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Tips & Tricks

Technique – Using Long Exposures to Achieve “Glassy” Water

By Christopher Lin on April 23rd 2009

If there were a statistic of the most commonly photographed things in the history of photography, I bet the ocean/beach would be near the top of the list. And as with any commonly photographed subject, the challenge for amateurs and professionals alike is finding something that differentiates the image produced by you and the millions of iterations produced by others.

Some of the techniques employed to achieve differentiation include HDR and other Photoshop techniques, unique lenses such as fisheyes or tilt-shifts, or simply patience, i.e. waiting for unique clouds, colorful skies, or stunning waves. Another technique that I would like to introduce (or remind you of) is the technique of using long exposures.

stearns-wharf-santa-barbara-wedding-photography-006Shot at Sterns Wharf in Santa Barbara, CA on a Canon 5d Mark II on a 17-40mm f/4L lens at f22, 30 second exposure, and ISO 50 (low)

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.

[Recommended: 10 Long Exposure Photography Mistakes To Avoid]

As always, showing is better than explaining. See the image above and notice how the ocean water looks so calm, even Ëœglassy.’ This