Long Exposure Photography


Long Exposure Photography

If there is only one reason for using a tripod, it seems to be long exposure photography. The dynamism that it can produce in images is especially appealing, flowing water or fast moving clouds, which streak across the sky can produce compelling photography.

The length of the exposure, can make significant differences to each image, by changing this single factor, the nature of the image will change. Less than a second may simply freeze flowing water, lengthening it can turn it into a milky coloured stream. Whether it is a fast flowing stream or the crashing waves of the ocean, their appearance can be manipulated by using long exposures.


In the stark light of day, to achieve exposures of nearly a second or more it will be necessary to use filters. By using a ten stopper or a variable neutral density filter, it is possible to achieve exposures of several seconds or more.

There are apps which can be used for calculating how long to leave the shutter open, but I often find it is more useful to experiment. Capturing several images of differing length and viewing the results, finding one which seems the most appealing. It may not be scientific, however, it usually produces several images which are pleasing, in a number of ways, for different reasons.

Water droplets, splashing over rocks or smoothed out, becoming milky in colour, while clouds vary from a slight blurring to dynamic streaks across an otherwise still sky. Long exposures are also essential for astro-photography, star trails or spectacular images of the milky way require several seconds or several hours.

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First, take an image using aperture priority, setting the required aperture without any filter, this will provide a base from which to calculate necessary exposure times when the filter is added. A ten stopper by definition means that it will need around ten times the exposure time, a variable ND filter, is exactly what it suggests; variable. This means by adjusting it, the exposure can also be lengthened or shortened.

Neutral density filters work by changing the amount of light entering the camera, and hitting the sensor. This is achieved by turning the outer lens, darkening the combination, however, they require special care as they can produce aberrations on the images, especially when using cheap, poor quality filters. If used without care, dark patches can appear in the corners or across the image.

Fortunately, these are often visible in the viewfinder before pressing the shutter, and adjustments can be made to remove them.

As the light begins to dim, then long exposures become achievable without using a filter. After the setting sun, in the hours of twilight, with less light available, it becomes easier to manipulate the amount of light entering the camera by adjusting the aperture, or ISO setting.

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When darkness descends still further, achieving long exposures becomes much easier. Darkness will naturally reduce the amount of light available, and it will not only become easier, it will actually become necessary to lengthen the exposure to allow enough light for the sensor to read. Adjustments to the aperture and ISO settings will enable the length of exposure to be changed with similar results in low light as the use of a filter.

Whether using a filter or photographing in low light, the use of a tripod will be necessary. Sharp, in focus subject matter will be impossible hand-held with the length of exposures required, and although it is possible to improvise a support, there isn’t any substitute for a good tripod.


Long exposures, will take your photography to the next level, the images will appear much more dynamic, or more serene, depending on which offers greater appeal. Your photography will be improved and far more interesting, so why not give it a try.

Iain Mallory

Iain is an ex-military man, and served as a Warrant Officer in the Army Physical Training Corps. This enabled him to become highly qualified in a large number of adventurous activities. Participating in many expeditions to many parts of the World which this satisfied his wanderlust.

He now works freelance as a writer and photographer and enjoys finding adventure wherever he travels. He publishes the popular travel photography based website Mallory On Travel, an adventure travel guide for the everyday adventurer by a former adrenalin junkie.