The Complete Guide To Long Exposure Photography

Tags : 

Car trails, water like silk, milky way, startrais and moving objects: These are just some of the uses that can be made with long exposure photography

Long Exposure Photography is a photographic technique that has become very popular during the lasts years. This kind of photography technique uses long shutter speed times to exalt every feature of the passage of time…  but this is not all, in fact long exposure photography is what allows each photographer to free their creativity

The basics of Long Exposure Photography is the Shutter Speed and  the amount of time the camera’s shutter is open, in long exposure photography, photographers uses low shutter speed, this means that the camera registers anything that moves while the shutter is open. More this time is long more the camera will record




Long Exposure Phtography needs few things to purchase before start. Some of them are not essential but are highly recommended for the best result of long exposure photography

– A Dsrl Camera with manual mode

– Tripod

– Shutter Release

– ND Filters



With the camera is the essential requirement of long exposure. Without the tripod it would be impossible to do anything that does not have a high shutter speed, for this reason I always recommend to spend some extra money and invest in a good tripod with a good load capacity and mobility. It will be a very important purchase for every landscape photographer not only for the use of long exposure

Shutter Release

It ‘a very recommended accessory to avoid interacting with the fingers on the Camera to avoid unwanted vibrations, in fact especially on very long exposures is a usefull accessory to avoid having to press the button continuously during the bulb mode and in general to work in cleaner way. For some types of long exposure such as startrails it is a essential accessory. Today they are instruments that have a low cost and with some extra money you can buy triggers with very advanced functions. For example, I use the Pluto Trigger which allows many applications and greatly facilitates the shooting phase in the long exposure

ND Filters

ND filters are very helpfull in Long Exposure Photography requirement, they will change in better the final result, imagine that you can lengthen the shooting time at your convenience and so you can capture beyond the possibilities offered by sunlight, this is exactly what do ND filters do. They are very useless to take a long exposure in daytime or extend your time for long exposure

Anyway there are many ND filters various types, screwed or square with many variations, from the cheapest to the most expensive. Now I am currently using square filters because is the only ND possible for my wide angle lens, in Long Exposure Photography this is the lens that I use most does for my 24-70 I use a  screw-on filter. Square filters are on average more expensive but they allow greater versatility of the others because they can be used more than one at the same time

What about ND filter stops? currently I have a 3-6 and 10 stops that correspond to the strength of the filter, more stop the filter has, more it will be able to lower the exposure. For example, I use the 10 stop for very long exposures and when I need to firmly lower the solar light while I use the other two filters essentially at sunset or with a lower illumination. This setting of ND square filters gives me a lot of versatility besides the possibility of using them at the same time and therefore adapting to many situations



After seeing what is the necessary equipment to make a long exposure we pass with the analysis of all the main measures to take a long exposure. Since long exposure photography can have different applications, in this article I will talk about long exposure applied to what I do most like for example a landscape. In long exposure photography it is particularly important to have in mind the final result, what we want to achieve. If our intent is to take a waterfall, a sky with moving clouds or the sea with silk effect we should take a series of measures depending on what we have to photograph. So let’s start by seeing all the necessary steps and the main measures to efficiently achieve a long exposure

Study the location

It’s the first thing to do, study and scouting the location is the rule to get the perfect shot. Usually to find out some sites, how to reach them and how they take a look at first glance to google maps but in the long exposure many things change. You have to keep in mind the composition of the photo, understand whether, insert or not some objects that could moving, this can be of decisive importance for you shot. The movement is the one that most distinguishes this phase, the more you take it into the clearer you will have the work to do for the final result


Another important component that significantly affects the final result of the long exposure is precisely characterized by the weather. Obviously, even here a lot depends on what you intend to photograph, for example if you are in a forest to photograph a waterfall no matter if there will be many clouds in the sky because they will not fit in your frame but in general weather conditions with clouds and wind are to be preferred in long exposure photography because they enhance the characteristics of this technique. A look at the weather should always be given in every kind of photography, particular attention deserve rainy days at sunset where it usually stops raining and the sky opens up giving incredible colors

