Long exposure photography

Long exposure photography – A comprehensive Guide

What is Long Exposure Photography?

Have you ever seen photographs of blur-moving elements? Photos that show creamy water or long stretched sky with its stunning clouds?

Yes, well, if you think that such photographs result from significant manipulation, you are wrong. 

They are a result of a unique photographic technique – Long Exposure photography.

So what exactly is a long exposure photography technique?

As the name suggests, it is a style that involves long exposures or low shutter speeds to blur moving objects. 

There is no exact definition of long exposure photography. However, most photographers say that when you use extremely low shutter speeds, a long exposure begins. 

This photographic technique is used mainly by landscape photographs. However, this technique is also widely used in architecture, street, travel, and culture photography. 

Getting command over long exposure photography does not require unique expertise. It does, however, require patience and practice. 

In this article, we will discuss long exposure photography in detail. We will also look at some long exposure photography tips.

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Now let’s dive in.

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Equipment you need

Let’s begin by understanding what equipment you will need for long exposure photography.

Well, generally, you need just a camera to begin clicking your photographs. But at the same time, you should also know the limits of your cameras and how some pieces of equipment may help you click better photos.

The list of equipment for long-exposure photography is not very long. So let’s check it out.


The basic requirement. Suppose you have digital cameras, as most smartphones have currently, that works. The only requirement is that you should be able to alter the settings manually. Particularly ISO, aperture, and shutter speeds. 

Suppose you have a camera with a bulb or time mode that is even more fantastic. This will allow you to have a shutter speed of more than 30 seconds. But, this is not a compulsion. 

long exposure photography camera


Tripod is another primary requirement. Many photographers think they can rest their cameras on rocks or other objects, but that’s not a good idea. Long exposure photography needs slow shutter speeds for seconds and even minutes. Tripod will be essential to rest your camera well and take creative images efficiently.

Go for a sturdy tripod that does not break easily. You do not need to invest in an expensive tripod, but also do not be tempted by a cheap one that easily breaks.

Remote shutter release

The main reason to use remote shutter release is that it helps to reduce the camera’s vibration caused by pressing the shutter button. Additionally, it helps in getting shutter speeds long enough, longer than 30 seconds, with the help of bulb mode. 


Neutral density filters are essential for long exposure photographs. These are darkened filters. You keep them on your lens to reduce the amount of light that comes to the shutter. The darkness of the filter is inversely proportional to the speed of the shutter. 

These filters are not very essential during the dark. However, most photographers tend to use them during the daytime and especially the golden hour. 

long exposure photography

Research well before you go in choosing the type of filter for yourself.

Setting up and shooting long exposure photographs.

Now the time is to plan, set up, and shoot your long exposure photographs. Let’s see how.


Long exposure photographs take time, unlike other shots, which are done in a fraction of seconds. It involves setting up the tripod, camera, filters and finally capturing the shot. This consists of some planning. Not planning your shot may lead you to end up regretting that some other angle might have been better.

It is always good to plan. Have some idea of the weather. Visit the location well in advance and visualize how will the final picture look like. Think about what and how you will capture. 

For long exposure photography, remember to capture a scene that has something moving and something static like moving clouds and mountains. The best part is that you can also shoot indoor; here are some tips to take great photos at home. 

Set up the equipment

Start with the tripod. A tripod is necessary as it helps you to keep your camera still for seconds and even minutes. Mount your camera on your tripod and set up the accessories. These may include filter holder and shutter speed release. 

Apply normal settings

After you have set the camera on the tripod, it is time to apply standard settings. Well, it matters the least whether you apply manual settings or use the camera’s semi-automatic modes. 

The most vital thing is to note what shutter speed do you require. ISO should be kept to a low value like 64 or 100. Mostly, the aperture is st between f/7.1 and f/13. Depending on these two settings, you can adjust the shutter speed.

