Recommended Gear for Doing Long Exposure Photography at Twilight and Dusk

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Have you ever come across beautiful cityscape photos captured at twilight and dusk (the so-called “blue hour”) with silky smooth water, like this Marina Bay (Singapore) photo below, and wonder how you could do that yourself? Assuming that you’ve already got your camera (a body and lens), let me go through some of the other gear that is required to do stunning long exposure photography at twilight and dusk.

Recommended Gear for Doing Long Exposure Photography at Twilight and Dusk

Marina Bay (Singapore), shot at 35mm, f/11, for 194 seconds (just over a 3-minute exposure).

Use a Tripod

A tripod is the single-most important piece of gear for photographers shooting at twilight and dusk. Photos shot at these hours require long exposures sometimes lasting for many seconds or even minutes. Therefore, a sturdy tripod is absolutely essential for keeping photos blur-free.

Unlike your camera body, a tripod isn’t something you will upgrade often. So, try to get the best possible tripod within your budget. A good tripod could last a lifetime! I own a Manfrotto MT190CXPRO3 Carbon Fibre Tripod (supports up to 7kg). If your tripod doesn’t come with a tripod head (like mine), get yourself a steady ball-head or 3-way style, whichever you prefer (I own Sirui K-20X Ballhead that supports 25kg).

Tripod - Recommended Gear for Doing Long Exposure Photography at Twilight and Dusk

Mini-Tripods

Mini tripods come in handy at locations where a full-size tripod isn’t allowed inside (e.g. The observation deck of a tower). I own a Joby Gorillapod Focus for DSLRs which supports up to 5kg. It has a dedicated ball head (Joby GorillaPod Ballhead X for Focus) that you can buy as a bundle, but I’m using my own ball-head (aforementioned Sirui K-20X Ballhead) as I feel it’s redundant to have two.

Mini tripod - Recommended Gear for Doing Long Exposure Photography at Twilight and Dusk

Clamp Tripod

A clamp tripod is another tool that comes in extremely handy when there is no appropriate space to set up a tripod. I own the Manfrotto 035 Super Clamp without Stud (supports up to 15kg). Into that, I plug the separately-sold Manfrotto 208HEX 3/8-Inch Camera Mounting Platform Adapter (or a cheaper alternative Manfrotto 037 Reversible Short Stud) into the socket in order to firmly mount a tripod head and camera on top of that. Then I clamp the whole setup onto handrails, etc. This setup is rock solid and is a game changer for us cityscape photographers aiming to take very sharp photos at twilight and dusk without using a full-sized tripod.

Clamp infographic - Recommended Gear for Doing Long Exposure Photography at Twilight and Dusk

This graphic shows how to mount a DSLR on Manfrotto Super Clamp by using a camera mounting platform adapter.

Steps:

  1. Plug a camera mounting platform adapter into a Super Clamp socket and secure it with the double lock system.
  2. Mount a tripod head with DSLR on the mounting platform adapter, just like you do with your regular tripod.

Clamp - Recommended Gear for Doing Long Exposure Photography at Twilight and Dusk

Neutral Density Filters

Neutral density (ND) filters help reduce the light that is coming through the lens, allowing your shutter speed to be extended much longer. This is a must have tool if you want to create the silky smooth water effect typically seen in long exposure photography.

ND filters come in different strengths such as; 3-stop, 6-stop or 10-stop. The bigger the number, the darker the filter and the less light that is let through. My favorite is 6-stop ND filter (I own a B+W 6-Stop ND Filter). With this attached to my lens, a base exposure of 2 seconds (i.e. when no filter is attached) can be extended to 128 seconds. Each “stop” of the ND filter doubles the required exposure time (2 seconds > 4 seconds [1 stop] > 8 seconds [2 stops] > 16 seconds [3 stops] > 32 seconds [4 stops] > 64 seconds [5 stops] > 128 seconds [6 stops]), which is long enough to create silky smooth water effects.

Filters come in two types, screw-on and square filters. If you’re getting screw-on filters, be careful with the size of filter you’re purchasing. It depends on the filter thread size of your lens (e.g. 77mm for Nikon 12-24mm, 67mm for Canon 10-18mm, etc. – look inside your lens cap for the filter size of that lens). If you have two or more lenses with different filter thread sizes that you’d like to use an ND filter on, get one that fits your largest lens (i.e. lens with the largest filter thread size). Then purchase a step-up adapter ring to make the single filter fit into other lenses with smaller thread sizes.

Filters - Recommended Gear for Doing Long Exposure Photography at Twilight and Dusk

Left: Screw-on ND filter. Right: Drop-in square filter (image courtesy of Tiffen).

Or, you can get a square ND drop-in filter instead, along with a holder and adapters (check out at these options we’ve reviewed and featured here on dPS). The advantage of square filters is that you only need one filter to fit all of your lenses. That said, I still prefer screw-on filters because they take up less space in my camera bag and I only own one lens that takes front filters (my trusty Nikon 18-35mm with 77mm filter thread), anyway.

