Get Started in Long Exposure Photography With These Quick Tips
With as ubiquitous as cameras have become – especially smartphone cameras – it’s easier today than ever before to take some pretty compelling images.
That includes normal still photos and long exposures, too.
The problem that beginners seem to face when trying to dabble in long exposure photography is figuring out all the gear that’s needed to get the best shots.
This obviously includes a camera and lens, but beyond that, it also includes a top-notch tripod, an excellent set of neutral density filters, and a high-quality camera remote to help you capture the shots you want.
With all that in mind, here’s a few gear tips for long exposure photography (with a few other quick tips thrown in for good measure).
You Need a Good Neutral Density Filter Kit
Let’s start with the most important accessory you need for long exposures – a neutral density (ND) filter.
An ND filter blocks out a portion of the sun’s rays, allowing you to utilize longer shutter speeds than would otherwise be possible during the daytime.
As their name suggests, ND filters are neutral, meaning, they merely block out light and do not cause a color cast in the image. Some ND filters are better than others at doing this.
ND filters are measured in stops, with each stop reducing the available light by a factor of 2. So, where a one-stop filter (ND2) reduces light by a factor of 2, a two-stop filter (ND4) reduces it by a factor of 4, a three-stop filter (ND8) by a factor of 8, and so forth.
Most ND filters go up to 10-stops, though there are super dark options available that extend to 16 stops. Photographers can also stack filters as they see fit, making a five-stop filter out of a two-stop stacked on top of a three-stop.
Quick Tip: With the math out of the way, the next problem to think about with an ND filter is how it changes the way you work.
Normally, you’d frame up the shot and press the shutter button to get the image, but since ND filters are so dark, they make your camera’s autofocus system worthless.
That is, your camera requires light for its autofocus system to detect contrast, but an ND filter blocks out so much light that the camera can’t figure out where to focus.
That means you need to compose the shot, switch your lens to manual focus to lock the focus, and then attach the filter to your lens.
As I mentioned earlier, not all ND filters are made equally, so you need to get outfitted with a filter or set of filters with a reputation for quality.
Formatt-Hitech certainly fits the bill, as their series of photography filters is second-to-none.
Their Firecrest multi-coating is applied to each piece of glass via an electrolytic process. That gives you unprecedented control over the light entering your camera and guaranteed hyper-neutral results, too.
Their Long Exposure Filter Kit #1, Joel Tjintjelaar Signature Edition has a four ND filters (a 3-stop, 6-stop, 9-stop, and 10-stop) that give you plenty of flexibility regarding just how long of an exposure you can use.
Again, you can stack filters to get different strengths, so with these four filters, you really have dozens of possibilities in terms of filter combinations, including 13-stops and 16-stops for ultra long exposures of five minutes or more.
Formatt-Hitech even offers two different versions of their long exposure kit, one with circular screw in filters and another with rectangular 100mm filters.
Both versions come with an exclusive booklet by Joel Tjintjelaar, one of the best long exposure photographers in the world. Also included is a long exposure conversion chart and pouches and clamshells for storing your filters.
In other words, this filter kit has everything you need to get started taking long exposures, and because it’s built by Formatt-Hitech, it’ll serve you well for years and years to come.
- Get the Specs and Pricing on the Formatt-Hitech Long Exposure Filter Kit #1
- Quick and Easy Tips for Improved Long Exposures
Your Camera Needs Stability
Since we’re talking about exposures that are seconds long at the very least (and perhaps even minutes long), you certainly can’t stand there and hold your camera still enough to get a good shot.
That’s where a tripod comes in…
Of course, not all tripods are built alike, so buying some cheap, flimsy tripod won’t do you or your images any favors.
When looking for a solid tripod for your photography adventures, I strongly recommend Sirui, as they are a company that has continuously put out top-notch tripods with innovative features that make the job of getting the shot easier to do.
When you’re taking a long exposure, you want a tripod that has a few extra bells and whistles that help stabilize it.
Take Sirui’s W-2204 Waterproof Carbon Fiber Tripod as an ideal example…
Obviously, it’s waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about water, dirt, sand, dust, and grime getting into its legs.
And since it’s carbon fiber, it’s lightweight, too, coming in at just 3.7 pounds. Compared to its nearly 40-pound load capacity, that’s not bad at all!
Quick Tip: Most tripods have an extendable center column to give them extra height. However, the further the center column is extended, the less stable it becomes. To maximize stability (and, therefore, the sharpness of the images you take), keep the center column retracted as far as possible.
Now, when it comes to stability, this thing has it all.
Each leg has its own leg angle lock mechanism to ensure quick, convenient, and stable setup.
It’s also got three different leg angle positions so it can accommodate uneven terrain without compromising on stability.
There’s a center column hook as well, ideal for hanging a bag or another heavy object to act as ballast.
That means that once you set this bad boy up, your camera isn’t going anywhere. And the result of that? Sharper long exposure images!
- Get the Specs and Pricing on the Sirui W-2204 Carbon Fiber Tripod
- How to Choose a Tripod for Landscape Photography
Being Hands-Free Means Sharper Results
There are tons of camera remotes out there, some that simply trigger the shutter when pressed and then close it when pressed again.
But like a cheap tripod, a cheap camera remote doesn’t really do you much good.
Instead, if you’re going to invest in the gear, invest in something that gives you all sorts of power to create breathtaking images.
Quick Tip: In addition to using a tripod to get sharp images, you can also use a camera remote.
By remotely triggering your camera’s shutter, you avoid causing camera shake, which leads to blurry photos and results that are less than pleasing.
I’m of course talking about Pulse by Alpine Labs.
This tiny gadget weighs just 1.5 ounces, but it packs a mighty punch.
Not only is it the perfect companion for helping you take long exposures, but it’ll also help you take better still photos, real-time videos, and time-lapse videos, too.
That’s because it works via Bluetooth and a smartphone app so that you can command your camera from up to 100 feet away. Not bad, right?
Just mount Pulse to your camera’s hot-shoe, plug it into your camera’s USB port, fire up the companion app, and you can do all sorts of things.
That includes controlling aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, viewing thumbnails and the histogram right on your phone, and creating both timed and manual long exposures.
Heck, you can even lay down in your tent and make all the adjustments you want to your camera to get the perfect long exposure. In fact, once Pulse has your settings, it doesn’t need to stay connected to your phone. That means it’ll work on its own while you wander around looking for the next shot.
- Get the Specs and Pricing on Alpine Labs Pulse
- 4 Situations in Which You Needed a Camera Remote (But Didn’t Realize It)
Putting It All Together
Creating epic long exposures requires more than just the right gear.
You need to pay attention to framing and composition, consider the lighting, and be sure to include elements that indicate movement, like water or stars moving across the night sky.
However, before you can even think about those details, you need to assemble the right kind of kit.
If you ask me, the combination of the filters, tripod, and camera remote I’ve outlined here is pretty darn close to the perfect long exposure photography kit.
So, get the gear you need, head out, and start practicing your long exposure techniques!
You’re sure to get far superior results with this gear than without!