Home Quick Tip Thursday 3 Quick Steps to Beautiful Long Exposure Photography

3 Quick Steps to Beautiful Long Exposure Photography

The Lazy Photographers' Guide to Long Exposure Photography

Beautiful Long Exposure Photography

Long Exposure Photography has become a popular niche and one that I often mention. It’s a technique that has the potential to take your photography from boring to Wow!

The best part is that it’s not particularly hard to learn and, in reality, there are only a few steps to follow in order to get started. Let’s take a look at the 3 quick steps to beautiful Long Exposure Photography.

Mount the Camera on a Tripod

The exact definition of when an image becomes a Long Exposure is somewhat vague – personally, I tend to refer to it as the moment when you no longer can capture an acceptably sharp image handheld. In other words, it’s nearly impossible to capture a sharp Long Exposure image without a tripod.

Step 1 is to mount the camera on a tripod.

Beautiful Long Exposure Photography

It doesn’t need to be the most expensive one but I recommend choosing something that’s solid enough to withstand some wind and rough weather.

Recommended Reading: How to Choose Your Next Tripod

Attach Neutral Density Filters

Yes, it is possible to do Long Exposure Photography without filters but I highly recommend having them available as they will, in most cases, result in better images.

The two main benefits of using Neutral Density (ND) Filters for Long Exposures are that you can:

  • achieve slower shutter speeds
  • keep the ideal aperture and ISO for better image quality

ND Filters come in different variations and degrees, so finding the one that best fits your purpose might take some time. Certain scenes benefit from a faster shutter speed while others require a slower shutter speed. I often use a 6-stop but not exclusively; again, the existing conditions and your own vision for the image will influence your choice.

Choosing the filter that takes you closest to the envisioned photo requires some trial and error but, in my opinion, this is the best way to learn and understand how they work.

Adjust the Shutter Speed

Now that you’ve mounted the camera on your tripod and attached an ND Filter, there’s only one step left: adjust the shutter speed.

Beautiful Long Exposure Photography

If you’re comfortable using the camera’s Manual Mode, this should be the easiest step, right? Not quite… In this case, adjusting the shutter speed means more than just the act of setting it in-camera; it means finding the ideal shutter speed for a particular scene.

The ideal shutter speed depends entirely on the scene you’re photographing and the vision you have. There’s not one correct choice but there are some guidelines you can follow:

  • scenes without any motion (no clouds, no running water, no wind etc.) do not require a slow shutter speed
  • a shutter speed between 0.2 and 1 second is often preferred when photographing waves
  • shutter speeds up to 5 seconds keep some texture and details in areas with motion
  • shutter speeds over 30 seconds create dreamy effects where the water looks like silk.

Just as with choosing the right filter, it will take some practice to understand what shutter speed will work for a particular scene.

The Next Steps

In reality, these are the 3 essential steps needed to capture beautiful Long Exposures. That being said, there is a lot more to it.

For an in-depth introduction, I recommend our free article The Ultimate Guide to Long Exposure Photography.