetting would be a big problem. Some photographers may find vignetting a nice way to add some “feeling” to the image, however, over-vignetting will have the opposite effect.
There is no way to fix this kind of vignetting because it is the physical constrain of a filter. What you can do is to eliminate by removing it on post-processing.
When the exposure time increase, the image sensor in the camera is getting hot. Hot pixels will start appear and you are getting more noise. This won’t happen in film, though. To reduce the increased noise level, there are two ways to do so. However, remember to keep ISO as low as possible to minimize the noise level.
Use in-camera noise reduction function. When you trigger this function, the camera will take another shot with shutter closed after the regular exposure. This “dark frame” contains all the noise and hot pixels when you get from the regular exposure. The camera will then subtract the original image with the dark frame. This is a great function that helps reduce almost all the hot pixels. However, the exposure time is doubled. If you have taken a shot for 2 minutes, you need to wait for another 2 minutes for the dark frame.
Pro Tip: You should also keep in my that it is possible to limit hot pixels presence by preventing the camera from heating too much. I have experienced first hand that even though hot pixels can't be removed completely, wrapping the camera, and especially in a white cloth will reflect sun light better and limit the camera from over heating.
Photographer at ThibaultRolandFineArt
Use post-processing tools to remove noise and hot pixels. My favourite softwares are Lightroom and Photoshop. Below it is my workflow, you may have a different one and this is just for your reference:
- Reduce most of the noise in Lightroom.
- Right click and edit in Photoshop.
- Zoom it to 200% or 300% to remove every signal hot pixels by clone stamp or spot healing brush.
The standard of sharpness to myself is a bit high, therefore I use 300% to do the noise removal. For normal sharing and small output, remove visible noise at 75% to 100% would be more than enough.
Pro Tip: Take multiple shorter exposures of the scene, and to blend them together in software afterwards to produce an equivalent long exposure in time, but with the benefit of greatly reducing noise in the result through the use of median or mean averaging of frames. This is a common workflow for astrophotographers IIRC. Many shorter exposures that will eventually get stacked together to form the final image.
Blogger at PatDavid.net
Best Practices for Long Exposure Photography
Cultivating good habits always help you with your life, as well as photography. Here I’d to share some good habits that you can learn from my long exposure photography life – which is a few years already!
Use a good tripod
Keeping the camera stable is the most important task in doing long exposure. A good quality tripod is a must.
Get a decent, balanced tripod, with good head. I would suggest getting a heavy duty ball-heads. Avoid heads with protruding parts, handles etc. They will be susceptible to wind and will transfer vibrations.
Blogger at AlpinePhotographyLabsBlog
When I just started out, I thought tripod was not that important. I invested in a great camera and lens but a cheapo tripod. When I tried to mount my old Nikon D90 onto the cheapo tripod and capture light trail, the camera kept tilting down and could not stand at the angle that I wanted.
After this bad experience with the cheapo tripod, I now recommend you to invest in a good tripod as well.
Not only me but DigitalRevTV also showed you why you shouldn’t use a cheapo tripod.
Use mirror lockup and shutter cable
There are also other methods to help you keep the camera still when shooting. Shutter cable is a great thing to kill the job. It is also one of the must-have accessories in your camera bag. Not only for long exposure, shutter cable can also use in HDR photography.
Mirror lockup function is to minimize the last chance of camera shake. It is because when you release the shutter, the bouncing mirror inside the camera may create a little vibration. Normally It is not a big deal but if you are a perfectionist,it might be what you are concerned about.
Cover all the light leakage possibility
Light leakage, as discussed above, is a unique problem in long exposure. The best thing to deal with this issue is to cover all the light leakage possibilities at the first place, so that you would have one less thing to concern when shooting.
If you agree that long exposure gives you good images, then a proper post-processing would upgrade your images - turn your good images into the great ones. Ranging from noise reduction and vignette removal to color cast correction and image sharpening, digital darkroom takes up an essential role.
By selecting the blending mode Lighten , Photoshop will only overlay the brighter parts of each frame whilst preserving the overall ambient light, which is perfect for light trail shots.
Photographer at PeterStewartPhotography
Thank you for reading this post. You are awesome! I would like to take this opportunity to thank Cole Thompson, Nicole SY, Peter Stewart, Scott Wyden, Mabry Campbell, Trevor Allen, Kamil Tamiola and Pat David for your contribution on the post. You guys make this post more interesting! Thanks again.