- A long exposure photography, otherwise known as slow-shutter photography or shutter drag photography, is technique that involves keeping the camera shutter open for a longer period of time to capture motion blur. Common examples of this technique can be seen in nights cape images that capture star trails, ocean pictures that capture the motion in waves, and cityscapes that capture the light streaks in moving cars.
5 Long Exposure Tips To Maximize Creativity
We're going to teach you how to master a creative technique called a shutter drag, otherwise known as long exposure photography. This will help you maximize and enhance the level of creativity that you bring to each and every single one of your shoots.
Gear That You'll Need For Long Exposure Photography
The most important piece of gear that you'll need for long exposure photos is a tripod. All of the tips below require a slow shutter speed, usually slower than 1/10th, which means that hand-holding your camera will result in shaky photos. The actual camera body and lens can range from starter kits to professional options.
Tip #1: Creating Silky Smooth Water
There are obvious and not-so-obvious reasons to use longer exposures. Maybe you simply need the long exposure because it's too dark to get a proper exposure otherwise. Or maybe you need higher apertures because you want to capture as much depth of field as possible. But here's another reason you might want to consider setting up the tripod and dropping your exposure time down: glassy water.
As always, showing is better than explaining. See the image above and notice how the ocean water looks so calm, even "glassy." This image is of Sterns Wharf in Santa Barbara, CA; and like any pier in the Pacific Ocean, there are waves in the water. However, the long exposure has essentially blurred out anything moving, i.e. the waves, and the result is a smooth, glass-like body of water, giving the image a dreamy effect without any need for Photoshop.
Here's how you get the image above.
- Set the camera on a tripod
- Take your apertures up to f22 (You'll get a bit of aperture diffraction!! but the decrease in overall clarity is sacrificed to obtain this effect as well as the depth-of-field in the image)
- Decrease your shutter speed as low as you can go and still get the exposure that you desire
- Make sure your ISOs are as low as possible as longer exposures will automatically increase the amount of grain in the image (any grain will decrease the overall clarity of the image)
- Use a remote trigger or set a timer on your camera so you don't risk any camera shake (any movement will also decrease the overall clarity of the image)
- Click away experimenting with different over and under exposures (most likely under exposing a little) to get your desired image.
- Dodge and burn in post production order to even out your exposure by burning the highlights and dodging the shadows (shooting low ISO is critical for this stage)
The longer the exposure the "glassier" the water will look. For example, take a look at an image shot a bit earlier in the evening, when there was more light. At f22 the proper exposure required a shutter speed of 4 seconds, not enough time to achieve the glassy effect.
Notice how the "glassiness" of the water has decreased compared to the first image shown. Now view this final image, taken even earlier in the evening and notice how each wave is fully visible.
Tip #2: Light Streaks With Camera Movement
There are a number of techniques that we can use to capture light streaks by moving the camera itself. For example, the camera-twist technique incorporates camera motion and direct flash. To create this image, all we have to do is the following:
- Slow down your shutter speed to 1/8th of a second in order to let more ambient light into the camera.
- Then using an on-camera flash or off-camera flash, freeze your subject with direct lighting.
- While you press your shutter button, twist the camera to create motion.
Another camera movement technique we can try is a whip-pan, exemplified in the image you see above. Similar to our last technique, this requires panning the camera, but this time while it is secured onto a tripod.
- Place your camera on a tripod and unlock the panning knob in order to move the camera from right to left.
- Slow your shutter speed down to 1-2 seconds and use a flash to freeze your subjects while capturing the light streaks with motion.
Tip #3: Light Streaks With Moving Lights
Unlike the previous technique, this requires moving lights instead of a moving camera. This look can be achieved using anything from sparklers to string lights, to passing cars.
- Place your camera on a tripod.
- Set your shutter speed to 1/10th of a second or slower to capture the motion of the light.
Tip #4: Capturing Subjects Under The Milky Way
One of the best uses of creative long exposures is for nightscape photography. Getting the proper exposure at night is challenging, but not impossible.
- After placing your camera on a tripod, choose a shutter speed based on the ambient available light.
- You can use our rough starting guide (seen below) to dial in your settings based on your choice of a zoom or a prime lens.
- You can use a flash to freeze your subjects but remind them to remain very still because we are using slower shutters when photographing the milky way.
Tip #5: Isolate Your Subjects Using Motion Blur
This technique uses a longer exposure to freeze time and create motion blur.
- Place your camera on a tripod and take a plate shot of your subjects using a faster shutter speed. This will serve as the foundation of your creation for your main subjects.
- Then, slow your shutter speed down to 1/10th of a second or slower based on the desired ambient available light.
- Next, take as many photos as you need of people filing in and out of the scene to make the frame appear full.
- And last, composite the image of the motion blur with your original plate shot to create the final image.