2 Long Exposure Photography Hacks to Try if You Don’t Have an ND Filter


We all love long exposures, well I personally do. They are a great way to create dynamism, movement, and add depth to your images.

In this tutorial, I’ll show you two long exposure hacks that can be useful if your Neutral Density filters are not dark enough, if it’s too bright outside and you cannot get a long exposure, or if you simply don’t have any ND filters. Dark ND filters can be really expensive, so this is a good alternative.

IMG 8076

Long exposures create this surreal, and yet very pleasing effect to give a WOW factor to your images. Whenever you take a photo at night you will automatically get a long exposure, unless you use a very high ISO. For this tutorial I am talking about long exposures during the daytime, which are a bit more complicated to achieve.

The two hacks involves taking nine different images, and stacking them together. Now before I actually explain them, I will briefly give you the best camera settings and shooting conditions:

Shooting and camera settings

  • You will ultimately get the best results if you shoot on a cloudy day with a lot of wind. Why? Because on a cloudy day you will get clouds, and the wind is going to give them movement, and that’s what you want – movement. On a cloudy day, you will also get the minimal amount of light to be able to extend your shutter time.
  • You absolutely need a tripod, first all of all because your images need to be aligned, and you want your images as sharp as possible. With a shutter speed slower than 1/60th, you will start to get blurry results without a tripod.
  • Use a cable release or a 2-second timer every time you take an image. This again is a great way to avoid camera shake and get sharp results.
  • Focus on your subject and put the lens to manual focus, before you start taking your images. DO NOT refocus between the nine shots you are going to take.
  • Use an ISO of 100. You are on a tripod, so you don’t really need a higher ISO.
  • Use a very small aperture, like f/22. This will cut down the light entering your camera as much as possible and with an ISO of 100, will help slow down the shutter speed.
  • Shoot one or two hours before sunset, then you will also have a minimal amount of light to extend your shutter speed even slower.
  • Use your ND filters if you have some. If your ND filters are very dark (10 stop for example) you won’t need these hacks because you will directly get long exposures. If your filters are not dark enough, I would still recommend using them even if you have a one second exposure.
  • I recommend exposing, and focusing before putting your ND filters on, because after that – well you won’t be able to see clearly.

Hack #1 – multiple exposure mode

The first hack consists of using the multi-exposure mode on your DSLR. If you do not have this mode, don’t worry the second hack works for all cameras. I personally use a Canon 6D, but this multi-exposure mode is mostly available for all sorts of advanced DSLRs.

You will find this mode on your menu, you just need to enable it.


For the settings:

  • Average for the Multi-expos ctrl option
  • Continuously for Continue Mult-exp setting

You have the choice to pick how many exposures you want to shoot, the maximum will depend on your DSLR. I usually pick nine exposures to get as much movement on the clouds as I want.

This mode will allow you to multiply your shutter speed by the number of exposures you shoot. For example, If you shoot a single image with an exposure of one second, you will get a total exposure of nine seconds if you shoot nine exposures. It works the same if you have an exposure of 15 seconds.

With this mode, the camera will automatically stack the images together and give you one single image with all the cloud movement. This trick also works if you want some nice silky water.

If the clouds are moving really fast, then I recommend waiting around two seconds before you take another shot. The main trick is to not have the clouds at the same position one shot after the other. If the clouds are moving very slowly then I recommend waiting around 10-15 seconds between shots.

This mode will also tell you on your screen, how many images you have left to complete your multi-exposure.

This is an example of a long exposure I got using this method. My aperture was f/22, ISO 100, and I had a shutter speed of one second after using my ND filters. That wasn’t enough to get a long exposure with stretchy clouds, so I decided to use the multi-exposure mode. I took a total of nine shots, and you can see below the before and after using this mode. You can see that it does not only affect the clouds, my water looks nice and silky as well.


Single image


Nine shots using multi-exposure in-camera.


After some retouching, I got this result!

Hack #1 – multiple exposures merged in Photoshop

The second hack consists of doing exactly the same thing but manually. If you are used to shooting time lapses, then this shouldn’t be too complicated to understand.

The multi-exposure mode in-camera gives you automatically, and directly, the long exposure result in one image. For this hack, will shoot nine separate images, one after the other.

You need to use the same camera settings I mentioned above (manual mode, manual focus, tripod, small aperture, ISO 100, release cable or 2-second timer). For the shooting conditions I would also recommend the same thing, and use ND filters if you have some.