Wireless Remote or Cable Shutter Release

This is another essential tool, as it lets you take photos without touching the camera and helps keep your photos sharp. No need to get a pricey one, though. I’m still using a Phottix IR-Nikon (wireless remote) that I bought years ago for $20 (it is available for Canon as well).

Wireless remote - Recommended Gear for Doing Long Exposure Photography at Twilight and Dusk

Long Exposure Calculator App

When you use a semi-manual mode (e.g. Aperture Priority), the shutter speed cannot exceed 30 seconds on most DSLRs. With a 6-stop ND filter used at twilight and dusk, much longer than a 30-second exposure is required. So this is where you’ll need to switch to Manual Mode and take the full control of the camera yourself.

But, how will you know the correct exposure time (shutter speed) to use when your camera no longer assists you? Well, there are a number of free phone apps that help you determine a correct shutter speed. I’m using Long Exposure Calculator app by Junel Corales (get it here for iOS devices or here for Android).

Long exposure calculator - Recommended Gear for Doing Long Exposure Photography at Twilight and Dusk

By setting your filter density (e.g. 6-stop) and base shutter speed (e.g. 2-seconds), the Long Exposure Calculator app automatically calculates the required shutter speed you will need to use (2 minutes and 8 seconds [128 seconds] in this case).

Lenskirt

A lenskirt is a handy tool when shooting through the glass window of an observation deck, hotel room window, etc., as it helps eliminate reflections (such as yourself, room lights) off of the glass window. It might catch the unwanted attention of other visitors due to its odd shape but it has worked quite well for me and has found a permanent place in my camera bag when I’m traveling.

Lenskirt - Recommended Gear for Doing Long Exposure Photography at Twilight and Dusk

Lenskirt in use on the 100th-floor observation deck of the Shanghai World Financial Center. By attaching it to the lens and its pushing suction cups onto the window, it shades the front element of the lens and cuts reflections from the glass window, leaving no chance for any stray light to get into the camera.

Conclusion

That’s all about it. I hope this will get you started with long exposure photography at twilight and dusk. For me, dusk is the most beautiful moment of the day. It ends in the blink of an eye, and that’s what makes it even more special. Try to capture the beauty of long exposure photography at twilight and dusk with this gear.

If you have any other pieces of gear you use for long exposures that you find indispensable, please share them in the comments below.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Joey J

is a Singapore based enthusiast photographer primarily shooting cityscapes at twilight and dusk. Get his free eBook Taking Your First Very Long Exposure Shots at Twilight and Dusk. Or visit his website LASTLIGHTS.NET where he posts his best photos (from Singapore, Brunei, Southeast Asia and beyond) and shares his experience photographing cityscape photos with long exposure at twilight and dusk.

  • Nizmo

    LOL! All you need is OMD EM1 which has live time or composite mode and your mobile phone to control it over WiFi. Sit back and watch how live picture develops real time on a back screen while drinking beer

  • Frescarosa

    I’m interested by that Lenskirt thing, it looks like a clever idea, but I can’t find it (at least in Europe), are there any similar products from other manufacturers?

  • I couldn’t find it locally, either, and ended up buying online (B&H,
    $48 with shipping $4.86). There is a similar product from Japan called
    Ninja Ref (goo.gl/edV4Xb), too. I used to do a DIY way by wrapping a black neck gaiter around my lens, and was effective enough.

  • What you mentioned above – All Tripod including Clamp Tripod, Mini-Tripods, Neutral Density Filters, Wireless Remote or Cable Shutter Release, Long Exposure Calculator App & Lenskirt are absolutely essential.
    In my view, You may missed B+W Circular Polarizer Filter & Extra Long Tripod.

  • Great Article Joey!

  • Thanks Daniel! Talking to you later on Tumblr. 😉

  • Yes, thank you Sankar, a circular polarizer filter helps cut down reflection when shooting through the glass window! I do own one, but no longer using for this particular purpose, as I can’t rotate the filter when the lens is fully covered by Lenskirt…!

  • Stephen Crane

    Add a viewfinder cover/cap to your list to keep light from hitting the sensor from the viewfinder.

  • Thanks, that’s true!

  • David Riddell

    Joey (or Darren)

    A little off topic but, perhaps, you can give me some advice? I have a Gitzo/RRS combo tripod so I’m sorted in the tripod department. But for travel where space is a premium: How stable is the Joby GorillaPod? Specifically for a Canon 5D Mark IV? Wide angle; I’d guess stable,; but how about mid range zoom 24-70mm or even 70 – 200mm? Thanks Dave

  • Thank you Dave for your comment! I guess Joby GorillaPod (Focus, their top end model) may not be stable enough for the combo you mentioned, especially for long exposure that goes more than a few seconds.

    Probably, there are better options out there like a full size travel tripod with a shorter closed length that lets you pack in your suitcase. Personally, I always travel with my regular tripod (Manfrotto MT190CXPRO3 Carbon Fibre Tripod) becos I don’t want to compromise on image quality (luckily, my tripod just fits into my suitcase diagonally after taking out the center column). Hope you’ll find a good solution. 🙂

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