If you have never tried doing long-exposure photography, there many fun applications for it that can make many of your images better and more interesting.
Basically, and not surprisingly, long-exposure photography is simply taking images using a slow shutter speed, anywhere from a second to minute or even an hour. In this article, I’ll discuss uses for this style of photography as well as tips and tricks to get the best image you can.
People use long-exposures to slow down motion. Instead of, say having water frozen in a waterfall, you can shoot it with a longer exposure and really have the water look silky smooth as it tumbles down. Same idea with waves gently rumbling over beach rocks. Slow your shutter down to two second and the water will look wonderfully ghosty and will really give a dynamic image showing well the motion of the water.
Even subtle motion can be used to your advantage in a long-exposure image. A lake for example may look a little rough, but shoot that lake again in twilight when there is little light available for an image and you may find you are able to gain a 20 second exposure. Now your image will look as if that lake is as smooth as a mirror.
Some people like to capture meteors or lightning and really, unless you have very fast fingers, these images really are only possible using long exposures. Find an aperture and shutter speed that gives you a pleasing exposure on the scene, create a good composition and then start shooting away. At some point, you’ll catch a meteor or a lightning strike.
Also, in long exposures, you can catch colours not seen by the eye. You could have the faintest aurora borealis (or the northern lights) or have the faintest remnant of the sunset, sunrise or city lights over the horizon and a long exposure image will pull these colours out and make them pop in your image. In this image below, taken at 2:00am, I shot it at a 30 second exposure and caught a breaking meteor, beautiful light over the horizon (that I could not see in person) and the lake smoothed right out to dead calm in the image. All benefits of shooting a long exposure.
Long-exposure photography can also be used for fun and gimmicky images, like the sparkler shot I did below. As a wedding photographer, I’m asked to do all sorts of images brides find on Pinterest but this is an image that I do and brides seemingly are always wanting versions for themselves. It is done with a 13 seconds exposure and that is me running around them with a sparkler although you can’t see me as I am far to dark and running too fast to be seen on the sensor but it certainly catches the much brighter sparkler. For more information on how to do this sparkler shot, you can find an in depth how-to post here.
To get long exposure photography to work well for you, there are tips and tricks to ensure you get the best image possible.
- Keep the camera still. So use a sturdy tripod and if there is any wind at all, you do not want your camera moving while that shutter is open – so get into a sheltered spot or wait for the wind to die down. Some will even hang a weight of sandbag off the centre of the tripod to ensure it stays motionless. I don’t go to that extreme, but I do put the strap of my camera on top of the body or remove it altogether and although it’s a small thing, I bet if that strap is blowing in the wind, then your camera must be moving, even a little bit. I also utilize ‘mirror lockup’ so when the image is taken the mirror flipping up doesn’t minutely vibrate the camera. An a little bit of movement means having a soft image and not having sharp as a tack focus.
- Another way you can avoid camera shake when taking the image is NOT to use the shutter button. Either shoot the image using a timer, a remote control or a cable release.
- 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.
- Also, just because you are shooing in low light situations doesn’t mean you need a really high ISO. Long exposures and a fair amount of digital noise in them anyway and you really com’t want to compound that with a really high ISO, which leads to heavy grain anyway). A long exposure will let all that ambient light in anyway….so don’t be afraid to shoot ISO 200 or 400.
- And yes, it’s possible to do long exposures in the bright daylight. Like Kevin’s post below, this can be achieved by using neutral density filters.
- Pay attention to lights in your frame. You may need a long exposure to get the ambient light of the horizon, but if there is big light in your image (moon, streetlight, etc) it may just become a big ‘ball of fire’ in your image. So you may need to do some re-framing, cropping or some photoshop work.[/sociallocker]
Long-exposure Photography is an excellent tool to have in your skill set. To create images that can’t be seen in person by slowing down time is a fun and exciting process. Enjoy making and sharing your images!