Step by Step Guide to Long Exposure Photography

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 I have been into photography for quite some time now. Especially seascapes and long exposures. I have been asked on numerous occasions how to take long exposures so thought it would be a good idea to compile a simple step – by – step guide. This is by no means the authority on how to do long exposures, merely a very simple method that I often use myself.

Step1 - Plan your composition

• Ideally visit your location in advance to allow you to plan your composition

• Try to imagine how your image will look. As an example, consider how the waves or clouds are moving

• Often-times it is more beneficial to avoid having the sun appear directly in the scene as this can lead to undesirable effects such as lens flare, or a blown-out overexposed area of sky. If this is unavoidable perhaps wait until the sun is behind a cloud.

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Step 2 – Set up your equipment

• As the shutter is open for an extended amount of time during long exposures, it is very important that the camera is fixed firmly to a tripod so as not to move. If you do not have a tripod, you could try using a beanbag or similar to support your camera.

• Another useful piece of equipment is a remote trigger release. Either an infra-red wireless trigger or one that is connected via cable. The idea being that the manually operating the shutter button on your camera by hand will likely introduce movement and inevitably result in your image being soft or blurred. By using a remote trigger release you will avoid this.

Step 3 – Focus on your subject

• I recommend using manual focus to precisely focus on your subject.

• Alternatively, you can use auto focus, but switch to manual once focus is achieved.

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Step 4 – Take some test shots

• Switch your camera to Manual (M) or Aperture Priority Mode (Av).

• Set your ISO sensitivity. I almost always use the lowest ISO I can. Usually ISO100.

• Set your aperture. I usually use something around f8 to f11.

• Take a number of test shots. We don’t want any areas that are too bright or too dark so check your histogram for overexposure or underexposure (indicated by the graph showing information way over to the left or right respectively). When you are happy with the level of exposure make a note of the shutter speed. This is your base exposure.

Step 5 – Attach your ND Filter

• Place your neutral density filter over the front of your lens. My preferred filter type is the square system but If you are using a screw on type, be careful not to move the focus ring on your lens.

Step 6 – Use your cameras Bulb (B) mode

• Now switch your camera to Bulb Mode (B). This may be on the mode dial with the (M), (Av) & (Tv) etc. Or as is with my Sony a7iii, it is selected by adjusting the shutter speed to past 30 seconds. This allows us to take exposures of more than 30 seconds

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Step 7 – Take your shot

• Now we are ready to take our long exposure shot. Use your base exposure (the shutter speed you made a note of in your test shot) to calculate your new shutter speed. Do this by multiplying that shutter speed by the exposure factor of your ND filter.

• Refer to the ND exposure chart below or use an APP on your phone or tablet to work this out.

• My preferred APP is Exposure Calculator for android. You simply input your base exposure settings, then add the f/stop value of your ND filter and it will tell you what your new exposure time should be.

• So, if for example, your base exposure shutter speed was ¼ second and you are using a 10 stop ND filter. We multiply 0.25 x 1000 = 250 seconds. This is our new exposure time.

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I hope you find this guide useful and have lots of fun experimenting with long exposure photography 

Download a printable version of this guide here
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