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Long Exposure Photography

21 May 2016

After my recent three part city night shoot in Manchester (images above) I thought i'd share my top tips and kit that I use when I go out looking to shoot some long exposure images.

I thought i'd use this as more of offering some tips than a tutorial however if you have any questions feel free to drop me a message or comment below : )

My kit bag always has the following for night shoots:

1) Canon UK 5D MKii

2) Canon lenses 17-40 F4L @ 24-105 F4L

3) Manfrotto Imagine More Tripod

4) Spare batteries

5) Spare memory cards

6) Remote shutter cable

7) Hoya ND400 filter

So long exposure (LE) photography......

It's gained some popularity in recent years and if you look in any photography magazine on the shelves or on photography sharing sites there will be a variety of LE images covering all sorts of subjects and times of day from morning to after dark.

Depending on what time of day and light levels you have at that given time there are a couple of options to get a long exposure image. If you are shooting in daylight you will need to use a neutral density (ND) filter. A neutral density filter does exactly that. Neutral in blocking out light without leaving any colour cast on the image. Each stop of an ND filter reduces the amount of light entering the camera by a factor of 2.

1 Stop > 21 = 2 = ND2

2 Stops > 22 = 2 x 2 = 4 = ND4

3 Stops > 23 = 2 x 2 x 2 = 8 = ND8

4 Stops > 24 = 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 16 = ND16

10 Stops > 210 = 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 1024 = ND1024

If you are shooting at night or in low light conditions then depending on the speed of movement of your subject or elements in your frame you may not need to use an ND filter at all. My last three images of night trails in Manchester were all taken after dark and utilised the long exposure needed from there lack of light at that time. Switching to bulb mode on the camera then allowed me to keep the shutter open as long as required to record the movement of light within the frame.

So my 5 tips for shooting LE images:

Tip 1 > And the most import is using a Tripod. It's essential that you have a sturdy base for the camera to sit where there will be no movement at all. Removing the camera straps will also help as they can move in the wind and cause vibration.

Tip 2 > Using a remote shutter. When pressing the shutter on the camera itself an amount of movement can easily be transferred to the camera and this will ruin an image sharpness completely. Using a remote cable allows you to open and close the shutter without the risk of movement during the process of recording the image.

Tip 3 > Manual focus. Whether you use an ND filter or shooting after dark and not requiring this it can be difficult to focus the camera on a subject due to the light levels. Use your review screen to manual focus and lock the subject. If you can auto focus then you can do this but switch to manual when locked. This will ensure that when you take the image the lens will not hunt for a focus point again which could ruin your image and composition.

Tip 4 > Bulb Mode. On most cameras if you leave most of the work to the camera and the available light is low your camera will max out at 30sec exposure. Switching to Bulb mode will allow you to keep the shutter open for as long as required and give you more control over the final image and exposure time.

Tip 5 > Choose the right subject & conditions. Long exposure is all about showing or portraying movement in a 2D image. Moving clouds, car lights are all good subjects that work well. Shooting at sunrise or sunset when the light is low in the sky is a great time to capture clouds increasing the contrast and giving a silky effect to them.

I hope some these tips can help you create some stunning long exposure images. Sometimes it takes a little more planning for this type of photography but the results can be well worth the effort.

Thanks for reading.


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