Ingredients for Long Exposure Photography

One of my favorite ways to share my work and express my passion, is through Long Exposure photography. With this medium, it is possible to enhance color and fading light in a scene, where to the human eye; both color and light would normally appear to have all but disappeared.

I especially like to use this effect for color photography; however this technique can produce fantastic looking effects to Black and White images. In either format, images can take on a surreal look, especially when the motion of moving water is transformed in to a sheet of silk, or clouds are turned in to streaks of light.

The ingredients (or elements) needed to produce these effects, can vary according to each scene. However, below is a list of ingredients I used to capture the image featured in this blog.

1. Tripod  Really? Dare I mention the obvious? An exposure of 300 seconds was used to take the image accompanying this post, so a steady hand just would not do it.

2. Cable Release  Keeping your hands off your camera during a long exposure is critical, to avoid camera shake that would result in image blur.

3. Pro or Advanced Level Camera  A camera with the ability to be set to record exposures upwards of 30 seconds.

4. Neutral Density Filter  When attached to the front of your lens, or placed into a filter holder, this filter will allow increased exposure times. The strength of this filter is measured in stops. The highest stop value will allow the longest exposure times. There are several companies that make ND filters. The brand I use are circular glass screw on filters, and are made by B+W. I own two 10-Stop filters; to accommodate both 67mm and 77mm lens thread sizes. This filter is often used in combination with a Neutral Density Graduated Filter. A 10-stop ND filter is also great for long exposure photography, during the daytime.

5. Colorful Sky  Even well after sunset, color can be recorded and enhanced with a long exposure.

6. Clouds  If you want to create a streaking clouds effect. A sky with both cloudy and clear patches is ideal to obtain an effective surreal look.

7. Water  Water in motion such as ocean waves, usually yields the greatest effect. The longer the exposure, the smoother the water. Thirty seconds may be enough; however an often used exposure to create the most surreal effect is around 240 seconds.

8. Wristwatch or Stopwatch  To obtain an accurate desired exposure time. An alternative is to buy a cable release that can be electronically programmed to shoot chosen exposure times. These are called intervalometers, or timer remote releases.

9. Patience  Like most things, obtaining the desired result can take patience. Having an understanding of how light works, and how light will effect the scene you are attempting to shoot is very important. Practice is often needed to perfect not only each ingredient of the shoot, but to also strike the right balance between them.

Choose the right scene, exposure, aperture and timing, and you just may find that you will develop quite an appetite for this form of photography.

Image

Swiftcurrent Lake, Montana

The above image was taken 30 minutes after sunset. The exposure used was 300 seconds, at f/11.

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8 thoughts on “Ingredients for Long Exposure Photography

    1. davidshieldphotography

      Hi, thank you very much for your nice comment. I appreciate that very much. Yes, the streaking cloud effect is obtained with exposures usually in excess of 30 seconds. Ideally, I like the area of the sky I am shooting to be about half full with clouds, so the movement is emphasized well. Color in the sky, such as sunset or sunrise is the very best times so you also get color streaks.

      Reply
  1. ANTONIO BIGGIO

    Hello,
    in the advice to use the filter you write that mount a circular filter and sometimes in combination with a gnd.
    For long exposure in combination with gnd i use an holder with a square nd 10 stop.
    You hand old the gnd filter with the circular 10 stop filter?
    Thank you

    PS: great review of CP one 7, i love this raw converter

    Reply
    1. davidshieldphotography Post author

      Antonio, thank you very much for your comment and question! I do use the circular B+W 110 ND filter. Therefore, I attach a Cokin filter holder also, and then place a Singh-Ray square GND in the holder. The filters work well together; however using both filters means I cannot use the widest setting of my wide-angle lens. Often I can shoot without the GND, and restore any sky highlights in Capture One.

      Reply

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