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Every so often I get an email from a blog reader asking “if there is one accessory that you would recommend for long exposure photography, what would it be?”
I wish the answer was a simple one, but of course it is not.
There are so many accessories that I carry every time I go making long exposure photographs. There are also many accessories I carry on a regular basis no matter what, and some I carry here and there depending on the location. So with that all said, here are some of my favorite items, and must have accessories for long exposure photography.
It all starts with comfortable shoes because you will likely be standing for a while or walking around excessively. I personally wear Under Armour sneakers, that were designed for the New York City police department, because they are extremely comfortable and made for officers to be on their feet all day. They also have the traction when needed, like in sand or on wet pavement.
However, when I know that I will be photographing extremely close, if not in, water then I do not use those sneakers. At that point I switch to standard waterproof boots or just remove the sneakers and go in barefoot. Wearing non-waterproof shoes while getting your feet wet is a horrible feeling. So be mindful of your surroundings as Master Yoda says.
A cable release is pretty much a “must have” for long exposure photography. After 30 seconds most cameras do not have the necessary shutter speeds built-in to capture the scene, through a thick neutral density filter like a 10-stop.
I’ve been surrounded by photographers who use cheap off-brand cable releases that stop working after the first use. I’ve also seen fancy intervalometers run out of batteries, making the cable release a dangling useless piece of plastic.
So my backup plan is a cable from Trigger Happy. The beauty is that it’s a thin, lightweight, cable that can easily be packed in any bag or pocket. You then connect it through the headphone jack of your phone (iPhone or Android) and have a cable release that way. Triggertrap is another amazing mobile cable release brand and many times I will switch between apps because the Trigger Happy cable works fantastic with Triggertrap as well.
This is too easy to forget. You wake up super early for sunrise or head out the door just before sunset, hoping to catch that last bit of glow in a glorious long exposure. But then you get to the location and realize, “Holy smokes I didn’t eat anything.”
So this way too often overlooked meal bar idea is a must have no matter what. I even recommend this for standard exposure shooting, on photowalks, or wherever. Having at least one meal bar can boost your energy and fill that hunger craving.
Going along with the meal bar idea is a water bottle. Depending on where you are shooting, stores may not be an option for grabbing a quick thirst quencher. There are also those eco-conscious photographers out there (including myself) that prefer not buying a throw away water bottle.
Typically I carry a Nalgene water bottle that has a decent size loop at the top. Using a carabiner it is attached to my belt or bag so that I’m not physically carrying it, but it’s always with me.
A rain cover is one of those accessories that I have whether I’m photographing long exposures or anything else. I personally use the Think Tank Photo rain covers, but there are so many awesome ones out there including the OP/TECH plastic covers which I consider emergency products.
Although many modern mirrorless and DSLR cameras contain weather sealing (check your manual if you aren’t sure if yours has it or not), they are not waterproof and can still be impacted by the rain. So having the ability to throw a rain cover over your camera can help ensure that the camera lasts a very long time.
Another rain cover option is the Storm Jacket by Vortex Media.
Going along with the rain cover is a lens cloth. If you are going between cold and warm temperatures then your camera will fog up for a bit. If it’s raining then you will likely have water droplets on your neutral density filters. So having a simple lens cloth with you is good to wipe the fog or droplets from the filters.
Another product I keep with me during the colder seasons, is a cold weather mask. More specifically, this one from Under Armour. The reason I like this one is because it can squeeze into the same pouch as my Think Tank Photo rain cover. Additionally, the mask covers enough of my head and face to keep me warm. Of course, if it’s a super cold day like in a “polar vortex” then I would of course prepare for that in addition to the weather mask.
Most tripods with a center column have a hook underneath which makes it easy to hang something weighted. Tripods without a center column usually have an option to attach a hook underneath as well.
The reason you want to weigh down your tripod is because of the extended shutter time. If you accidentally touch your tripod you could move it by accident. So weighing down the tripod can help prevent unintentional movement, thus saving your long exposure.
I’m not saying to bring a heavy weight with you. Instead I’m saying to use your camera bag. You will likely have enough gear in the bag that can make a good 5-10 lb (2.3-4.6 kg) weight. Use the tripod hook and a loop on your bag to create the weight.
This one should be a no brainer but you’ll be surprised how many photographers forget to carry extra batteries. Always keep in mind that the longer the shutter speed, the more your battery will drain. I tend to carry three batteries with me, at a minimum. Usually one in the camera body and two extras in my bag.
Yup, you read that right. You won’t be making a presentation while you wait for your ten minute exposure to finish. But, depending on how dark it is outside and how dark your neutral density filter is, a red laser pointer can help you find a place to focus. If you know a tree is in the distance, put the dot on the tree and focus on it.
You might be wondering why I recommend a laser point rather than a flashlight. A flashlight is also a good idea, but a laser pointer is lighter and can travel in a much further distance than the average flashlight.
Your mobile devices drain very fast. Especially if you are using an App like PhotoPills to calculate exposures or find the right spot for sunset. Or, if you are using your phone as a cable release as mentioned above, then your battery will drain much faster. So I highly recommend having a battery backup.
I typically carry two with me at all times. One has two USB ports, allowing me to help charge a friend’s phone also if needed. The other is the Bolt which was a Kickstarter project. I keep that one as well because it’s lightweight, small and doubles as a wall charger.
Before I finish up this article I want to share a shooting tip for long exposure photographs. Quite often I see photographs where the sky and water is so smooth, which is fantastic. Many times the exposures are spot on and the post processing is beautiful and tasteful. However, sometimes there is something missing from the composition. That being, a point of focus.
Long exposure photographs are some of my favorite types to make and view. However, with such smooth, ghosted and blurred subjects in the scene, not having something in focus can really make a viewer’s eye wonder.
So instead of just capturing a scene of full motion, try to include an object in perfect focus. Stop people’s eyes from wondering and give them a starting point.
Do you have any other long exposure photography tips or accessories to sure? Please do so in the comments below.