5 Reasons You Should Learn Long Exposure Photography

5 Reasons You Should Learn Long Exposure Photography


Long exposure imagery is an interesting and highly satisfying technique of creating images. It requires you to use the manual mode or sometimes shutter priority mode to control your shutter speed.

Normal vs Long exposure

Shutter priority mode is marked on Nikon camera with ‘S’ and on Canon systems with ‘Tv’. They mean the exact same thing. When you switch to shutter priority mode you can select the shutter speed while the camera selects the appropriate aperture.

Obviously if you need a bit more flexibility, you should use the manual mode, where both shutter speed and aperture value are in your control. That helps you to maintain a long shutter speed while also controlling the depth of field.

At this point you would probably be asking yourself why you would need to shoot long exposure images. Wouldn’t shooting such exposures risk your images to be washed out? This is because there are some other tools and techniques involved in the process as well. Such as using ND filters or using exposure compensation to find the right aperture / shutter speed combination that allows sufficient light over a long period of time without risking a washed out image.

So why should you learn how to shoot long exposure images?

1. You can record an image over a long period of time.

Something that evidently means an action is recorded as it unfurls in front of the camera. For example, clouds moving across the sky in a landscape image creates a beautiful blurred effect that gives the hint of time passage. The same thing happens when you shoot an image of a pier and the surf coming back and forth is recorded over a long period of time. The final result will be a beautiful misty look.

2. You can make waterfalls become silky.

Water fall

If you love nature photography there are probably a million different subjects that you could shoot using the long exposure technique. Waterfalls are often shot using a slow shutter speed which basically results in a long blurred line of water and accentuates the overall surreal look of the image. I call this “silky waterfalls”.

3. You can capture trails of lights.

Light trail

Long exposure technique is perfect for night time photography as well. You can shoot star trails, light trails, light painting, or even fireworks. All of these subjects require a long shutter speed which allow the sensor to be exposed to the light movement. These topics, when doing right, can capture a beautiful pattern of light in the final image easily.

4. You can make the annoying pedestrians disappear.

There are certain unique perspectives to get if you are prepared to use the long exposure technique in broad daylight. It is not difficult, you will just need an ND filter. What I have in mind primarily is street photos. Let’s say you are photographing a busy street at noon. You want a look when nobody is around. On a busy street right in the middle of the day, it is seemingly an impossible task. Not if you know how to use an ND filer.

A ten stop ND filter, something like a Lee big-stopper, is what you need. You can first meter for the scene, then attach the filter to the front of the lens. A ten-stop filter will allow you to use a shutter speed of up to 10 stops slower than what you metered initially, without the filter. That will make everybody simply disappear. If you do it the right way, what you will get in your image is a city completely devoid of people! Like a postapocalyptic
scene, it will be an amazing image.

5. You can easily create B&W fine art photographs.

Another reason you would want to shoot long exposure photos is to enhance your black and white compositions. Black and white images are somehow more powerful than color images.

Sydney bridge

It is the contrast, the different shades of grey, ranging from pure white to pure black, the shapes, the forms, everything seems to appear more interesting. The greatest disadvantage of B&W images is that, well, they are devoid of color. That, however, is also the greatest advantage. Because without color, the essential aspects of composition and the underlying story comes to the forefront.

Do you have any other compelling reasons to do long exposure photography? Please share in the comments below.

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Kevin Choi is a freelance photographer who has a love for landscape and wildlife, the founder of CaptureTheMoment, and has been carrying Nikon with him since 2008. He never stops dreaming, as you would too.

  • Saswati

    Thanks a lot for such useful tips..I just love photography and trying to learn it in all possible ways 🙂 🙂 http://www.exploreitmyway.com

  • Josep

    Hi, I fully agree with your opinion about B/W long exposures.

  • Kevin Choi

    Nice picture Josep

  • Kevin Choi

    Nice blog Saswati. Love your NY skyline!

  • Saswati

    Thank you Kevin 🙂 I found your blog on bloglovin few days back and started reading your articles… I am now becoming a fan of your blog and writings!!! Thank you again…These articles are actually helping me a lot 🙂 🙂 Looking forward to your next post!

  • Josep

    Thanks Kevin

  • Kevin Choi

    Thanks Saswati! I am working on a new series of photography tutorial.

  • I have to disagree with the ‘easily’ create ‘fine art’ photographs. It takes more than long exposure to make something that is considered as ‘fine art’. Even if I explain to my mom, for example, what long exposure photography is for, she’s never going to be able to ‘easily’ do ‘fine art’ photographs. She just doesn’t have the eye for this. I agree with what is said after the title of that point, but I disagree with the title itself.

  • Thaise Duda

    The image is fantastic!