You will basically shoot a time lapse of nine images only. Do not forget to have an interval of 10 seconds minimum between each shots. This process can be quite boring. I personally use the magic lantern camera hack that has an intervalometer built inside the camera. I can then pick how long I want my interval to be between each shot, and the camera will automatically take an image every 10 seconds, for example, until I decide to stop.


You can buy an intervalometer or use the timer on your phone to count your intervals. It’s really up to you.

Here’s an example of nine images I shot one after the other with an interval of 15 seconds between each. You can clearly see that the clouds are moving. For demonstration purposes, I have intentionally underexposed these shots.


So after you get all your images, import them into Photoshop as layers (from Bridge or Lightroom whatever fits with your workflow).


Open as Layers in Photoshop after selecting the images in Lightroom.

Then next thing you want to do is to select all the layers, and create a smart object.



After that go to Layers -> Smart Objects -> Stacking -> Mean.



Photoshop will create a nice long exposure now, combining all the layers.


Here’s the before and after:


Before is on the right of a single image – after is on the left.


You don’t need super dark expensive filters to create long exposures. Of course, you will get the best results with them, but this is a pretty cool alternative. Now personally as a 19 year old student, I cannot spend a lot of money on gear, and so far these two hacks have worked perfectly for me.


Enjoy the art, and share your hacked long exposure images in the comments below. I’d love to see your results.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Yacine Bessekhouad is a young student who is currently living in France. What attracts him the most to photography is the technical and aesthetic feel. He loves talking and writing about photography and also makes weekly photography and post production tutorials on his YouTube channel. He shares most of his work on his Instagram account.

  • Donna J

    Thanks for the article Yacine, I have the 6D as well and plan on trying this out at the beach as soon as we get a cloudy day! Can’t wait!

  • Yacine Bessekhouad

    Thank you, have fun with it ! I’m sure you’ll get some nice stretchy clouds 🙂

  • Arthur_P_Dent

    Is there a reason you put an interval between the photos? I’ve done it continuous with no problem.

  • Matthew Bates

    That was a good article thank you, unfortunately I don’t have that option with my (550D).

  • Yacine Bessekhouad

    I put an interval so that the clouds won’t be at the same position. If there is a lot of wind you probably don’t need an interval but if the cloud movement is minimal then just wait a little bit before taking another image.

  • Yacine Bessekhouad

    Thank you – You can try the second hack and you’ll get some pretty cool results as well. You don’t need Magic Lantern, although I recommend it. Just shoot a time-lapse of 9 to 11 images and merge the images on photoshop 🙂

  • Pete L.

    If there is an interval of a couple seconds between the photos, will there be some gaps in the movement and does this process in PS fill in those gaps?

  • Yacine Bessekhouad

    Photoshop will basically recreate a long exposure, so you won’t have any gaps. If your final result looks a little bit patchy then you can add some motion blur to your sky and it should do a pretty solid job.

  • benkoerita

    I didn’t have time to experiment with, but I recently discovered that using two polar filters on top of each other, I can dramatically change the amount of light that gets through. I intend to take a few long exposure shots with this method.

  • Greg

    It would be nice if the teachers in these posts would give their instructions in both Nikon and Canon language. The better teachers do

  • Yacine Bessekhouad

    I never used Nikon, I can’t give any instructions about it if I don’t master what I’m talking about.

  • Yacine Bessekhouad

    I would not recommend using a variable ND filter with two polar. I actually have one because it’s the cheapest alternative and as a student I can’t really afford expensive filters. But if I had the choice, I would throw it away – The problem with these filters is that if you rotate them to their darkest point and if it’s very bright outside you will get an X pattern on your lens and only small bits of your lens will actually cut down light. If you have the budget, it’s better to buy stacked filters.

  • Patrick Larson

    He’s nineteen. Can he catch a break here? Excellent article.

  • rick_reno

    Very good article. Keep up the good work.

  • Hazel Frederick’s Ghost

    I think the author wrote “Hack #1” twice.

  • Yacine Bessekhouad

    Thank you !

  • Yacine Bessekhouad

    Yes, there was a slight mistake. I meant to write hack #2

  • Justin Cromberge

    It’s not really two hacks but more like 1 workaround… On of the tips says use ND filters. I wouldn’t be reading this article if I have an ND filter…

  • Yacine Bessekhouad

    There is a big difference between getting the long exposure directly on the camera against uploading it on your laptop, and working on it on photoshop. So it is definitely two different hacks. I think you misunderstood my point – This hack is for people who don’t have ND filters. But if you have ND filters that aren’t dark enough this is still very helpfull. You will obviously get better results if you use both filters and the hacks. And I can’t really name the article 2 Hacks if you don’t have ND Filters, or if your filters are not dark enough.. That wouldn’t sound good 🙂

  • Michael Wedman

    Yacine, this is great information to share. The results you achieve are beautiful! Thank you very much. I can’t wait to try this out.

