Long exposure photography is a beautiful way to capture the movement of a landscape over time. There are a few things to keep in mind when doing long exposures, including shutter speed, aperture and ambient light.
In this article, I’ll show you how to create stunning long exposure images using different techniques.
1. Think About Composition
It’s not enough to just have a beautiful location. Composition becomes even more important when working with long shutter speeds.
Because you want to be able to see movement in your photograph, ask yourself these questions:
+ Which way does the water flow around the rocks when it rains? Will the resulting graphs be orderly or a jumble of squiggles?
+Can your audience be distracted from the topic by hazy clouds or otherwise have their attention diverted?
+ Will people be distracted by blurry leaves?
+ Does using a filter under direct sunlight really make a difference? Maybe you can return at a later time and capture it under the light of a sunset.
+ How does the same waterfront location look when the water is higher or lower?
+ When the tide comes in, how much higher will the sea be? What are the chances that you’ll make it back to shore unharmed?
Success is built on a solid foundation of careful planning and a willingness to take as many test shots as it takes to find what you’re looking for. Divide the image into three sections: foreground, middle, and background, when composing your shot.
If you want to draw the viewer’s attention to your subject, use elements like rocks, a tree, and green grass to fill out the foreground. Your subject, or perhaps a guideline leading to the rising sun, usually takes up residence in the center of the composition. Clouds, stars, or even the sun can be used as the background.
2. A Good Tripod
If you don’t want your pictures to be ruined by blurry long exposures, invest in a good tripod. It has the potential to make your job significantly easier. You can use an ordinary tripod, but you should at least weigh it down with a backpack in order to prevent it from moving around too much and ruining your photos.
Unless absolutely necessary, avoid extending your tripod’s thinnest leg sections or middle stick. This keeps the tripod from wobbling and makes it more stable in general. For added stability, a good tripod’s legs can be opened to an angle of over 35 degrees.
A cable trigger or a timer with a minimum delay of five seconds will also be appreciated. Weight down your tripod, no matter how good it is, if the weather isn’t on your side. You’ve got nothing to lose and a lot to gain, so get started today.
A sturdy tripod is essential for taking clear photos. Long exposure photography necessitates the use of a sun shield to prevent stray light from reaching the sensor.
3. Lens And Focusing
A lot of time can be saved by selecting the appropriate lens. When photographing landscapes, keep in mind that you’ll want as much width in each image as possible. However, there are times when a small detail, such as a weather inversion in a valley, catches your attention. Lenses that are built to last should be flexible enough to work in a variety of conditions. Decide on a focal length that falls somewhere between 10 and 300 mm.
Lens stabilization must be turned off immediately when using your lens for this type of photography. You don’t need the stabilization because your camera is on a tripod. Meanwhile, the tremor it causes can distort your image.
If your camera has a live preview feature, use that to help you focus. As a result, turn off your lens’ and camera’s autofocus and use the live preview instead. You can use the live preview to zoom in on a specific object. Mount the filter and begin shooting once you are certain that your focus is spot on.
4. Use An ND Filter To Enhance Your Long-Exposure Photography
The ND filter should now be applied.
However, exercise caution. The viewfinder and live view will be blacked out if you use a very dark filter (say, a 10 stop).
As a result, before applying an ND filter, make sure your focus and exposure are set correctly.
Now that you’ve added the ND filter, recalculate the exposure to match the one without it.
In other words, if your original exposure was f/8, 1/50, and ISO 100 before adding a 6 stop filter, you’ll need to subtract 6 stops from your new one. f/11, 0.6 secs, and ISO 100 were used to capture the new image.
You can use smartphone apps to do this work, or you can use a table from the ND filter manufacturer’s website.
A classic setup with CPL, a 3 stop Medium GND filter and a 6 stop ND filter
5. Look For Overcast Weather To Add More Interest To Your Photos
Long exposure photography is always on my mind when I am looking for a new location or searching the internet.