Take a test shot

Now when everything seems alright, it’s time to take a test shot. Take a look at the preview, zoom, focus, and capture. Make sure that the exposure is correct. If the photo seems satisfactory, jot down the shutter speed used. We will use this shortly.

Mount the filter

The next step is to mount the filter on the camera. While placing it on the filter holder, take care that you don’t disturb the focus or lens. Ensure that there is no gap between the filter and the lens. Small cracks may lead to leaking of lights and may destroy the final picture. Of course, if you are shooting in the dark and don’t require a long exposure, you can go filterless. But for most long-exposure photography, a filter is valuable and helpful.

Calculate the correct shutter speed and take a shot!

You are almost there. Now it’s time to calculate your shutter speed and take a shot. But how does one calculate shutter speed? Well, remember the shutter speed that we jotted down during the test shot? We will be using the same for our calculation.

Long exposure photography

To calculate the shutter speed manually, you should know the darkness of your filter. Some of the most common options are:

  1. ND0.3 or 1 stop = 2x shutter speed
  2. ND0.6 or 2 stops = 4x shutter speed
  3. ND0.9 or 3 stops = 8x shutter speed
  4. ND1.8 or 6 stops = 64x shutter speed
  5. ND3.0 or 10 stops = 1000x shutter speed

This implies that a 10 stop filter allows 1000 times less light. That means that eventually, the exposure time should be lengthened 1000 times to let the same amount of light reach the sensor. This takes us to the conclusion that the actual shutter speed of 1/125th second should now become 8 seconds.

Do you think that the manual calculation is complicated and eating up your time? 

No problem! There is an alternative. 

You can make use of free apps like long exposure calculator to calculate shutter speeds quickly. You need to provide the actual shutter speed and the neutral density filter that you are using. The app will automatically calculate the new shutter speed for you.

That’s it; now you are all set to take the final shot!

Long Exposure Photography – Tips

Carefully determine the exposure

If you are capturing in the nighttime, there will be a lot of factors that will determine the correct exposure. For instance, if there is a lot of light, the shutter speed will be shorter. Conversely, if you are shooting in the dark, then the shutter speed will be longer. 

The only key to understanding the proper exposure for you is practice. With practice, you will be able to tune the exposure that you want. 

Capture the shadows as well as the highlights

If you are going for long exposure photography at night, this is an important tip. Your goal should be to get the perfect shadows. Do not keep the shutter very long but only long enough for the desired effect. Keeping the shutter open for really long will lead to losing your subject in the light highlighting it. Here are some tips to shoot in low lights. 

Capture the fantastic light trails

Taillight trails are great for long-exposure photography. Select a road that has a lot of traffic at night. Use a tripod to position the camera. Use a small aperture of f/16 or even smaller that gives you a greater depth. Keep the exposure long to get more and long lines. 

Go for the sea and mountains

Planning your next shoot. Why not visit the sea and mountains in the golden hour?

Use a wide-angle lens and the smallest possible aperture. On the camera’s manual or bulb shooting mode and use a slow shutter speed. Ensure that you are using long exposures because the longer the exposure, the more the water will look. You can use the camera’s self-timer to shoot the photo without blurring the focus. 

Clouds can just be another perfect subject for long-exposure photography. Here’s a complete guide on sky photography to help you

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Long exposure photography is a unique photography style. With practice, you will be able to use the right shutter speed and set the correct exposure. Once you become good at this, you will indeed have a fantastic collection of photos, all one of its kind. 

Feel free to edit the photos a bit to set the exposure right. But, in the end, your only aim is to leave your audience amazed with your work and feel satisfied. If you are interested in photography and want to earn from it, you must learn how to click stock photos that sell.

Are you new to long exposure photography and want some help?

Join GoSocial’s community to find like-minded people. Also, there are some great workshops that you can participate in to learn more and polish your skills.

So, what are you waiting for?

Get started on planning your next shoot. Don’t forget to share your photographs with GoSocial – The Go to app for photographers!

Have fun!