An Introduction to Long-Exposure Photography

You may or may not have heard about the term long exposure photography. But I’ll bet my bottom dollar that you’ve seen an image that uses this technique. There are so many ways you can use this technique that you’re limited only by your imagination. This discussion will examine the basics of long-exposure photography and how to use the techniques in your photography.

What is long-exposure photography?

Long-exposure photography is a genre where a photographer uses a longer-than-usual shutter speed to capture light over a long period. When light is captured over a period of time, the camera produces some interesting effects. Let’s quickly take a look at those effects.

Light trails and silky-smooth water

The simple thing to remember is that the subject’s movements are captured as a blur when light is captured over time. If the subject is light itself, such as stars or tail light of cars or a flashlight, it creates an interesting light trail effect. A subject is an inanimate object like water or clouds that creates a smooth milky effect. You may have seen images of waterfalls, seascapes, springs, and rolling clouds that are testimony to this technique.

What else can you do with the long exposure techniques?

Long-exposure photography encompasses much more than these. For example, you can capture long exposure shots of a busy street. For this, you will require a tool known as an ND filter. An ND filter is a piece of glass that sits in front of the lens, and its job is to stop light from entering the camera.

Use of ND filters

ND filters come in various light-stopping powers. They can go from ND 1 to ND 10, where 10 means the strongest light-stopping power. The stronger the ND filter, the more light it stops. You will require a powerful ND filter if you use the long exposure technique in broad daylight. Something like an ND 6 or higher. An ND 6 or an ND 8 will let you choose a very slow shutter speed. Let’s say the normal exposure without an 8-stop ND filter is 1/1000 sec during broad daylight. If you now screw in an ND filter, you can shoot using a shutter speed that’s eight stops slower, i.e., ¼ sec. Shutter speed in broad daylight will allow you to blur any movement. A 10-stop ND filter in such a situation will allow you to use a 1-second exposure. That will blur out any movement making the scene appear devoid of people.

Don’t forget the tripod

A tripod is a must-have tool for all long-exposure photographers. Without a tripod, there cannot be a long exposure photograph. You need a way to steady your camera and ensure it does not move during the exposure. A tripod ensures that your camera is rock steady while you use a slow shutter speed.

The best way to set up a tripod is to make sure after you’ve set up the tripod and before you’ve mounted the camera to check if the tripod is wobbly. Put pressure using your hand to check that. Many times, a wobbly leg or an improperly set-up tripod can result in the tripod toppling over.

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