  • travel_bug

    Thanks Yacine – don’t sweat the negative comments. Most people here are grateful for the time you put into these articles. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone that ‘criticises’ contribute anything themselves – if they did it might teach them to appreciate the amount of effort required. For me you taught me something I had never used on my Canon cameras (didn’t realise that these settings were even there). I never stop learning. Thanks again.

  • Yacine Bessekhouad

    Thank you ! If you liked the image, I made a youtube tutorial on how to get the look – You might be interested 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHKWaf_eHYU

  • Yacine Bessekhouad

    Thanks ! – I think there was so many other settings that we don’t know about, but I’m glad I could help you discover something new. We never stop learning 🙂

  • benkoerita

    Thank you for your insight.

  • Jensaddis

    a camera user should be able to transfer knowledge from camera A to B with her/his own understanding and knowledge. otherwise just become a better student who grows by challenges…

  • Jensaddis

    great article, thank you! on shooting and camera settings: as the light is “squeezed” by small apertures – called “diffraction” – what leads to less sharpness I would highly recommend NOT to use a 22 aperture but better something like 11-16, not smaller. Please read as well the following article with tests and pictures/charts: http://www.bobatkins.com/photography/technical/diffraction.html

    always good light:-)

  • OliOye

    The better students read the camera manual

  • Yacine Bessekhouad

    Thanks ! Yes that is true, f/22 shows on the image the dirty spots on the sensor but to really cut down the light I use it a lot. And I just spend more time on photoshop removing these spots 🙂

  • Jensaddis

    Ah, ok…this may be, then you could clean your sensor or let it be cleaned, …but what I meant is the technical phenomenon called DIFFRACTION which many photographers are not aware about. It leads to softness/ unsharpness with smaller apertures, esp in landscape or architectural photography where most want as much sharpness and clear details as possible. See as well: Wikipedia/diffraction.
    All the best,

  • Yacine Bessekhouad

    Well in this case you are right ! I never use f/22 except when I want to do long exposures. F/13 is usually my go to aperture 🙂

  • Albor Photography

    This article is very interesting. I’m trying to do it just now but after convert all layers into smart objects I can’t use the stack mode cause is not available. I have photoshop cs6 extended. Do you know why that happens and how could I end my work?
    Thank you.

  • Yacine Bessekhouad

    All the layers have to be one smart object, you need to select all your layers and convert them. Make sure your layers are aligned, you can align them by selecting all the layers then edit -> auto align layers. To get the long exposure effect, there isn’t much of a difference between extended and cs6 photoshop. You just need to go to layers -> smart object ->stack mode -> mean. Make sure you only have one smart object layer. Hope that was helpfull

  • Albor Photography

    Thank you very much, I got it.

  • Rob

    Great article. Some really good ideas and I find that even if you only take away a few bits from this, it is still adding to everyones’ knowledge.I was able to pick up an inexpensive ND filter set from one of the Chinese bargain basement sources, It’s not excellent quality, but it DOES work reasonably for now. The reader that brought up the point about stopping to F22 was right on the money. I think that the reader that complained about the article being written for Canon should look at all the Nikon based articles. The methods are the same and it’s unlikely that any author would be fluent with the different manufacturers models. Just like how there are many of us NOT using Adobe Photoshop (I simply refuse to ‘rent’ software). I would love to see articles on using Corel photo software or some free options, but the point is, this was a clever and informative article and I will be tinkering with some of the suggestions.

  • Genie G

    I have canon 7dmk11 do I need to download magic lantern would love to try this I don’t have filters

  • Yacine Bessekhouad

    Thanks for the feedback ! 🙂

  • Yacine Bessekhouad

    Yes you can download magic lantern on your 7d mark 2 🙂

  • Phil Coxon

    I totally agree re: Photoshop. Not all of us want to be held hostage by Adobe. I also use Corel Paintshop, but finding any articles or tips for it is a real challenge.

  • Akshay

    Can you please show your retouching settings as well?

  • JR

    Thank you Yacine. I’m going to try the first hack. Excellent advice. This is clear and helpful to me (and I shoot Sony).

  • Darcy MILLER

    there is a hack that allows you to use the “free trial” version forever. Basically, every week you just go into the app and change the serial number. It works pretty well! It’s how I use the entire Adobe suite for free!

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