Long Exposures

January 14, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

I am going to try to cover some of the basics of long exposures - stuff I learned from individuals, things online and items from my personal practice in this type of photography.

A Neutral Density (ND) filter is a must.  You may be able to get by with a Circular Polarizer but the ND works better and produces nicer results.  I carry several densities, 0.6, 1.2 and a Hoya NDx400.  As I have been trying this technique more, I notice that I could really use 2.1.  If I had to do it over again, I would get a 1.5 instead of the 1.2, but that is just a personal preference (I have noticed the slight desire for a bit longer exposure on some waterfalls where the 1.2 was just not enought).

Make sure you keep the filters clean at all times.  I have recently been going through my photos and noticed many that had spots from dirty filters on them - I now ALWAYS carry at least two lens cloths and one LensPen with me.  I check the filter after every shot when I am around waterfalls (the falls produce a wind that carries mist and constant attention is needed) and also shooting other subjects.  Nothing is more frustrating than a dirt spot that cannot be cloned out in post-processing, ruining a great photo.

When using a dark ND filter, you will definitely need Live View if your camera has it.  This makes framing the picture so much easier than using the optical viewfinder in DSLRs.  I am able to frame with a 0.6 ND filter with no issue.  The 1.2 is a little difficult - especially in shady forests on overcast days - Live View is used in this instance.  With the NDx400 - no question - Live View only.  Using the viewfinder with this filter is a no-go as all that is seen is blackness - Same as if I would have the lens cap on and trying to get a photo.  

When taking photos with long exposures - especially those of 20 seconds or more (shorter if in bright light) - the viewfinder needs to be covered.  I carry the viewfinder cover and a spare with my gear at all times.  I read about and experienced light-leaks with exposures in bright sun.  The photos have definite red lines in them - can't do anything with these except delete them.  Covering the viewfinder fixes this issue.  If you don't have the viewfinder cover, a dark cloth can be used.  It is just so much easier to use the cover.  Chances are - B&H Photo has the proper cover in-stock for your camera.

A sturdy tripod is a must!!!  This is required for sharp photos.  Also - remember to turn-off any shake-reduction in the camera or the lens.  The mirror being locked up also helps (but Live View will do this for you).  What I found through reading and experience is that the camera's built in 2-second timer locks the mirror and gives me time to be away from the camera and for it to settle before exposing the image.  I also use a cable-release when taking these photos.  I want to be as certain as possible that there is no movement.

All of this takes practice.  I am not at the level I want to be with my long exposures but I can say that I have definitely improved my skills at capturing these images.  Check out "Long Exposures" and "NC Waterfalls" galleries on my site, these are examples of what I described above.

Until later - Happy Photo!!


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