Landscape long exposure photography is possible almost anywhere in the world. If you’re looking for something that moves quickly, you need to know where and when to look.
Water (including rivers, lakes, and oceans) and clouds in the sky are the two primary themes.
However, it’s possible that other options exist. Consider the lights of a car traveling down a narrow mountain road. Or the arcing of the night sky’s stars.
The weather is an important consideration in this type of photography, but it is often overlooked.
When the sky is clear, a sunset or sunrise is particularly stunning to witness in person. A one-of-a-kind adventure. However, due to the lack of movement in the sky, this can result in a drab image.
The worst-case scenario is that you leave your house with a gorgeous sky above you, only to arrive at the shooting location to find that it’s raining.
This means you should become acquainted with weather-related websites. Visit websites like The Weather Channel or AccuWeather to learn more about the weather. These will provide you with information on cloud and precipitation levels, as well as how fast they are moving.
Then you’ll have a better idea of what to expect once you’re out in the real world.
Two-minute long exposure photography in Porto Venere, Italy. Without an incoming storm, I would not have been able to take this long exposure.
6. Track The Sun’s Position To Avoid Overexposed Areas
Long exposure planning necessitates consideration of factors such as the direction and location of the sun. Avoid including the sun as much as possible in your composition.
For starters, the sun will no longer be circular if you use long exposures. However, as the exposure progresses, you’ll notice some movement.
Additionally, it will result in an overexposed area that is nearly impossible to correct after the fact.
There are numerous mobile apps available for viewing the sun’s path in advance. You can find Photopills on the App Store or Google Play Store, which is what I use to plan out my shots.
The sun path as seen in the Augmented Reality section of the mobile app PhotoPills. Amazing feature
7. Scout The Location Beforehand To Get A Preview Of Your Composition
Long exposure photography, as previously stated, produces images that look very different from what the human eye sees. As a result, it’s critical to go into the field with a preconceived notion of what to expect. If you’re unable to visit the locations in person, use Google Maps to double-check.
Getting a sneak peek at your final composition means doing some location scouting as well. By knowing where the clouds and sunlight will come from, the strength of the sea and tide, and how they will reach the mountains, you’ll be better prepared.
I took this long exposure photography after waiting two hours for the sun to set
8. Focus A Third Of The Way Into The Scene To Avoid Blurry Results
Set your focus point after deciding on the composition of your long exposures. Aperture values of f/10 and f/11 are used for landscape photography. To avoid stumbling into diffraction issues, stay under f/16. Images will be pixel-peeled as a result.
Aperture isn’t something you should use to extend the duration of your shot. Suppose, however, that you believe your shutter speed is too fast? ND filters come in handy in this situation.
The simple trick described above can be used to confirm the location of your focus point. You might want to try concentrating on the rule of thirds’ lower-intersection points.
At this point, the manual focus should be set so that you don’t have to change it again.
If you’re interested in long exposure photography composition, the most critical element is focusing. It’s better to take your time and be certain of your focus now than to have regrets later.
There’s nothing worse than returning home with an out-of-focus photo that’s been exposed for only a few minutes.
The focus point for this image is in the red circle, the left lower point of the rule of thirds grid
9. Lower Your ISO To Avoid Digital Noise
The technical aspects of photography begin after you’ve chosen your composition and focused your camera’s lens.
We begin with ISO. The camera is mounted on a tripod, and you’re capturing landscape photos. As a result, reduce your camera’s ISO setting to the lowest setting possible.
Forget about the so-called “extended” values, both downwards and upward. These merely modify the sensor’s native sensitivity values electronically.
10. Act Fast Before The Scene Changes
Keep in mind that the ideal conditions for taking the picture may only last a short time. The soft pastel colors of the sunrise, the fiery sunset over the mountains, and the wind whipping up the clouds are all beautiful. They’ll be gone in the blink of an eye.
One or two minutes of exposure means you only have one shot to capture them.
