5 Tips for Better Long Exposure Landscape Photography

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Even if you are an experienced landscape photographer you will know there is lots to consider when approaching the area of long exposure, landscape photography.

The following five tips are just some of the things I have learned, (often the hard way) on my own journey with landscape photography and I hope you are able to take advantage of them and apply them in your own work.

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5 Tips for Better Long Exposure Landscape Photography

1 – Consider the scene without the camera

When arriving at a location you may find yourself rushing to your camera bag in haste to set up your gear. With long exposure photography your mind can often be busy doing the math, calculating exposure times, juggling tripods and fiddling with filters.

Take your time and behold the scene, forget you are capturing a long exposure image and get the framing right. I use the Lee filter system on my Fuji X cameras, which is easy to attach and remove the Neutral Density (ND) filter to the camera between shots. I often remove the filter and capture shorter exposure images to review on the LCD screen. If these images don’t look good there is little chance of the long exposure version looking look.

Don’t be fixated on getting the water looking smooth; instead fixate on framing the water in the photograph to create contrast and make the scene visually interesting.

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2 – Maximize your images with morning or evening light

If you are using an ND10 filter you will know how brilliant they are at stopping light from reaching the camera sensor. Although, theoretically it is possible to capture long exposure images even during the sunniest part of the day, it generally isn’t the best time to shoot.

Prioritize the late evening or early morning for capturing long exposure images so you don’t rely on the ND filter doing all the work. You will find you have much more creative control and will capture more atmospheric images by shooting at the extremes of the day.

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If you are shooting the ocean, then the second part of this tip is to research tide times. I’ve ventured out on more than one occasion to shoot a jetty to find it would be hours before the tide was in. There are various services online that will tell you high and low tide times for your specific area.

3 – Use the rule of thirds

As with the first tip I really recommend that you spend time studying your location. Imagine your image as three separate layers. The top and bottom layers need to contain something of visual interest with the middle layer tending to be the smoothed out water. Sandwiching of the smooth water between foreground and background detail can add a real sense of drama to a long exposure scene.

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4 – Keep your gear clean

Having the camera shutter open for long durations means any dust or dirt on your lens or filter has a greater opportunity to impact on your image. Your post-production software (such as Adobe Lightroom) will go some way to automatically clean up dust but quite often larger spots are visible in long exposure images that wouldn’t be obvious in normal conditions. Having a lens cloth handy and cleaning the filter (both sides) in-between shots can result in less post-production work later on.

5 – Enhance in post-production

When it comes to postproduction processing for long exposure photography I recommend focusing on three areas. Initially you should correct any colour cast created by the ND filter. This is a relatively simple process; in Lightroom use the ‘temperature’ slider to warm the image to a more natural hue.

You should then zoom in and check for any dust spots, these are generally more obvious in the highlights, such as the skyline. Use the Spot Removal tool (Shortcut Q) to remove these blemishes easily.

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Finally my top tip is to use the graduated filter tool in Lightroom 5 (shortcut M) to soften the water. You can do this by clicking on the horizon and dragging to the base of the water. Once you have created the filter you can then soften the smooth water by reducing the level of ‘Clarity’. You can also do the opposite of this technique to increase the ‘clarity’ of your skyline.

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Summary

These five tips, I hope will go some way to improve how you approach long exposure photography, but the most important thing to remember is to relax. There is something ultimately therapeutic about the experience of capturing long exposure images of landscapes, moving water or the night sky, isn’t that what the creative process is all about?


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David Cleland is a landscape and reportage photographer covering everything from long exposure landscape photography through to live music.

  • Raghavendra

    Loved the rule of thirds, i will definitely need to try that. As of now giving the best i have.

    http://raghavendra-mobilephotography.blogspot.com/2010/12/narrow-path.html

  • Tyson Junkers

    Great Tips! Heading down to Mexico next week so these will definitely come in handy.

  • marius2die4

    This is a good article! Also de picture are fantastic.Congrats!

    Some of my pics:

    http://marius-fotografie.blogspot.ro/

  • Barry E Warren

    Great tips on long exposures. I just wish I had ND filters for the lens I used. This on was only about 2sec.

  • Thanks everyone 🙂

  • great tips for the perfect photograph, don’t forget your tripod as well!

  • Nice tips. i haven’t done landscape photography in a while. Kinda stuck in that mentality of.. I’m over this camera, I want a new one…. but I can’t afford it. So I don’t have the motivation on getting out there..I didn’t know you can gradient in Lightroom! Wow! I must check that one out too.

  • “I often remove the filter and capture shorter exposure images to review on the LCD screen. If these images don’t look good there is little chance of the long exposure version looking look.” – This is the best tip in here. Not only does it save you the time of setup and actually capturing long exposure shots, it does help significantly with composition. I’ll often shoot both long and short exposure shots from the same location and choose the best after having a chance to look at them in the computer. Many of the same guidelines that hold true for “normal” length exposures also hold true for “long” exposures. Great read!

  • RICARDO MONTENEGRO
  • Jim

    I can only stop down to f8 with my camera and it was SO cold when I took this that I really didn’t look at it closely. I should have opened up a bit and added a bit more light. But, man, was it COLD!

  • Guest

    no ND Filter used

  • Ram Chandar

    NO ND Filter Used !

  • RICARDO MONTENEGRO

    Self timer works great.
    Groundpix.com

  • Long exposure at The Dramon – Var – France

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/jpmiss/12574650143/

  • https://flic.kr/p/qhT7oG
    no ND filter used.

  • This may be a stupid question, but what is the formula for calculating exposure time?

  • Roula Mir Hawa

    Please i need your comments for this pictures if there is any ! Thanks

  • Scott Granger

    Windsurfer pro is an app that will give you tide times

  • Russ Dixon

    Don’t forget to colour correct the WB for your filter, many ND10 filters have a strong colour cast, especially the Lee big stopper see here:

    https://dervishimages.wordpress.com/2015/04/14/getting-it-wrong-and-doing-it-again/

  • Debra Petre

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge on this topic. It was very helpful!

  • Nilanga Witanage

    Nice article and really good tips for start long expose photography. Then you need to go out and do some practice. Experience will be the best teacher specially in long expose…

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