There’s no doubt that Long Exposure Photography is a popular technique amongst landscape photographers. It’s the subject of my best-selling eBook, it’s the subject of several of our most popular articles and it’s the subject of most questions I receive through our newsletter.
It’s easy to understand why it’s become such a popular technique. After just a few attempts you see just how big of an impact the choice of shutter speed has on your photos. Even small changes can make a significant difference.
Below I’ve collected some of the most frequently asked questions about long exposure photography, and the answers to them:
#1 Does a Slower Shutter Speed Mean More Detail Will be Captured?
No. Using a slower shutter speed does not mean that you get more details or a sharper image. In fact, the long exposure will blur out certain elements and hence have fewer details in some areas.
If you want to capture more details you should consider implementing the Expose to the Right (ETTR) technique. Simply put, this technique is based on exposing an image on the bright side but without clipping any highlights.
Doing so brings out more details in the shadows and gives you “more room to play”.
#2 Do I Need a Remote Shutter for Long Exposure Photography?
No. You do not need a remote shutter for long exposure photography. However, it will be beneficial to have in many scenarios.
You can use your camera’s delayed shutter instead of a remote shutter release. This will work perfectly in most cases except for when:
- You’re photographing waves and need to capture an image at that exact moment
- When working with Bulb Mode and doing exposure times longer than 30 seconds (note that some cameras allow longer shutter speeds than 30 seconds)
#3 Can I Capture Long Exposures Without Filters?
Yes. You can do Long Exposure Photography without filters.
Filters are used to reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor in a given time, which means you’ll need to lengthen the exposure time in order to get a correctly exposed image. However, you are able to use a semi-slow shutter speed without filters as well.
In order to do so, you’ll need to follow a couple of steps:
- Use a narrow aperture (such as f/22)
- Use the lowest possible ISO
- Photograph when the sun is positioned low in the sky and it’s becoming darker
It’s nearly impossible to achieve a slow shutter speed without using filters when you’re photographing during the daytime.
The techniques, as well as other tips and tricks, are explained further in our article Long Exposure Photography Without Filters.
#4 Can I Replicate Long Exposure Photography Effects in Post-Processing?
Yes. The effect of a slow shutter speed can be replicated to some extent. It will look slightly different and require more work from you in the field, but here are the steps you’ll need to follow:
- Capture a bunch of images from the same perspective (the more you have the more “long exposure” the effect will look)
- Open all the images as layers in Photoshop
- Duplicate the first layer and place it on top of all others
- Go to Edit -> Align -> Auto-Align Layers
- Select all layers except for the top duplicated layer and Convert to Smart Objects
- Place the Smart Object on top of the other layer and go to Layers -> Smart Objects -> Stack Mode -> Mean (this creates the Long Exposure effect)
- Use a mask to blend the two images together
As you can see, the effect does not look as good as actually capturing a Long Exposure. However, this technique can be used if you, for example, aren’t able to use a tripod.
#5 Is There a Correct Shutter Speed for Long Exposure Photography?
No. There is no correct shutter speed for Long Exposure Photography. The ideal shutter speed depends on the subject you’re photographing and how you wish to portray it.
It’s your creative decision as an artist to choose the shutter speed you prefer for this scene. Knowing roughly how long becomes easier as you become more experienced with working on this technique.
Recommended Reading: Introduction to Shutter Speed in Landscape Photography
#6 There’s a Miscolor in the Center of My Photos When Photographing Long Exposures. Why?
This is a well-known issue for DSLR photographers using long exposure times. Especially when the shutter speed extends a minute or more.
The reason for this miscolor is that light leaks in through the viewfinder and reflects on the mirror and sensor. In other words, this is not a problem with mirrorless cameras.
Luckily, the solution is quite simple: cover the viewfinder. You can use a finger, a piece of paper, your lens cap, or anything else. Just make sure the viewfinder is properly covered. Some cameras even have a built-in viewfinder cover.
#7 Why Are My Images Out of Focus When Using Filters?
Neutral Density filters are darkened glass placed in front of the lens. The darker the filter is, the less your camera “sees”, hence why we need a longer exposure time to capture a well-exposed image.
The main problem with your camera seeing less is that it has a hard time focusing. With dark filters, it’s almost impossible for your camera’s autofocus functions to work properly (though this is getting better and better)
This is why we have to follow a couple of additional steps when focusing during long exposure photography:
- Set up your composition
- Focus (using autofocus or manual focus)
- Lock your focus by switching the lens to manual focus
- Place the Neutral Density filter in front of the lens
- Adjust your shutter speed (don’t touch the aperture or ISO – these should already be set)
- Take the photo
By following those few steps you can ensure that your images stay in focus, no matter how long the shutter speed is.
#8 How Do I Know the Right Shutter Speed with ND Filters?
Calculating the correct shutter speed when you’re using Neutral Density filters can be tricky. Especially in the beginning. When you get more used to photographing with them, you quickly learn approximately what shutter speed you need based on the density of the filter and the light conditions outside.
When you’re first getting started, however, you don’t have many references and it’s hard to know exactly what to use. There are certain formulas you can follow to calculate the correct shutter speeds but instead of teaching you the math, I’ll share with you a way easier solution: download an exposure calculator app on your phone.
These apps take into consideration the aperture and ISO, the before shutter speed, and the filter you’re going to use. Based on those inputs, you get an accurate answer on what shutter speed you should be using.
The NiSi ND Calculator is a good and easy-to-use app that I recommend.
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Do You Have More Questions? [And More Reading]
Long Exposure Photography is a big topic and I’m sure that all of your questions might not have been answered yet. In that case, I invite you to drop your question in the comments below and I’ll do my best to get it answered.
In the meantime, here are some more articles on Long Exposure Photography you will enjoy:
- Common Long Exposure Photography Mistakes to Avoid
- Ultimate Guide to Long Exposure Photography
- Quick Tip: Remove the Camera Strap for Long Exposure Photography
- 3 Quick Steps to Beautiful Long Exposure Photography
- What is ICM Photography? (And How to Master It)