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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
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.