Long exposure photography can yield some truly magical results, Just look at #longexposure_shots on Instagram it has some truly jaw-dropping images. Sometimes it can be the little things in photography that make difference – Like how long your shutter was open. It sounds like a relatively small thing but it can turn the sea into a perfectly flat mirror, waterfalls into dramatic white water and clouds can race across the sky in a blur of motion. So if you want to get started with some long exposure photography you will need a few things before you start.
Tripod: Yes I know it’s pretty obvious but none the less you will need a tripod. when we are talking about shutter speeds of seconds we need a tripod and a sturdy one a that, wind or the motion of the water can shake your camera and you end up with a blurry/soft image. Many tripods have a hook that you can attach your camera bag too, this will help weigh it down. Some even have spiked feet to dig into the ground. Many photographers will use a shutter release or the camera timer function to reduce any chance of vibration in the image.
Neutral Density Filter: This is just some dark glass to put in front of your lens, it’s purpose is to reduce the amount of light entering the camera. This is essential as it will allow the shutter remain open for a longer duration while still achieving a balanced exposure, also closing the aperture of the lens will reduce the light entering the camera and so allow for a longer exposure – this also allows for greater depth of field in the image which many landscape photographers find desirable. Neutral density filters come in two main types, circular that screw on to the front of the lens and square / rectangular these are attached to the lens with a holder system – The benefit of these is that one filter can be attached to any lens. There is a wide variety of these kinds of filters from €20 kits which include holders and filters a great way to get started on to the mid-range of filters from brands like Cokin and even up to Lee filters
So what is the difference? Well your €20 kit is great fun to start but if you start to stack a few filters you will very quickly notice a magenta colour cast ( You can kind of remove it in post but it’s a pain ) More than they are acrylic filters and this brings with it some softening of your image and in the shadows you can see the texture of the filter. With more expensive filters you get a glass filter with no colour cast and your images keep their sharpness. How much you want to spend is up to you and your budget.
For long exposure photography, you want a solid ND filter – These filters come in different strengths ND2 halves the light entering the camera ND4 quarters it ND8 means 1/8th the light – You get the idea! Many photographers use ND10 (Big Stopper) or ND15 ( Super Stopper ) for very very long exposures and dramatic effect.
Exposure: Okay so most modern cameras will allow you make a 30 Second exposure and to be honest that is often enough but if you want to work out how to go longer you need to put your camera in “Bulb” and actually time it! so how do you work out the duration? Well if with no Neutral density you had a 1/30th of a second exposure and you want to use an ND10 (10 fewer stops of light) 1/30th – 1/15th – 1/8th – 1/4th – 1/2 – 1 – 2 – 4 – 8 – 16 – 32 Seconds we can round it to 30 if we don’t have a remote release. I have found long exposure photography to be a wonderful way to see some familiar environments in a whole new way – it also helps you slow down this crazy process and that is never a bad thing. If you want more information about camera filters you can check out my video below.