Tutorial #1 - Express yourself - long expose your self!
Leave this field empty
Saturday, November 09, 2013
By Kevin Su
Pin It

Shutter Speed: 10 s   Aperture: f16    ISO: 50    Focal Length 28mm -   Alley in Chinatown, Sydney Australia

Hello everyone and welcome to my random Tutorial #1.

Today I will explain everything you need to know about Long exposures and how we can use them correctly to take better photos.

( Because the random nature of how I come up with my lessons, there may be things I refer to that might require further explanation. For example I may be talking about long exposure but you may not know what an exposure is. I will continue to build my lessons and eventually I will cover all the basics and there will be hyperlinks for your reference. For now please bear with me and I will try to be as thorough as I can to explain my topics)

What is a Long Exposure?

Have you ever tried to take a picture of your friends indoors at night without flash and all you get is a blurry mess of shapes? Well that's an example of a long exposure used unintentionally.

A long Exposure is when you take a picture and the camera shutter stays open for an extended period of time. This is aproximately any exposure slower than 1/60th of a second. Long exposures create images where stationary objects stay sharp while moving objects blur and leave traces. This is of course if the camera is not moving itself or else you end up with the messy mess of shapes again, which is totally fine if it is the abstract look you are going for. A long exposure generally is taken in low light conditions at night but with special equipment you can also achieve one in daylight.




Camera Body - Point and Shoot or SLR (the camera must have Shutter Priority or Manual mode)

Lens of any focal length on SLR, preferably a medium range or wide angle

Tripod : Having a steady tripod is the key to keeping your stationary objects sharp in your long exposures


Optional and advanced equipment


Neutral Density Filter: A filter that reduces the amount of light going to the camera. This is measured in stops. For successful daytime long exposures I reccomend at least a filter with 6 stops. These things look like sunglasses for your camera and screw onto the front of the lens.

Shutter Release Cable: This piece of equipment is essential for exposures over 30 seconds as the on-camera shutter speed usually maxes out at 30 seconds. With a shutter release cable you can press the shutter and lock the shutter open as long as you like.

Stopwatch or smart phone: On bulb exposures longer than 30 second you will need to keep track of how much time has passed.

Sandbag: These things are great portable weights to keep your tripod from moving in difficult environment such as windy days.

Orange soccer cones, or pylons: To avoid injury to others when shooting in public areas or to simply keep people from interrupting your shot, it is a good idea to mark off your tripod and gear with visible indicators. Soccer cones work great especially if you are taking a long exposure and walking away from your setup. The cones not only protect others but it also protects yourself from getting sued. I will talk about these legal issues in a future blog.


How do I make a Long Exposure?

During a long exposure you will need to keep the camera completely still which is why a good tripod is essential to a great shot. The long exposure will keep stationary objects perfectly sharp while anything moving around during your exposure wil be blurred or even disappear like magic! There is no set rule on how long a long exposure should be, but different durations give completely different results.

For example:

Faster moving objects like a raging river may only require 1/30th of a second to produce a smooth water effect.

You may use 2 seconds or much more if you are trying to capture multiple car streaks on a highway.

To get the complete star trail rotation you may need to expose your camera for several hours during the night.

Shutter Speed: 1/2.5 s   Aperture: f22    ISO: 100    Focal Length 14mm -   Cascada in Mindo, Ecuador


Point & Shoot Camera:

Step 1: Secure your camera onto a study tripod or set it on a flat and still surface.

Step 2: Change your camera shooting mode to S(shutter priority mode) or Tv on some camera's - This mode allows you to manually set the exposure time and slow it down to your liking.

Step 3: Toggle your exposure time to an exposure slower than 1/60th of a second. Most cameras have a rolling toggle on the top right of your camera. You should see your shutter speed change on the back of your lcd screen.

Step 4: Turn on your Timer function. For long exposures the camera is very sensitive to motion. To make sure the camera does not get any vibration from you pushing the button, put the camera on timer and the camera will fire after your hand is safely off the device.

Step 5: Compose and focus your shot carefully and press the shutter release (shoot) button and step away from your camera.

Step 6: Depending on your exposure settings, the photo may take up to 30 seconds. During the exposure it is best to step away and not touch the camera or disturb the ground around the tripod especially if you are on a surface like a wooden bridge. If you are doing light painting or perhaps naked abstract blur dance moves in your shot, now is your time to shine!


Digital SLR & Manual Mode:

Step 1: Secure your camera onto a study tripod or set it on a flat and still surface. This is also a good time to put your sandbags on your tripod to secure it from vibrations.

++ I personally attach my camera bag to the bottom of my tripod with a caribiner instead of a sandbag on my on location shoots

Step 2 optional: Attach your shutter release cable to the appropriate connector on your camera. On my Nikon device it is a 10 pin connector that screws into place.

Step 3: Compose and focus your shot in Manual focus mode. You can also focus in autofocus but make sure you turn it to manual focus once you have found your focus. Manual focus mode prevents your lens from breathing in and out trying to refocus when you press the shutter release to take you shot.