If the weather changes, you should be able to adjust everything in a matter of seconds. As well as the ability to adjust the filter’s intensity to match the light conditions.
11. Set Aside Enough Time To Make Sure You Get Your Shot
When it comes to landscape photography, it’s a never-ending game of patience-testing.
Find the chosen location and arrive with plenty of time to spare is what you need to accomplish. After that, you’ll need to figure out what elements to include in your composition. After that, you’ll have to hold off until everything is just right.
It’s possible that you’ll only get one shot at it. After that, you’ll have to return home with nothing and wait impatiently for your next adventure.
It took almost an hour for the cloud to pass quickly enough to give some movement to the image.
12. Dial In The Settings
A long exposure photo’s most challenging aspect is determining how long to expose for because every situation is unique That said, because the shutter speed is prolonged, you’ll need to tweak the aperture and ISO settings to get a properly exposed photo no matter what the situation.
For the most part, this means shooting at the lowest ISO possible (which is usually 100 or 200). Keep in mind that ISO determines how sensitive the camera sensor is to light, so selecting the lowest ISO setting means the sensor has the lowest sensitivity possible. Using a low ISO setting reduces digital noise, which appears as if the photo was taken with film. The better the image quality, the less noise there will be.
Use the Smallest Aperture Without Sacrificing Sharpness
In addition, you’ll have to reduce the aperture. Use the lens’ largest aperture instead. Diffraction, which causes blurriness around the frame’s edges as you approach the lens’s smallest aperture opening, begins to occur as you approach. As an alternative, aim for the lens’ sweet spot (the sharpest aperture value) whenever possible. In most cases, this is between f/8 and f/11, which gives you a nice depth of field while still maintaining sharpness throughout the photo.
Manage Movement With Shutter Speed
The shutter speed determines how much movement will be captured in your long exposures. Use a slower shutter speed if you want to see more movement. Use a faster shutter speed when there is less movement, as shown in the image above.
The shutter speed you use will, of course, be influenced by the subject. One-second exposures blur fast-moving objects like passing cars on the highway. If the stream is slow, it may take several seconds to see even a sliver of movement.
It’s important to remember that shutter speed is something that will require some trial and error. Your creative vision will shift based on the subject matter. Try a variety of shutter speeds before settling on one that works best for the shot.
Shoot in RAW
Unlike JPEGs, which use a “lossy” compression method to reduce file size, RAW files retain all of the information collected by the camera’s sensor. Because you’ll have more data to work with if you shoot in RAW, there are numerous advantages to doing so. Because RAW files are editable but not destructive, you can do whatever you want with them. The original RAW file will remain intact no matter what you do.
Even better, working with RAW files gives you access to far more editing options. Right in the RAW editor, you have control over a variety of settings, including white balance, levels, curves, saturation, and even lens distortion correction.
13. Use Post-Processing To Stack Your Images
Once you’ve mastered the art of taking a long exposure landscape photo, you can move on to learning how to do it without any additional equipment.
To simulate a long exposure, you don’t need to use ND filters at all. However, a tripod will be required.
The only thing left is to find a scene with a fast-moving element. Take, for instance, the sky’s clouds.
Place the camera on a tripod and compose your image according to the same “rules.”.
A series of shots showing the movement of your element can be created when you are ready to shoot. A minimum of 20-30 images are required.
The next step is to open Lightroom. Focus your editing on a single image after you’ve imported it into the catalog. After that, make sure all of the edits for this shot are in sync with the others.
Once that’s done, right-click all of the images in the collection and choose to open them in Photoshop as separate layers. Allow your computer to work for a while while you relax.
Each image will be in its own layer on top of each other in a Photoshop document. Next, select all of the levels and then choose “Create smart object” from the context menu.
Each previous layer’s data is condensed into this single object. Save your work and then go to Image > Smart Item > Stacked Mode > Mean to see the results.
Then sit back and enjoy the effects of the long exposure.
The Matterhorn, 60 single frames combined for a 3-minute long exposure
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