Compose the image

The goal of composing the image is to give the viewer more elements in a landscape is what captures the attention and characterizes the most. Getting this is not always simple, you must try to never be too trivial bearing in mind what is our final goal. Compose the image of a long exposure is perhaps the most beautiful and most interesting part, we should understand what is the part that most interests us in the photo to catch it. It is closely related to the following two points

Set the Focus

When I wrote the article 10 tips to improve your landscape photos  inside one of the points is manual focus. Basically the same applies here too with a clarification, if you use filters you must clearly focus before you put the filter on the lens otherwise we will not see anything. Therefore, before you compose and shoot your image, I strongly recommend using manual focus using the live view function to zoom in, using manual focus is very important to capture sharpen images

Test Shot

Set the Camera on Manual mode (I also use Aperture mode for less than 30′ long exposures). Set the aperture between f/8 and f/13 and take the “Test Shot”. You need to reach a correct exposure shot, check the histogram to see if the light is correct, avoid to see only the display, it is too bright and it can make you wrong. To check if the histogram is correct try to take a shot that it stand approximately on central values, there are not a universally correct histogram but if it looks too much on the right or on the left the image is too bright or too dark

Once the test shot is successful, appoint the shutter speed you used for that shot. Making test shots is also important to understand the shooting parameters, if we use filters, in fact, once mounted, you have to understand which values corresponded and go by trial can waste you time. For this reason there are several apps to do this, for example Long Exposure calculator  is one of this

Remove the Camera Strap

This is a passage that many people do not consider but that I have actually understood over time that this can really make the difference. Imagine being in an extremely windy place, the vibrations that the wind causes on your camera strap can cause it to bang repeatedly and violently against the camera and affect the quality of your long exposure. When I photographed the north coast of Spain there was a wind so strong it moved all my equipment away. Removing the camera strap could not be a fast operation and that’s why I moved to an easy removable camera strap

Now I am using the Cross Shot Breathe  strap camera by Blackrapid, which allows me to have an excellent camera strap that does not load the weight of the camera on the neck but on the shoulders, is equipped with adjustable length that allows you to adjust it according to your own height and have your camera easily at your fingertips

The camera strap I am using allows a combination with an important accessory the FastenR Tripod that allows you to hook the camera directly to the tripod plate in this way you can easily switch from the shoulder strap to the tripod by removing the strap camera and very quickly

Take the Long exposure

Finally it’s time to shoot, with the mode set at first you only have to resume your long exposure but I want to repeat what are the basic parameters of the long exposure. Manual on Bulb mode, Iso 100, opening values ​​between f8 and f13 (of course it all depends on what we want to photograph)

Usually a long exposure to really be such requires long shutter speeds, so we will hardly be under 30′ time for which the camera switch in Bulb mode. Using a remote shutter or camera trigger is important for this and avoid being glued to the camera with the risk of a blurred image. For this reason as I mentioned above I use Pluto Trigger which is a smart remote shutter, with Pluto Trigger many functions are facilitated through the mobile control and offers a series of other applications for startrail, HDR, Time Lapse in an easy and intuitive way


Pluto Trigger has also the Smart Sensor function that uses the sensor in your mobile to activate the camera for shooting. The accessory is small and light and you can easily attach it to the flash slide, whereas other triggers that I used required a slot on the tripod because otherwise it does not know where to keep them

Final words

The most beautiful part of long exposure photography is certainly to admire the final result, it is very fun to make it. But we need to consider all the aspects before starts.  Long exposure photography requires great precision, in fact instead of take the usual number of photos, we will take a few photos with long time exposure.  This means  to keep in mind the passage of time that the long exposure photography affects to the light conditions, especially during golden hour and blue hour light change quickly and with shots long even 200/300 seconds you will not have the time to try to make the same shot. All these parameters to check and speed of execution require practice over time and clear ideas, so all the best thing is to put everything into practice and make you ready when you need it


Site Founder

Hi, my name is Giuseppe Sapori, a professional photographer and author of this website, created by yours truly to show my work and share with you the techniques I use. My expertise is in the field of Landscape Photography... (Read More)

Newsletter Signup