How to Take Long Exposure Photos

In a world where smartphones have turned us all into passable photographers, standing out from the crowd requires creativity and a fresh approach. 

how to take long exposure photos

Here’s a pro tip: try to capture images from a perspective that isn’t part of our everyday vision. And that’s exactly where long-exposure photography steps in.

Long-exposure photography captures the passage of time in a single image – something that our human eyes can’t perceive. The technique is perfect for subjects like flowing water, shifting clouds, nighttime traffic, light painting, and fireworks. 

Intrigued? Let’s dive into the art of long-exposure photography and learn how to make time stand still, or at least slow down a bit!

Gear Up for Long Exposure Photography

Gear up for long exposure photography

To get started, you’ll need:

  • – A camera with manual settings
  • – A sturdy tripod
  • – Patience, and lots of it

Optionally, you might also want:

  • – ND Filters
  • – A remote shutter release

Unraveling the Enigma of Long-Exposure Photo

Unraveling the Enigma of Long-Exposure Photo

Long-exposure photos capture motion over time by keeping the shutter open longer than usual. This could range from a few seconds to an entire year, depending on the light in the scene and the aesthetic you’re aiming for.

These photos are typically shot at night due to lower light levels, which necessitate a longer shutter speed for a correct exposure. However, it’s also possible to create long-exposure photos during the day by filtering the amount of light that falls on the sensor. And if you’re going down that road, you might find our post on how to clean a DSLR sensor quite useful.

Choosing Your Subjects for Long-Exposure Photos

Choosing Your Subjects for Long-Exposure Photos

When scouting for subjects, look for areas with some movement. At night, moving lights transform into streaks of light across your frame. The longer the shutter stays open, the more blurred the motion becomes.

Water is an excellent subject for long-exposure photos. Different shutter speeds can dramatically alter the look of the image, from silky smooth water with slow shutters to accentuated water movement with slightly faster shutters.

You can also create a ghost town effect in bustling tourist spots with long exposure photography. In the image below, I was able to make hundreds of tourists all but vanish in a shot taken from a London bridge, thanks to a dark ND filter.

Another fascinating technique is light painting, where you use a light source to paint patterns onto an image. In the example below, I opened the shutter for 25 seconds to expose the stars, then had someone walk across the frame twirling an illuminated hula hoop to create the patterns you see.

The Art of Taking Long-Exposure Photos

The Art of Taking Long-Exposure Photos

A tripod is indispensable for a long exposure shot. Once you have your tripod set up and your subject framed, you can start slowing down time. Here are the steps to follow:

1. Set your camera on Manual mode, reduce the ISO to its lowest setting (typically ISO100), and set your aperture at around f8.

2. Set your camera on a 2s timer delay to allow for any vibrations to stop before the shot, or use a remote shutter release

3. Adjust the time the shutter is open until you achieve the correct exposure. Take the picture.

4. If your exposure time is less than a second, you can close the aperture down further. This will allow you to increase the shutter speed. Balance the aperture and shutter speed until you get the desired effect.

5. If you want more exposure time, you can use a filter to reduce the amount of light coming into the camera.

In the final example, I used a 3-stop ND filter to increase my exposure time to 30s, creating silky smooth water and a perfect reflection of the bridge – exactly the look I was after.

Wrapping Up

Wrapping Up

Taking great long-exposure shots isn’t hard, but it does take some time to dial in the correct exposures and achieve the look you want. Be patient, and remember to enjoy the process. If you liked this article, please share it with your friends and leave a comment below. I would love to hear your thoughts and answer any questions you might have.

And one final word of advice: don’t start experimenting with this technique unless you’re alone or with other photographers. Non-photographers can quickly get bored, and trust me, the perfect wave of lights always seems to drive past just after the shutter closes!

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