Long-Exposure Photography: A Basic Guide

So, you have the basics of photography down and want to try something new. You’ve probably seen NatGeo photos with sweeping smooth landscapes, silky waterfalls, and busy light trails and want to try and capture it yourself. Well, you have come to the right place! A Basic Guide to Long-Exposure Photography

Long-Exposure Photography

Before I start on Long Exposure, we have to go back to the basics of what is exposure. Controlling exposure in photography can be done in various ways as seen with the Exposure Triangle – Aperture, ISO, and Shutter speed.

With long-exposure images, we tend to focus on using a slow shutter speed and balancing the aperture and ISO accordingly.

the exposure triangle

Long Exposure photography is a great way of capturing both stationary and moving subjects, either separately or together. Great examples include star trails, cities at night light trails, and waterfalls. It is a tool that is great to master to create uniquely beautiful images of everyday things and places. Examples of Long Exposure uses are:

In this post, we are going over Night photography and Moving landscapes.

image of a bridge in Ottawa, Canada

Night Photography

A great place to begin with long-exposure photography is at night. The lack of light forces you to use a longer exposure to capture your subject. This can be a good basis for expanding into light painting.

The basic equipment you will need:

  • Camera
  • Tripod

And that’s it!

Things to Consider:

  • ISO. As it is darker, keep an eye on your ISO setting. The higher the sensitivity (higher number) the more digital interference (noise) in the picture. The ISO setting can allow having a shorter exposure time, but know the limit of your camera for cleaner images.
  • Movement. Make sure the tripod is secure and there is no external movement that can shake or disturb your camera. This is especially apparent when taking images under 1/80 shutter speed.

Once you’ve tried a few shots and found the best settings for your equipment you can move on to try light painting! 

image of the petit cascade in mortain

Moving Landscape Photography

Feeling a little more adventurous with long exposure? Have a go at long exposure with some filters to create some amazing landscapes. ND filters or neutral density filters are very handy, not just in photography but also in videography. Personally, I love to use the Hoya brand which has a set of fixed filters and a variable filter, that is super for setting up shots for moving landscapes.

The equipment you will need:

  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • A variable ND filter or several ND filter stops

What to do:

  • Set up your camera in M (manual) mode
  • Set up the camera securely onto a tripod
  • Arrange your composition remembering what we focused on earlier
  • Set your aperture between f/6.0 and f/9.0 
  • Keep your iso 200-400
  • Attach your ND filter
  • Play around with the shutter speed. This will be a trial-and-error approach.

Things to Consider:

  • If the photo is too dark
    • Slower shutter speed
    • Lower Aperture
  • If the photo is too light
    • Higher Aperture
    • Faster shutter speed
  • Aperture. This needs to be fixed for a landscape photo, but not too wide as we need to compensate for the shutter.
  • How ND filters work. The darker the glass, the longer the shutter can be. With Variable ND filters, you can compose your photo with the filter “open” and then close the filter to take the shot.
  • The best pictures come out with a Manual focus.
  • Inspiration for photos! Find some inspiration before shooting. I find National Geographic very helpful for this!

For this type of photography, I usually live by trial and error and a bucket full of patience!

View of camera on hill in wales
An HDR stack of 3 different exposures, 1″ 1/250 and 1/2000

Looking forward to seeing more creative photos from all my readers! Happy Snapping!

I am currently taking bookings for shoots and competitions local to me. Feel free to get in touch for information!


Published by Briony-Molly

Photographer & Designer. Horse Owner, Book Fanatic

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