One of my favourite photographic techniques has to be the art of long exposure photography, it is the most relaxing creative process as it forces the photographer to sit, pause and consume the landscape. Following the release of The Long Exposure eBook I am regularly asked for tips on how to get the most from the process of capturing long exposure images. Away from the science and equipment here are seven simple tips that will help improve and your long exposure photography excursions.
1. Keep it Clean
It is essential that you keep your lens, filters and camera as clean and dry as possible. Other photographic techniques will employ a fast shutter speed so there generally isn’t time for dust or smudges to create any issues in final images. In the case of long exposure photography the shutter is open for very long periods of time and thus there is a risk that dust spots can appear in the final images.
Although Lightroom automatically cleans up fine marks larger dust spots can be removed using the spot removal tool in lightroom (covered in the eBook). That said I have had incidents where a water mark on a filter has completely ruined a set of images. If you are shoot at the sea periodically check the front of your filter for sea spray, if your filter is wet I recommend removing it from the holder to clean and dry. It can be very difficult to see these dust issues on the LCD screen on the back of the camera but the cleaner your equipment the less chance there is of a ruined photo and the less work you have to do at the post production stage.
Note: It is also important to make sure your tripod is completely dry after shooting in sea water. Salt water can damage tripods and cause rapid rusting of metal feet or parts. A rinse under clean water and a thorough dry can prolong the life of your tripod.
2. Avoid the Midday Sun
Although products like the Lee Filters Big Stopper are amazing at reducing the amount light reaching the sensor the midday sun can still pose a long exposure challenge.
Try and restrict your long exposure photography to the early morning or late evening as shooting at the extremes of the day means a much slower shutter speed is needed to achieve a correct exposure and thus this can enhance the smoothness of your final image. If you are shooting in the late evening don’t be afraid to try capturing some long exposure images without using a filter, experiment with graduated filters to balance the sky and surface water. Also don’t worry if you run out of light, the night sky can also offer some brilliant long exposure opportunities, see Adventures in Astrophotography .
3. Composition is King
There is always a lot going on when capturing long exposure images, you can find yourself thinking about exposure times, fighting with shutter release cables or trying to attach filters with frozen fingers. With all this going on it is important that you don’t forget about composition, if the composition isn’t right it won’t matter how technically perfect your final image is.
I would go as far as to say a well composed image that isn’t technically perfect is still better than a badly composed perfectly executed shot. Once you have your camera setup at a location, take a few minutes to really study the scene through the view finder, also spend the time during captures thinking of creative ways to shoot the scene. The Harland and Wolff image above makes use of a large puddle to create the lower reflection to fill the frame with light I only spotted the opportunity while playing with another camera during a long exposure capture.
4. Pack Spare Batteries
Long Exposure photography makes your camera work harder for longer periods of time. If you are capturing long exposure photos during a photography trip then it is ultimately going to impact on battery life. I always pack a few spare batteries to make sure I don’t end up at the top of a mountain with no power. A battery grip can come in handy but isn’t essential.
5. Invest in a Good Tripod
Keeping your camera perfectly still is key in long exposure photography. The essential cable release is only useful if your camera is rock solid. Shooting on the coastline of Ireland can see some seriously blustery winds so a tripod that isn’t going to move in a sudden gust is essential. Mixing expensive cameras with cheap plastic tripods is nonsensical, protect your camera!
A tripod that is easily adjustable will also make your life easier, rarely will you find yourself on perfectly level ground, I frequently need one leg of my tripod shorter than the others so an easily adjustable tripod with ball head can really take the frustration out of the equation. There is nothing worse than a tripod lens suddenly slipping during a shot, trust me it happens). The photo above shows the 3 Legged Thing Brian carbon fibre tripod facing the ice cold winds of the county down coast without moving an inch.
6. Take your Time
When shooting long exposure images it is easy to get impatient waiting for each exposure. Don’t be tempted to increase the size of aperture to speed up the process, the longer the time it takes to create the correct exposure the better the image is likely to be.
When the image has been captured don’t rush to take the next shot, instead take time to study the image in the LCD screen, look for areas that may appear over exposed and look for obvious dust spots, it is much better to get it right on camera than to try and fix later in post production. If you do find yourself getting bored during shots then take some time to look around the area for other vantage points, get creative with composition, if that doesn’t help, pack another camera to capture more the scene.
7. Stay Warm & Safe
It is important to stay warm, if you get cold then, not only are you going to hate the process you are not going to produce your best work. Long Exposure photography can involve early starts and long waits at the rugged windy coastline and your hands can get cold quickly.
Invest in a good pair of gloves that are thin enough to still control your camera buttons. Stay safe, be aware of the incoming tide and make sure you have a route back to safety. This may sound alarmist but it can easy to get distracted with capturing long exposure images and not realise the tide is coming in quickly.
At St John’s Point (above) there is a brilliant vantage points on a set of rocks at the front of the lighthouse, but it easy to miss that the tide actually fills a pool between the rocks and the shoreline as it comes in! Be careful but enjoy the process. If you haven’t tried capturing long exposure images then I really recommend you give it a go, it is a really therapeutic way to capture the landscape.
The Long Exposure eBook
If you are new to the area of long exposure photography then check out The Long Exposure eBook, a complete beginners guide on getting started with capturing long exposure images.
The 33 page eBook also comes with six custom Lightroom presets that I use in my long exposure processing. The long exposure ebook will enable you to capture stunning long exposure images on even the simplest of camera set-ups.
- What is Long Exposure Photography
- Essential Gear and The Myth of Equipment
- The Theory of Long Exposure Photography
- The Capture Process
- Post Production Technique
- Installing the Presets
- Creating your own Presets
- The Free Presets Explained
You can find out more : The Long Exposure eBook.
The trick is to get out there and shoot, often the getting out there is more important than the resultant images.