Explore the ins and outs of long exposure photography.
With a fast shutter speed, photographers can freeze time and create a snapshot of the world. With a longer exposure, that sense of time changes and adds dynamism to the photo. “Long exposure photography is when you allow your camera’s sensor to gather light for a longer amount of time. One major goal of this is revealing more detail in the darker areas of the scene,” explains photographer Nick Ulivieri. “For more creative purposes, you may want to use a long exposure to create a sense of motion in your images.”
The average photo is taken in about 1/60 of a second. But by changing the shutter speed, and leaving the shutter of your camera open for longer, you can collect more light and capture something new. But leaving the shutter open affects your other camera settings, including your aperture and ISO. Longer exposures allow you the ability to capture stunning images, but getting those beautiful images requires some experimentation and test shots to find the correct exposure time.
Diving into the technical details.
Get your gear together.
Using manual mode.
Understanding aperture and ISO.
Neutral density filters.
Neutral density filters, often called ND filters, or 10-stop filters, are placed in front of the camera lens to reduce the amount of light entering the camera. This allows you to keep your f-stop number and ISO low, while also using a long shutter speed. ND filters are helpful when shooting during the day, when the light is exceptionally bright. In short, an ND filter gives the photographer more control over depth of field and shutter speed.
Be sure to use manual focus settings on your camera, instead of the autofocus settings. With manual focus, you can get very precise about where your depth of field falls and which objects will be in focus. You don’t want your camera to autofocus on the wrong object in your image and ruin a two-minute exposure.
Explore the possibilities of long exposure images.
One of the best times to create long exposure photos is 15 minutes to an hour after sunset. “You get the nicest kind of light, and you still have some color in the sky. That’s a great time to do long exposures because you can get an even exposure between the deepening blue sky above with the vibrant city lights below,” explains Ulivieri. Long exposures in landscape photography give you the opportunity to highlight the ambience and atmosphere of a location. So, whether you’re shooting dreamy landscapes or vast seascapes, long exposures give you a chance to photograph something new every time.
“Anytime you’re photographing at night, that’s one of the most common uses of long exposure,” notes Long. Because there’s less ambient light, you’ll need a longer exposure to counterbalance it. Whether you’re capturing star trails over the course of hours or light trails from cars speeding down a road, night photography is a great opportunity to highlight the passage of time with long exposures. Plus, it often results in hauntingly pretty photos.
Lightning and storm photography.
Highlighting the unpredictable drama of lightning and storms is a great way to create unique long exposures. Because you can never know when lightning will strike, explains Ulivieri, “If I’m taking 12-second exposures — because that’s what sky conditions dictate — I just keep taking them over and over in quick succession with the hope that my shutter is already open by the time the lightning hits.” Capturing something so dynamic in a single photo takes practice and patience. But by understanding the mechanics of a long exposure photo, you’re one step closer to capturing stunning storm photography.
Whatever subject matter you choose, long exposure photography gives the artist control over time in a new way. Through trial and error, you learn what settings and gear work best for every situation. Now, the only thing left to do is decide what to photograph first.
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