In recent years, the photographic technique of long exposures has become very popular, also thanks to the fact that the price of the accessories and quality equipment necessary for this type of photography has dropped a lot.
This photographic technique can be applied practically anywhere, even in urban environments, however, the natural landscape environment remains the terrain where it gives its best.
I don’t consider this photographic technique very complicated, however, I see that many novice photographers find it difficult to extricate themselves from a few simple fundamental rules.
With this article, I will try to give you a step-by-step guideline on long exposures, which will give you a way to get a satisfactory result on the first attempt (or almost).
THE IDEAL SCENARIO FOR LONG EXPOSURES
One of the main mistakes made by those who face this photographic technique for the first time is the lack of attention to detail, that is, taking long exposures in the wrong contexts.
But what are the ideal scenarios for making this type of photography?
The place must be chosen carefully. The ideal is that you do an inspection and that you spend some time evaluating the whole environment in which you intend to take the photo. At this link, you can find a series of suggestions for planning the photographic output. The ideal is that there are moving elements, such as a stream, a river, or a sea.
Once the inspection has been done, and the ideal environment has been identified, one must also take a look at the sky. In long exposures, the ideal would be to have an atmospheric condition with moving clouds, or at least a cloudy sky in order to obtain a dynamic photo.
But how do you know when the best conditions are occurring? The ideal is to evaluate atmospheric conditions by looking at satellite forecasts and trends such as those provided by many applications or by ” MeteoAM “.
THE TRIPOD IS THE BEST ACCESSORY
How can you expect to take long exposures without a good tripod?
You can equip yourself with the best filter kit available on the market, the best camera on the market, and the latest-generation electronic remote shutter, but if you don’t have a valid tripod you will never be able to take a photo with the long exposure technique.
Unfortunately, you must not fall into the mistake of considering the tripod as an accessory and unimportant. Surely the mistake that many make is to rely on tripods purchased for a few tens of euros or in a stall at the market … Wrong!
The tripod is essential for taking long exposures, so take the time to find the one that best suits your needs.
THE PROBLEM OF THE FIRE OF THE SUBJECT
Current focusing systems are phenomenal but when you take long exposures, especially using a very dark neutral filter, your camera may not be able to lock onto the intended subject.
The tragedy is that you would probably only notice this after wasting a lot of time or even worse while checking files at home. To avoid this the procedure is very simple.
You can focus manually, or you can use this quick and practical method:
- first press the shutter button halfway, activating the focus,
- then push the selector that disables focus on the lens.
Obviously, in both cases, you have to do the procedure before applying the filter in front of the lens and afterward, you don’t have to change the shot, otherwise, you have to start all over again.
DETERMINES THE EXPOSURE
To take long exposures, the shooting method you can use is Manual (M) or Aperture Priority (A / Av depending on the model / make of the camera). Once you have chosen the preferred mode, follow all the basic rules that are taught in each basic photography course to capture a panorama:
- set the aperture to an appropriate value for the scene (landscapes I suggest the aperture between f / 8 and f / 16 ).
- take a test shot to evaluate the correctness of the exposure. The purpose of the test shot is to check if it is correctly exposed, too dark, or too light and, depending on the shooting method you have chosen, make the necessary adjustments and compensations to obtain the correctly exposed image.
Once you have obtained the desired result, note the shutter speed used (in M mode) or the one selected by the camera in automatic mode (if you are in A / Av). This data is very important and you will need it in the next step.
All without applying the filter of course, as suggested in the previous chapter.
ADD THE NEUTRAL FILTER
Now it’s time to add the neutral density (ND) filter.
There are various types of filters, from darkest to lighter, and if the filter you are equipped with is very dark, for example, such as to block 10 stops of brightness (see photo above), your camera may NOT BE ABLE to focus on the subject or you may not even see anything from the viewfinder/screen!
Do not worry if you find yourself in this situation, because if you have followed the guide up to this point you will have surely made the focus previously and locked as I had suggested.
The dark filter doesn’t allow you to see anything immediately, but with a long shutter speed, everything changes.
TAKE THE SHOT
Now it’s time for the real shot, applying the neutral filter ( also called ND filter ) that up until now I’ve always told you to keep apart. The problem is that when you apply the filter everything changes… and a little more complicated.
What shutter speed should you use? It is less difficult than you may think.
First of all, take in your hand the annotation of the shutter speed that you obtained by framing the scene “without filter” point “DETERMINE THE EXPOSURE”.
Now you simply have to slow down the shutter speed based on how many “stops” brightness are blocked by the filter you are using.
For example, if your unfiltered shutter speed is 1 / 15th of a second, (which equates to 0.06 seconds ) and you are using a filter that blocks 10 stops of light, you will simply have to reduce the shutter speed by 10 times. , resulting in a final shutter speed of 60 seconds. In this case, since it exceeds 30 seconds, you are forced to use the Bulb (B) mode of your camera if you want to take the correct shot.
There are conversion tables that make the calculations very simple. For example, a 10-stop filter corresponds to a multiplication factor of 1000 (hence 0.06 seconds becomes 60 seconds).
You will also find many applications for Android and iOS smartphones on the various stores. Just search for ND FILTER or LONG EXPOSURE. You will find many solutions that help you do the calculations.
If you have done everything correctly, now you just need to check if the photo obtained with these shooting parameters is valid or needs some corrections.
In fact, it could happen that the calculation of shutter times, both for errors but also for the characteristics of the filter itself, is not in the end properly correct and make you get too light or dark photos.
Once again a test shot gives you a hand, but you can always rely on the software to recover any discrepancies.
Finish… this is all you need to start doing Long Exposures with neutral filters, now you just need to give free rein to your creativity.