A Beginner's Guide to Long Exposure Photography

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Have you ever looked in awe at landscapes that look like they have silky oceans or images with long streaks of light? If you’ve wondered how the person taking the photo achieved that result, the answer is that they used long exposure photography.

Knowing how to take long exposure photos requires understanding several aspects. First and foremost, you’ll need to learn how to use your camera in Manual Mode. But beyond that, you’ll also need to figure out how to make your surroundings work in your favor.

If you want to try long exposure photography but don’t know where to start, you’re in the right place. This article will give you all the information you need.

What Is Long Exposure Photography?

Long exposure photography refers to setting the shutter speed on your camera to five seconds or longer. During this period, your camera collects a significant amount of light and information—before you eventually get the end result. It lets you capture the stationary components of the photo while blurring or smearing the moving components.

To change the settings for long exposure photography, you can change the shutter speed dial until you reach the threshold. You’ll need to use your camera in either Manual Mode or Aperture Priority to achieve what you’re looking for. We recommend using Manual Mode so that you can control the other aspects of the exposure triangle.

You can use long exposure photography in several genres, including when capturing street and landscape shots.

The Equipment You’ll Need for Long Exposure Photos

Knowing the equipment you need is crucial when learning how to do long exposure on your camera. No single lens is better or worse than the other; you’ll ultimately need whatever works for your photography style. If you’re unsure which one to choose, you can always pick a versatile lens like the 50mm.

While you can be flexible with your lens choice, having a tripod is non-negotiable. You will notice a significant drop in quality if you go for the cheap option, so—if you’re serious about long exposure photography—you’ll need to spend a bit of money.

You can find discounted high-end tripods on several second-hand photography websites.

How to Achieve a Long Exposure Photo

Now that you know the basics of long exposure photography, you’re ready to look at how you can begin taking these pictures on your own. In the subsections below, you’ll discover the most important components of taking a long exposure photo.

1. Slow Down Your Shutter Speed

If you’ve got a modern DSLR or mirrorless camera, you’ll have no issues changing your settings for long exposure photography. And in some instances, you can tweak the settings on your smartphone too. Regardless of your device, you’ll need to set the shutter speed to at least three seconds.

How long you can set the shutter will depend on your device, but many devices will let you go up to 10 seconds and beyond. You’ll need to experiment and decide on which works best for you. Consider other factors that might impact your image, such as the amount of natural light available.

2. Remove All Potential Camera Shake

If you’ve ever taken a photo with a slow shutter speed before, you’ll know how easy it is to blur the image unintentionally. Removing all possible camera shake is non-negotiable for long exposure photography.

You should strongly consider adding a timer before the picture starts taking, allowing you to press the trigger button before moving away. To set a timer before your camera begins capturing the picture, go to your device’s image settings on the main menu.

While you can use a flat surface for some kinds of photography with a slow shutter speed, you often can’t guarantee that your camera will stay 100% still. As such, you should avoid trying long exposure photography without a tripod.

3. Be Patient

Annoying advice, we know, but you must stay patient when capturing long exposure shots. If you’re a beginner, you probably won’t achieve the results you want straight away. As such, you should use your first couple of outings trying to get to grips with things.

While taking your photos, you will also need to stay away from the camera until the picture is taken. If you want to see how long your camera has left, you can always use the stopwatch on your smartphone.

Tips for Taking Better Long Exposure Photos

You can improve your chances of taking better long exposure photos by adopting several simple tips. In the sections below, you’ll learn about some of the most important ones.

1. Don’t Be Trigger-Happy With Your Camera

Long exposure photography isn’t something that you can rush. Before you click the shutter button on your camera, you should know exactly what you’re trying to photograph.

If you’re not sure what you want to include in your picture, you can start by looking at what you don’t want in your image. Once you’ve decided that, everything else becomes easier.

2. Turn Off Your Camera and Lens Stabilization

Camera and lens stabilization are fantastic if you’re shooting handheld. But in situations when you’re not, keeping it on can unnecessarily shake your camera and ruin your results.

Before hitting the shutter button, perform a quick check and ensure that you’ve turned off your camera and lens stabilization. And if you notice that your long exposure shots are continuously shaky, you might want to have a quick look to see if you forgot.

3. Avoid Windy Weather

Windy weather can make it incredibly difficult to keep your camera in the same place, even with a tripod. If you can, avoid trying long exposure photography in particularly strong winds.

Of course, you might not always have this luxury; places like Iceland and the Faroe Islands are often windy year-round, for example. In these instances, you can try removing your lens hood and placing something heavy on your tripod to keep it stable.

Master Long Exposure Photography

Long exposure photography is one of the most advanced forms of photography. But once you’ve practiced enough, and you’ve figured out what does and doesn’t work, you can achieve incredible results. You will need to get a tripod, but besides that, you don’t need much more than what you already have; even your smartphone will suffice.

Now that you’ve read this guide, you’re ready to head out there and try taking long exposure photos on your own.


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