You always hear how you have to use a neutral density filter to take a long exposure, right? The thing is, you can get long exposure images without having any filter at all. It’s just a matter of using a few easy tricks, and shots like the one above can be yours!
Shoot at Dusk
In typical long exposure work, a neutral density filter is used to reduce the amount of light entering your lens, thereby allowing for a much longer shutter speed to blur movement. That’s how photographers can create daytime long exposures without having an image that’s grossly overexposed - the filter prevents some of the light from entering the lens and a longer shutter speed can be used. But without a filter, your only choice is to shoot at dusk (or at night, of course) when there is less light available. Essentially, this serves the same purpose as using a neutral density filter - at dusk, you can set your exposure time to seconds or perhaps even minutes, but because there is less light available, you can still get a well-exposed image without a filter.
Step Down the Aperture
Also necessary is a small aperture opening. Remember, aperture is measured in f-stops, with something like f/2.8 representing a large aperture opening and something like f/22 representing a small aperture opening. Since we need all the help we can get in terms of limiting light, using a small aperture is necessary.
Note, however, the even the most expensive, highest-quality lenses do not perform at their best when they are used at their minimum or maximum aperture. So, in this case, if you need to shoot at f/22, which is the smallest aperture available on many lenses, beware that the image will not be maximally sharp. Maximum sharpness occurs in the lens’s sweet spot, which varies from lens to lens, but is most likely at least 2-3 stops below the maximum. You’ll likely need to do some experimentation here to find the aperture that gives you good sharpness but still limits enough light for a well-exposed long exposure.
Have the Right Tools
Obviously, you will need a good, sturdy tripod to give your camera a stable base for the long exposure shot. Since we’re dealing with shutter speeds at least seconds long, there is no way to handhold the camera without negatively impacting the quality of the image - it’s simply impossible to hold the camera still enough for that long.
What’s more, you’ll want to use the camera’s built-in timer at the very least, or even better, a remote shutter release, to fire the shutter. Being able to delay the shutter after pressing the button on the camera or firing the shutter remotely will help guard against any vibrations that result from touching the camera, which can ruin a long exposure shot.
With that, you have three easy tips that, when used together, will help you get a long exposure image without a filter. Give it a try and see what results you can get. It’s quick and simple, and it might just save you a little money because you won’t need to purchase any expensive filters!