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- When and How to Use Long Exposure
If you want to give long exposure photography a try, this is the tutorial for you!
Long exposures are more complex and time-consuming than normal photos, but despite what some beginners think, capturing long exposures doesn't require any additional skills or fancy gear.
In fact, if you know the basics of exposure and composition and you have a tripod, a decent camera, and a neutral density filter, you can create long exposures.
With that in mind, let's go over some of the basics of long exposure photography.
Get Geared Up
First things first.
You need certain gear to make long exposures a reality.
Obviously you need a DSLR or mirrorless camera and a lens. Since most long exposures are taken of landscapes, a wide-angle lens is a good option.
Additionally, you need a tripod, preferably with features that enhance its stability. That includes a center column hook so you can add weight to act as ballast if the wind picks up and metal spikes on the feet to help the tripod dig into the ground.
It's also a good idea to pick up two other pieces of gear - a remote and a neutral density filter.
Using a camera remote allows you to start and stop the long exposure without having to touch the camera. The less you touch the camera, the less chance there is for the camera to vibrate.
You want to minimize vibrations because even the slightest bump will cause your long exposure to be impossibly blurry.
If you want to shoot long exposures during the daytime, you'll also need a high-quality neutral density filter.
ND filters block out sunlight, which allows you to slow the shutter speed down to get the gorgeous blurry movement like you see in the image above.
Without an ND filter, the shutter speeds required to get that kind of blur would be impossible to achieve during the daytime because it would result in a wildly overexposed image.
But not all ND filters are made alike...
You want to get a high-quality ND filter because it sits in front of your lens and directly impacts the quality of the long exposure.
Formatt-Hitech's Firecrest Ultra Neutral Density Filter is an excellent choice because it's the only professional-grade neutral density filter that's bonded to protect the filter's coating.
That means you get a filter that not only gives you beautiful results, but offers enhanced durability over time.
What's more, the Firecrest Ultra ND filter is manufactured with a lap and polish technique, which results in incredible neutrality so your images have enhanced clarity, beautiful sharpness, and minimal aberrations.
ND filters aren't just for long exposures, either - you can also use them to create time-lapse videos during the day.
Perhaps best of all, if you get a high-quality filter like the Firecrest Ultra, it's a piece of kit that will last you a very long time.
In other words, it's an investment that will pay off for years and years to come because it's built to last with the finest materials. And, if you want to expand your long exposure photography beyond the dead of night, you absolutely need to pick up a ND filter.
Consider the Weather
When you think about elements that provide interest to a long exposure, you likely think of things like clouds or moving water.
In the case of the former, you want a nice mix of blue skies and clouds, that way you can blur the movement of the clouds and get an ethereal look as seen in the image above.
That means you need to check the weather before you head out, that way you're sure the conditions will be ripe for capturing cloud movement.
Even if your primary subject is a river, a waterfall, or breakers hitting a beach, you still need to check the weather to ensure it's agreeable for long exposures.
If, for example, there will be very heavy cloud cover and rain, a long exposure isn't going to be that successful.
Likewise, if you head to the beach to capture the breakers rolling in, but you get there at low tide, you won't have much to photograph!
Mind the Composition
When visualizing your long exposure, you need to bear the basics of composition in mind.
Think about how you can use the Rule of Thirds to create a more balanced and compelling composition.
Ensure that if a horizon line is visible, that it's absolutely level, and use leading lines to connect the foreground to the background, as shown above.
Play with the framing of the shot as well, that way you're sure to get the most pleasing view of the subject. Get your tripod low to the ground or find a high vantage point to get a more interesting view.
Additionally, don't get caught up in the notion that you're taking a long exposure.
Instead, treat the composition phase of the shot as you would any other.
Pay attention to the details. Concentrate on having a strong, central subject to grab the viewer's attention. Manipulate the speed of the shutter to get different levels of motion blur.
If you can do those things, you'll have a pleasing image as a result.
These are just the basic, introductory steps to taking long exposures from a gear standpoint, a planning standpoint, and a composition standpoint.
For more details on each, check the Learn More links throughout this article.
Also be sure to check out the video above by Joshua Cripps, in which he takes you step-by-step through the process of taking daytime long exposures.