- Camera with manual exposure settings.
- Tripod or other sturdy mount.
- Remote shutter release, wired or wireless.
- Neutral Density filters.
- Post processing program.
- Extra batteries.
- Spirit level.
- Microfiber cloth.
- How To Stabilize a Camera When You Don’t Have a Tripod
- 4 Advantages of Having a Tripod
- Common Beginner Photography Mistakes
photo by Mlenny via iStock
One of the things that digital photography has done for photographers wanting to try out new techniques is giving us virtually unlimited “film” to use and almost real time feedback as to what our efforts have created. Long exposure photography has benefited greatly for many photographers by taking advantage of these digital properties.
A lot of times, a photographer just getting started in all the fun parts of photography will look at certain images and wonder how they can get in on that fun, too. While many photo techniques can be done with almost any type of camera, some techniques may require certain types of equipment for best results. Long exposure photography falls into this bracket.
I’ve come up with a long exposure gear guide for beginners that can help get you started, plus it might also give you new ideas if you’ve been trying it out for a while. For me, that’s also part of the appeal of photography, we can always learn something new or improve.
Long Exposure Photography Gear List
photo by BirdImages via iStock
Though we may try, we won't be able to use just any gear for long exposures. For best results, we need a camera that allows us to set the exposure controls manually. Especially so for ultra long exposure photography, simply trying to adjust the automation limits us in what we can do.
The entire Exposure Triangle is available to us, ISO, shutter speeds, and lens aperture. If our camera has an extended range on the low side of the ISO setting, this is a real plus. I like to set my camera as low as I can for the ISO, for many brands that will be 100 or 200 but some go down to 50 or even 25, but you may have to access a deeper menu than the dedicated ISO button or dial for those extended ranges.
Manual shutter speeds are virtually essential for long exposure photography. Some cameras have timed speeds in the 30, 60, or 120 full second range, but the shutter speed marked “bulb” is the most useful for long exposures. It allows you to keep the shutter open until you close it, keeping time yourself.
Obviously, if we’re setting ISO and shutter speed manually, we also should control the lens aperture so we can achieve the exposure we’re after. Almost every DSLR and mirrorless has these controls for manual settings and some point and shoot style cameras do, too.
Keeping the camera rock steady absolutely still is vital for long exposure photography. Unless we’re intending for different types of blur effects. For most purposes, we only want to blur the water, clouds, or people and vehicles when making long exposures.
So a very sturdy mount for the camera is important. A tripod is an obvious choice, but I prefer a heavy duty tripod for this style over any of the compact travel tripods. An alternative is a camera mount like the Octopad with a ball head attached.
For nature and landscape photographers, a low profile, compact, heavy duty camera mount might be usable in spots that are difficult to use a tripod. The Octopad is a great tripod alternative because we can place it anywhere, even a surface angled up to 45 degrees, and have it hold our camera and lens absolutely still.
Personally, I like the Octopad as my first thought for a tripod alternative because it’s not a clamp or a suction cup and the large semi rigid pad conforms to many different surfaces for a secure hold. It’s also very compact, making it easy to take with me anywhere.
photo by SOMKHANA CHADPAKDEE via iStock
Since we have our camera on a tripod or Octopad camera mount, it would be a shame to accidentally move our camera rig or introduce unwanted vibration by touching the camera to take the picture.
A remote release removes that problem and some add in other control functions such as timer for our long exposure photography. Personally, I prefer a wireless full featured remote with shutter timer, but even the simple wired release is a life saver for keeping our camera as still as possible.
photo by tigristiara via iStock
In order to achieve the long shutter speeds for this type of photography, ND or neutral density filters will be on your long exposure photography gear list.
While all densities will allow an increase in shutter speeds for blurring water, clouds, or other moving objects such as cars or people, a strong ND filter like the 10-stop variety you can find in a filter holder kit will give the longest speeds. I like the filter holder kits since they let you stack filters together, such as adding a C-POL filter for controlling reflections or contrast.
photo by David Aguilar Photography via iStock
Long exposures add digital noise, so you will need a program that takes care of that. Plus, these programs also give you options for adjusting other things in the image file such as over or under exposure, color balance, and distortion control.
The program you’re already using for developing RAW files will probably do all of that. If you haven’t picked one out yet, take a look at our post-processing articles on programs like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and other alternatives.
And the Rest…
photo by Rasulovs via iStock
Extra batteries will let you keep shooting longer, since long exposures drain the batteries faster. I like to take two extra whenever I’m out on a photo session, especially if it's cold out which also drains batteries faster.
A shoe mounted level for keeping lines straight is extremely helpful. Sure, you can fix some unevenness with post processing, but it’s better to not have to “fix” anything. Instead, you want your post processing time for enhancements. A tilted horizon line will show up in landscapes with wide angle lenses.
A microfiber lens cleaning cloth is a friend to all outdoor photographers. For long exposure photography near water, it is very useful to keep spray off of the lens or filters.
Use this long exposure gear guide as a baseline of what equipment can really be helpful and then build from here as you get more and more involved in this fun and fascinating type of photography.