Step 4 optional: Attach a neutral density filter if you are shooting in the daytime. This will reduce the amount of light coming through the camera and allow longer than normal exposures in daylight. I choose to put this on after I focus because once you have the neutral density focus on, it is very hard to see through the lens. I imagine it would be equivalent to a hipster looking through his sunglasses at night.

Step 5: In manual exposure mode toggle your shutter speed first to the desired speed. Then adjust your aperture and ISO sensitivity accordingly to make the correct exposure. Don't worry if this doesn't make sense to you I will cover basic exposure in another lesson - for now you can use Shutter priority mode explained in steps 2,3 of the point and shoot section. If you wish to make an exposure longer than 30 seconds (the maximum on most models) you will need to put the shutter speed to bulb which will allow you to keep the shutter open as long as the shutter release (shoot) button is held down.

Step 6 optional: If you are not using a shutter release cable turn on your Timer function.

Step 7: Press the shutter release button step back. If you are using bulb exposure make sure you lock the shutter release cable while its pressed in and start your stopwatch.

Step 8: Perform any light painting or motion blur movement in front of your camera during this time, or just watch the stars.

Step 9: If you are using a bulb exposure, wait for your desired exposure time (referring to the stopwatch) and carefully unlock the shutter release when ready.


Why do we use long exposures?

The most common situation we use a long exposure is in low light conditions such as in a cityscape at night. There may not be enough light to shoot a fast enough exposure handheld without blurring the shot (typically anything shot slower than 1/60th of a second hand held will be blurry) so a tripod is required. The result of a longer exposure is often blurred motion such as star trails or light streaks from headlamps.

Shutter Speed: 0.6s   Aperture: f9   ISO: 640    Focal Length 28mm -   Queen Victoria Building, Sydney, Australia


Blurred motion is a fun and creative way to express the passing of time. For speedy objects like a racing car zooming by, may only require 1/60th of a second to get a blurry car trail. For slower objects a long exposure may last hours allowing the photographer to capture abstract forms of movement. My favorite is working with fire spinning experts like Aleks to create shots like this one:

Shutter Speed: 8 s   Aperture: f7.1    ISO: 800    Focal Length 42mm -   Squamish, Canada (performance by: Aleks Stirajs)

Light painting is another way to brighten up a long exposure. Because the exposure is so long the artist may move quickly across the frame and not be registered in the shot as long as they stay away from any bright light sources. This allows the artist to paint certain aspects of the shot with any light source they please:

++ LED lights are a very powerful tool, they come in all shapes, colors and sizes

Long exposures in daytime are also very fun and interesting to play with but require a neutral density filter to reduce the amount of coming through the lens. In daytime normal conditions a long exposure is hard to do without completely overexposing the shot, there is just too much light. So a neutral density filter acts as a pair of sunglasses for your camera and lets it take its time to make an exposure. The cool effect of this is making all the people in a busy scene disappear: creepy isnt it?

Shutter Speed: 0.6 s   Aperture: f16    ISO: 64    Focal Length 28mm -   Central Station, Sydney Australia

Shutter Speed: 215 s   Aperture: f16    ISO: 50    Focal Length 28mm  using a 6stop Neutral Density Filter-   Central Station, Sydney Australia


Advanced trick:

Remember when I said you need a tripod to keep your camera perfectly still during a long exposure? Well I lied! Once you understand the basic concept of a long exposure you can break the rules and try some cool tricks.

Creative camera blur can be used to create dynamic and exciting images showing motion.



THE PAN SHOT          DIFFICULTY:         7.5 / 10

If a camera is on a long exposure any moving object will appear blurry. But what if you want the moving object to be sharp and everything else blurry? Then you will need to track the moving object with you camera perfectly matching its speed and trajectory. This may take some practice and multiple passes to get the timing right.

Shutter Speed: 1/20 s   Aperture: f16   ISO: 50    Focal Length 85mm -   Sydney Olympic Park, Australia

Step 1: Choose a location where the background of the shot has some elements that will blur nicely like a tree or buildings. (A clear blue sky wont do anything)

Step 2: Choose a model or subject that can replicate its movement consistently (you might not nail it the first attempt)

++ a busy street is a good practice spot

Step3: Set your exposure and prefocus with your subject in the frame (not moving). Then make sure your autofocus is off.

++ you may leave autofocus on and use continuous tracking focus but this may not be consistent.

Step 4: Hold the camera firmly with your hands and practice the tracking movement of your subject coming into your shot. Your motion should come only from your torso, your arms and hands should be locked in position. It may help to have a monopod or support your arms with a surface or your knees. Your motion should match the speed of the object and also watch for the horizon line, keep it straight.

Step 5: ACTION! You should already be in motion and tracking your subject when you press the shutter. Make sure you press the shutter only as the subject enters your desired frame and focus zone.

Good luck and happy shooting! please feel free to send me your results!

Shutter Speed: 1/40 s   Aperture: f7.5   ISO: 50    Focal Length 85mm -   Sydney Olympic Park, Australia


Thats all for this post! Thanks for joining me and stay tuned for more tips to come!





Leave a comment: