A photography technique I really like is using a long exposure. It’s basically as it sounds, you use a long exposure which means a long/slow shutter. It’s a neat way to capture or exaggerate movement, like making streaks with moving car lights:
It’s actually really simple to do! You need a camera that allows manual settings, either a DSLR or a high-end compact camera. You also need a tripod, so your camera stays still while taking the photo. Optionally, you can use a remote shutter, so that you don’t have to push the shutter button, which risks moving the camera.
You basically set up your camera on the tripod, set a slow shutter, then wait for the camera to take the photo. The trickiest part is knowing what settings to use on your camera. To put it in simple terms…
Shutter speed: the slower the shutter, the more light gets in.
Aperture: the lower the aperture, the higher the f-stop, and the less light gets in.
ISO: the lower the ISO, the less light.
How slow you want the shutter is pretty much up to you and may vary on the situation. For example, I typically use 10-20 seconds for these street lights photos. Not 1/10 second but 10 seconds. Since the shutter is so slow, a lot of light is getting in. If we don’t balance out the other 2 settings, the photo will be too bright. So, I use a low aperture (high f-stop) and a low ISO. This photo was taken with a 15 second shutter at ISO100 and f/14.
Long exposures can also be used during the day. When you use it on flowing water, like a stream, river, or waterfall, you get streaks of water.
When used on waves, you get mist.
However, there is a problem when doing this during the day. There’s just too much light, and the photo will still end up way too bright. There’s really no setting you can use to offset the slow shutter. Fortunately, there is a solution. This is a Neutral Density (ND) filter for a SLR lens.
I’ll have an entry about lens filters later, but it’s a type of glass that goes in front of your lens. This one is a ND 3.0, also known as a 10-stop filter. The higher the number, the more light reduction. This one blocks ~90% of light, which lets me simulate night time. With this, I can set my camera settings as I would normally do when it’s dark outside.
Remember that the camera is taking the photo the whole time the shutter is open. Don’t get impatient and mess with the camera before it’s done! The key is that the camera and background are still, and the only thing that’s moving is what you want to capture, whether it’s moving lights or water.
There are also other uses for long exposure. For example, it could be used to make water look still, like on a lake where the water is rippling a little. Another is making people “disappear”. It’s often hard to take good photos of a tourist attraction with so many people walking around. If people are moving enough and the shutter is long enough, a long exposure might work.
The photos above are mine, but here are beautiful photos by others that also use long exposures: