Long Exposure Landscapes

Oct 15, 2019

Several weeks ago, I wrote about My 3 Favourite Landscape Photography Techniques. A few weeks after that, I discussed How to Capture a Static Landscape Image. This week, I want to elaborate further on that first post and talk about long exposure photography. Long exposure, in landscape photography, is a creative technique in which movement is showcased. Most often, long exposures showcase movement in clouds and water. Long exposure photography is gorgeous, and once you try it, I think you’ll fall in love with this technique. If you are interested in trying long exposure photography, I have a few tips to get you started.

1. Use a wired cable or wireless shutter release

I think when you are learning a new genre of photography that you should jump right in and get started even without having all the fancy tools. If landscape photography is something you find you enjoy, I highly recommend your first landscape photography specific purchase be a shutter trigger release. Wired (cable) or wireless both work, and there is no need to go expensive here. The inexpensive triggers work well. A shutter release will prevent camera shake when you begin and end a long exposure.

 ISO 100, 24mm, f13, 20sec

2. Use a Neutral Density filter

If you are enjoying landscape photography and interested in trying long exposures, I suggest you invest in a neutral density (ND) filter. These filters come in different stops. My two favourite ND filters are my 6 and 10 stops. ND filters are like very dark sunglasses for your lens and limit the amount of light entering your camera. This allows you to capture long exposures. 

ISO 100, 35mm, f13, 127sec

3. Set focus before attaching your ND filter

It will be difficult and even impossible for your camera to focus on a scene when an ND filter is attached. Be sure you set focus and then attach your ND filter, being careful not to bump the focus on your camera. 

 ISO 100, 16mm, f13, 1/6sec

4. Set a base exposure before you attach an ND filter

You will need to have a good base exposure before you can determine how long you’ll need to run your exposure with your ND filter attached. The best practice here is to determine the settings for a proper exposure without the ND filter attached. Expose for your highlights so that they are not blowing out but are very bright. Take a test shot to ensure your exposure is good. Now it's time for some math. When you add your ND filter, you are darkening your exposure. For example, if you plan on using a ten stop ND filter, you will be darkening your exposure by ten stops. The time you will now need to attain proper exposure is going to increase by ten stops. The easiest way to determine the time you will require for appropriate exposure when using an ND filter is to use a long exposure app. My favourite long exposure app is the LEE Filters-Stopper Exposure Guide. When using a long exposure app, you enter the settings you used for a proper exposure without the filter. The app then calculates the time you should exposure your image for with the ND filter attached.

 ISO 100, 16mm, f14, 120sec

5. Use Bulb Mode

When I use my 6 or 10 stop filters, I am usually looking at exposures that are minutes in length. To be able to capture exposures longer than 30 seconds, I must shoot in bulb mode. I set my ISO, aperture and shutter speed to determine my settings for proper baseline exposure. I then use my long exposure app to determine the time I need to expose my image with the filter attached. If the time exceeds my camera’s 30-second exposure ability, I dial in bulb mode. With my shutter release cable, I open the exposure and close the exposure once my desired time has passed.

 ISO 100, 35mm, f16, 62sec

6. Practice and experiment

Long exposure photography takes practice. You’ll learn lessons as you try out this technique. You’ll also learn what shutter speed looks best in certain situations and, more importantly, what you like in your long exposures. Take time to experiment with different shutter speeds. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy being creative with this incredibly beautiful technique.

 ISO100, 16mm, f13, 1/6sec

Long exposure is a gorgeous and creative landscape photography technique. It’s a favourite technique of mine, and I almost always prefer my long exposure over the static exposure I take in the same scene. Long exposures also add a fantastic variety of a single scene without even having to recompose! Have fun experimenting with your landscape images.

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