7 Essential Tips For Long Exposure Photography

August 21, 2017  •  1 Comment

7 Essential Tips For Long Exposure Photography


1. Something Moving

For a long exposure photograph to be successful, there must be movement in the scene you are capturing.  One of the most common uses of long exposure is to show water moving over a waterfall or down a stream, but any movement that conveys the passage of time will work for long exposer photography.  A few other example are clouds moving in the sky, vehicle lights driving on a road, people walking, oceans waves, star trails, etc.  As long as there is movement, long exposer can make an average image into an outstanding, one of a kind image.

Devils Knob Overlook PanoramaDevils Knob Overlook PanoramaDevils Knob Overlooks is a great spot to take image of the Blue Ridge Mountains at sunset. It has a Southwest View of Three Ridge Mountain and The Priest.


2. Use a Tripod

Long exposer photography requires slow shutter speed, and the camera has to be completely still while the shutter is open.  The best way to ensure there is no movement is through the use of a sturdy tripod.  If there is any movement or camera shake during the exposure, no matter how minor, the image will not be sharp.

Mammoth PeakMammoth PeakThe Dana Fork Overlook has an outstanding eastern facing view, making this an ideal location to photograph the sun rising behind this section of the Sierra Mountains or capture the beautiful alpenglow on the mountains as the sun sets (click here for some photography). With some of the best unobstructed views of Mount Dana and Mount Gibbs to the East and Mammoth Peak to the Southeast, Dana Fork Overlook offers photographers the chance to glimpse some of the stunning scenery of Yosemite. The Dana Fork also meanders and snakes through a beautiful sub alpine meadow; it offers photographers a lot to work with in the foreground including some amazing “S” curves (click here for composition tips). The sub alpine meadow also makes a great home for some of the park’s wildlife and offers the chance for photographers to capture these animals in their natural habitat. As easy as this location is to get to plus the sheer beauty of the views, one would think this would be a very popular spot in Yosemite National Park, but every time I have been there, I have always had the view to myself.


3. Use a Shutter Release

Like a tripod, a shutter release is another tool to use to create tack sharp images.  Pressing the shutter button on the camera can cause the camera to shake.  A shutter release is a tool that releases the shutter to start the exposure without touching the camera.  The most common type of shutter release is a cable release, but there are also wireless shutter releases.  If you are on a budget, utilizing the camera’s self timer feature is another great way reduce the chance for camera shake when the exposure starts.

Sunset at Falling Spring FallsSunset at Falling Spring FallsSunset at Falling Spring Falls


4. Filters

During the day, the use of filters is required to achieve the slow shutter speeds needed to show the movement in your image.  Neutral density (ND) are the best filters to achieve the slow shutters speeds required for long exposure photography. ND filters are a dark piece of glass placed in front of the lens, reducing the amount of light passing through the lens. This allows photographers to use long exposures even on bright, sunny days.  ND filters come in strengths that block anywhere from 3 to 15 stops of light.  

Great Falls SunriseGreat Falls SunriseThis was a 7 Minute exposure taken of the Great Fall in Great Falls National Park.


5.  Manual Focus 

One downside to ND filters, especially when using a filter 6 stops or greater, is that the camera autofocus will not work.  The ND filter is so dark that it’s hard for you to see through, so there is little to no chance that your camera will be able to find something to focus on.  To get around this, before you put the filter in front of your lens, compose your image, and use the camera’s autofocus to make sure the image will be sharp.  Next, turn off your autofocus using the switch on the side of your lens.  Push the switch to “M” or manual focus; this will ensure your lens will not try to refocus once the filter is on.  Lastly, carefully place your ND filter on the front of your lens.

Nubble Light, ME B&WNubble Light, ME B&W


6. Close View Finder

Since your eye will not be against the viewfinder after you compose your image, light creeps into the camera resulting in a purple line through the middle of the image ruining all of your hard work. When using a really long exposure, greater then 10 seconds, you will need to close your view finder.  Some Nikon cameras have a built in viewfinder curtain, which will stop all light from entering through your viewfinder.  Some Canon cameras come with a plastic eye cap that can be placed over your viewfinder.  If you do not have either, the next best thing is a piece of gaffers tape.  Placing a piece over your camera’s viewfinder will work allowing you to create amazing long exposure images.  

Yosemite FallsYosemite FallsYosemite Falls from Swinging Bridge


7. Composition

Having a great composition can make or break an image; just because you are taking a long exposure doesn’t mean that you do not have to take the time to find and compose your image. The key to composition is finding the subject and then composing the scene to draw the viewer’s eyes through the image to the subject.  There are many different ways to compose the landscape, which makes it important to know the different rules in order to apply them to different situations. To learn more about photography composition techniques, click here. For more photography tips click here!

Milky Way Over Range View OverlookMilky Way Over Range View OverlookThe beautiful Milky Way over Range View Overlook in Shenandoah National Park.


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