One of the most satisfying things as a photographer, in my opinion, is the ability to capture events or subjects through long exposures that may otherwise be impossible to view with the naked eye. In other words, the ability to capture time.
Think things such as star trails, light trails, elegant blurred water, and light paintings, all of which need an extended open shutter time to, effectively, transform movement into a single still image. And, as exciting as it is to capture these, the need to maintain a lengthy exposure time can introduce elements, such as light and movement, that have the ability to negatively affect your final images more so than what they would during a regular exposure.
Fortunately, by remembering just a few simple things, it’s more than easy enough to avoid any undesired hiccups during your long exposures. Oh, and when I say simple, I really do mean simple! These are things that I see photographers miss all the time and, admittedly, I’ve caught myself forgetting some at times as well.
Remove Your Camera Strap
With that being the case, and regardless of whether you’re set up inside, or outside, it’s always really important to remove your camera strap, if you have one, from your camera. Or at the very least, wrap it tightly around your tripod before opening the shutter, so that it’s not just hanging in the air. If you haven’t experienced it before, you would be surprised at just how much even the slightest of breezes can cause your strap to move which, in turn, can obviously cause vibrations or slight movement of the camera itself.
The last thing you want is to take an hour long exposure only to find it’s blurred, or not as sharp as it would have been, due to the movement of your strap.
Turn Autofocus Off
Autofocus does a great job of bringing a subject into focus and keeping them sharp and crisp but, during a long exposure, it can be the difference between a fantastic photograph and a ruined one.
Without turning autofocus off, let’s say you’re taking a long exposure of the night sky to achieve those beautiful star trails. Mid-way through your exposure, an airplane streaks through the sky and, because it passes in front of the stars, your camera tries to bring it into focus. The result: partially blurred stars and, depending on how far through the exposure was, a brighter spot or streak from the movement of the airplane.
By switching over to manual focus, you can efficiently keep everything in the frame, in focus.
Be Careful With Artificial Light
It’s not unusual to use a torch, lantern, or even the light on your smartphone when on these late night photography adventures. But, it’s always critical to be cautious of just how bright the light is and how careful you are in using it. It doesn’t take much light to either blow out the exposure of your foreground or pollute the darkness of the sky.
Generally, I would just recommend enjoying the darkness of the night while your exposure it taking place. However, if you really need a light, one option would be to purchase one of the many small flashlights available that offer a built-in dimming function. I’m not a huge fan of these, though; they still tend to be quite bright. As an alternative, I’ve found that taping a sheet or two of white paper over the head of a torch is enough to transform it into a soft glow that still offers enough light without the potential of ruining your exposure.
Use ND Filters For Daytime Long Exposures
If your daytime long exposures are only going to last a few seconds, you may be able to get by without a filter by playing with your ISO and aperture settings. For anything longer than a few seconds, the use of an ND filter is a must.
Do you have any additional tips worth sharing? Let me know in the comments below.