  • Tim Lowe

    You don’t mention reciprocity failure. (Yeah. Some of us still shoot film.) It is particularly bad with color films. I notice Portra and Ektar starting to fail at 2 seconds and completely going to hell at 8. Ilford FP4 and HP5 are more forgiving and are pretty accurate up to 16 seconds. But don’t try anything in the minute range or you’ll be disappointed. Bracketing a couple frames of 120 is pretty painless but few of us feel like burning up multiple sheets of 4×5 to bracket.

  • Madhujith Venkatakrishna

    Another reason is Night Sky photography…Some stunning star trails or milky way photographs….or generally low light photography….

  • Bob Bevan Smith

    Could someone explain how shooting in Black & White is enhanced by using a long exposure? As opposed to the effects of B&W itself, such as increased contrast?
    Surely the essence of the article is that a long exposure either enhances movement, eg clouds and waterfalls, or eliminates it, eg pedestrians? That has nothing to do with B&W v Colour! Or am I missing something?

  • insertusername

    ahh film…i still dream of having a darkroom…one day

  • Oogway

    The one with Gold in it was clicked beyond the Arctic Circle in Finland. It was pitch dark, so long exposure, 15 secs.

  • Christina Kostova

    Turns out that long exposure is my favorite type of photography… 🙂 https://flic.kr/p/s8vju9

  • MichelleP

    I don’t do long exposure much- I’d like to learn more about it, but this was a 13 second exposure at about 4am during a “supermoon.” I was foal watching on the farm I worked for, and I simply put the camera on an upturned bucket. The pictures I got that night are some of my favorites.

  • Eric Peery

    I think one way is because composition in B&W photography is more about form, shape, and contrast, a long exposure can enhance those even more since it often removes the “noisy” parts of an image like pedestrians, cars, leaves, individual clouds, waves, etc. In the image of the bridge above, the long exposure has completely smoothed out the sky and water leaving only the bridge and skyline to focus on.

  • Dominic Bolaa
  • Edijs Andersons

    you can use long exposure to create something like this aswell!

  • Mukhtar Ukhwah

    Aurora photography

  • OliviaWLuke

    ???$77 /hr on the computer@md9//


    ???https://Stoke NetM0neyHost.com/skills/help…

  • jon lipinski

    What’s all this c**p about earning money???? I think that this is totally ‘out of order’ on this discussion ………….. if people want to try and post this type of junk at least they could learn to spell correctly, use punctuation correctly and capital letters in the right places. Also, lose the hyphenated words ………… back to school for you Olivia!!

  • Leonardo Chiappisi

    Another reason, it gives a sense of calm… (at least to me).

  • I like the Long Exposure, but as im new, this is what i get

  • Bob Bevan Smith

    Hey, that’s good! Did you deliberately light your people, or is that just incident light from the surroundings? If you try this in a very dark area, such as a park, you should be able to eliminate the people as well. Another trick is to light a person with a flash, get them to move then fire the flash again, all the while holding the shutter open without moving the camera.

  • bill

    That’s my kind of ride, Xlnt choice of subject matter…..and shooting!

  • bill

    Ok…how do you make the wind blow just the clouds and not the trees? 😉 Nice image!

  • Viraj Nachankar

    This was my first attempt at capturing motion with long exposure and zoom burst at CST, Mumbai.
    Nikon D3200
    18-55mm VR Kit Lens
    ISO- 180

  • OSp

    I really like long exposure photography, especially the art of light painting. Here is a light art photo I created while on holiday in Switzerland. No trickery, just lights and a long exposure. http://www.lightpainterbrisbane.com

  • OSp

    Another one of my light art creations. Also no trickery, just lights and a long exposure. http://www.lightpainterbrisbane.com

  • Susan hill

    How do you obtain this?

  • What would you like to obtain? A copy of the photo?

  • KC

    Long exposure photography is a great technique and can be used so many ways, even in daylight. The possibilities are limitless. We’ve gotten so wrapped up in image stabilization, 6 digits ISO’s, 4 digit shutter speeds, hyper sharpness, HDR, etc., we’ve lost track of the other end of the spectrum. Of course, a good camera support is necessary.

    Off the top of my (old) head, and some of these “ideas” need tweaking, there’s light painting and “flash popping”, which is sort of the same thing. Sometimes you just don’t have enough lighting. A long exposure allows you move the lights. “Flash popping” is probably a “lost technique” kind of thing. You’re basically manually firing a flash and building up an exposure, one “pop” at a time. It’s a great trick for lighting a large room. Shooting a model in a nature setting can also benefit from a long exposure. Let things that move-move and blur, freeze the subject with a flash pop. We’re used to using a flash at the maximum allowable speed. Sometimes using it at a much slower speed has some interesting effects.

    Raw and latitude will cover some/most exposure miscalculations.

    I sometimes wonder what we’ve lost with with low film speeds, like 25. Somehow we managed to capture images with this “stuff”, no image stabilization, and sometimes hand held.

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