In the last few weeks, I have been covering the topic of long exposure photography. The first post covered long exposure photography as a creative process and last week l looked at the equipment required to take long exposures. I received a private message on Instagram recently regarding the camera settings associated with long exposure photography. So I decided to devote part three of this series to cover both settings and technique.
The settings I recommend for long exposures are basically the same settings I recommend for landscape photography generally:
- camera set to bulb mode (otherwise manual if you don’t have a remote or don’t plan to use a shutter speed over 30 seconds);
- an aperture between f/11 and f/16 to provide sufficient depth of field for the scene to be sharp and in focus; and
- ISO 100-400, keeping the ISO low will reduce the noise in your image.
GETTING STARTED - WITHOUT ND FILTERS
A common question I regularly get when taking long exposure workshops is whether you have to have a Neutral Density (ND) filter in order to take long exposures. The answer is, no you don’t. As long as you shoot when the light is at its lowest, ie. sunrise or sunset. If you aren’t familiar with ND filters please read my previous blog post. In order to demonstrate the kinds of shutter speeds that can be achieved without the use of ND filters, let’s look at the image below.
I took this image at Clovelly recently in preparation for this blog post and I was able to use a shutter speed of 2 minutes without an ND filter. In order to achieve this, you need low levels of natural light. This shot was taken about 10 minutes before the sun was due to break the horizon, however, due to the cloud cover and the stormy conditions, there was a low level of natural light. This low light combined with a low ISO and an aperture of f/11 is what allowed me to use a slower shutter speed.
So before you go out and buy expensive ND filters see how you go just using the recommended settings and be set up shooting at least 30 minutes before the sun is due to rise. This is definitely a good way to start and decide if this is a style of photography you wish to pursue.
USING ND FILTERS
Another recent message I received on Instagram was in relation to how to use ND filters. I recommend doing the following:
- Set your camera up on a sturdy tripod;
- Connect your shutter remote or cable release;
- Compose your image;
- Set your aperture;
- Set your ISO;
- Set your focus (if you use autofocus ensure you turn it off once focus is correctly set);
- If your lens has Image Stabilisation (IS), make sure you switch it off;
- Take a test shot with no ND filter attached;
- Review your histogram to ensure the image is correctly exposed;
- Calculate the exposure depending on the ND filter being used (further details below);
- Attach the ND filter, leave your ISO and aperture the same, and start taking beautiful long exposures!
- Be sure to check your histogram once you have taken your long exposure. This is important to ensure the exposure is correct as both the chart and the smartphone apps are a guide and you may need to make adjustments to your shutter speed.
TIPS & CONSIDERATIONS
1. Calculating the shutter speed when using an ND filter
To calculate the shutter speed in order to obtain a correctly exposed image you can either do it the old-fashioned way with an exposure chart or use one of the many iOS or Android applications available. The chart below calculates what the approximate exposures are when using a 6-stop or a 10-stop ND filter. For instance, if you take a correctly exposed image at 1/15 second and then decide to use a 10-stop ND then you will need to use a shutter speed of approximately 1 minute to allow the same amount of light into your camera to obtain a correctly exposed image.
If you would like to print this chart and carry it in your camera bag then feel free to download it here. As for applications to calculate exposure times, I use the Nisi filters application that works really well and has a great user interface.
While the strength of some ND filters may allow your camera to focus with the filter attached, I always recommend removing the ND filter if you wish to compose another shot and reset your focus before reattaching the ND filter. Once your focus is set ensure you switch off autofocus to avoid the camera searching for focus when the ND filter is attached.
Like all photography, a strong composition is what makes a shot. For long exposures, movement is key, particularly with elements such as clouds or surging oceans. These natural elements take on different characteristics when all that is introduced into the equation is time. Water becomes a soft mist like substance that is silky smooth with no hardness or sense of direction. If the conditions are right the movement of the clouds creates depth and conveys a sense of motion. So plan your shoots and locations around these conditions and elements. I will be writing a future blog post to assist with forecasting conditions and shoot planning. So stay tuned!
Thank you for taking the time to read this post and I hope it was helpful. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me. If you would like to view more of my work please visit my website. I also offer custom prints and an online print store. If you have any suggestions for blog topics you would like covered or just want to say hi, then please get in touch :)