Long Exposure Photography Tips

time-is-on-your_side Long exposure photography is the process of increasing the amount of time that your camera’s shutter is open in order to add motion to a photograph. If an object in your frame is stationary, and you have your focus set right, it will remain sharp while any moving objects such as clouds or water will appear blurred or smooth.

Like any other facet of photography, long exposure photography takes practice. The following tips, courtesy of Scott Wyden Kivowitz, will help you practice and get better. Be sure to check out Scott’s book Time is on Your Side – Exploring Long Exposure Photography for more long exposure photography tips and techniques.

10 Long Exposure Photography Tips


1. Watch for Big Color Shifts

The thicker the neutral density filter, the longer your exposure will be. The longer your exposure, the more color shift you are likely to encounter in your captured image. Be sure to set your white balance ahead of time as a point of reference when you process your photos later.

2. Set Your Aperture to f/8

Closing your aperture to f/22 might increase your exposure, but this runs the risk of softening the focus as well. The sweet spot of lenses is typically around f/8 but may vary from lens to lens.

3. Working with Moving Water

For water moving at average speed, an exposure of around 15 to 30 seconds should result in blurry water. Extending it even future can create a more puffy or icy look depending on how fast the water is moving.

Long exposure photo of El Matador beach in Malibu, CA

4. Combine a Polarizing Filter

Use a polarizing filter in front of your neutral density filters will reduce glare, helping to enhance the water’s transparency. Take note though that it will also extend your exposure by approximately 2 stops.

5. Invest in a Good Tripod

This may seem obvious, but make sure you have a good tripod that you’ll actually take with you. Make sure that your tripod is strong and sturdy. Find ways to further support the tripod by hanging a bag from it, or digging the legs into the ground.

6. Focus Before Adding ND Filters

Your camera is going to have a hard time focusing automatically with multiple or thick ND filters on. Get your focal point before putting your filters in front of the lens. Then get your normal exposure and finally use Slower Shutter to calculate your long exposure.


7. Use a Cable Release

Once you get beyond 30 seconds, your camera needs a cable release to control the bulb exposure. This also has the benefit of reducing camera shake since you are not touching the camera to trigger it.

8. Do Not Rely on Your LCD

The LCD on the back of your camera isn’t the best screen, so do not rely on it to confirm your exposure. Use your camera’s histogram instead to make sure the exposure is where you want it to be.

9. Shoot During Golden Hour or Blue Hour

If you can, photograph your long exposures during golden hour or blue hour. If you do, you’ll notice really beautiful color tones throughout the scene, blending with other ambient light colors.


10. Know Your Filters

Each filter brand uses their own terminology for neutral density filters. Make note of the names and the actual density so you don’t have to figure it out at the wrong moment. Keep a note on your phone or in your wallet.