Long expo­sure pho­tog­ra­phy is great for move­ment and action, turn­ing a fast water­fall into a steady stream.

Let’s take a look at sev­en of the most com­mon mis­takes pho­tog­ra­phers make when shoot­ing long expo­sures and how to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Not Enough Camera Stabilization

What will ruin your long expo­sure pho­to in the first place? Shak­ing. When you shoot at slow shut­ter speeds, your cam­era absorbs more light. And it also means that she will col­lect a lot more traf­fic than usu­al. Even small vibra­tions can result in fuzzy and blur­ry images.

To avoid this, do the fol­low­ing:

  • Set up your tri­pod firm­ly

With reg­u­lar shoot­ing, there is no need to use a tri­pod every time. But when shoot­ing with a long expo­sure, this is impor­tant.

First of all, you need to make sure your tri­pod is strong and secure at every adjust­ment point.

If you’re shoot­ing in very windy con­di­tions, you may need extra weight to sta­bi­lize the tri­pod. Most tripods have a hook at the bot­tom of the cen­ter col­umn that you can hang extra weight on, like a cam­era bag with all your gear. This fur­ther sta­bi­lizes the tri­pod.

  • Set M‑Up Mode

Note. This does not apply to mir­ror­less cam­eras.

Most dig­i­tal SLR cam­eras have the mir­rors between the viewfind­er and lens unlocked. This means that they rise when you acti­vate the shut­ter. How­ev­er, this can intro­duce dis­tor­tion into your long expo­sure shots. To avoid this, set the cam­era to M‑Up (Mir­ror Up) mode. This will block the mir­ror, but you will need to press the shut­ter but­ton twice — once to raise the mir­ror and a sec­ond time to take the pic­ture.

  • Use a remote shut­ter

Press­ing and releas­ing the shut­ter may cause cam­era shake. To avoid this, pur­chase a remote shut­ter that will allow you to acti­vate the shut­ter with­out touch­ing the cam­era. This is a small remote con­trol, the cheap­est of which costs about 250–300 rubles.

Mistake #2: Leaving the viewfinder open

When you take a long expo­sure pho­to, light can enter your pho­to in unex­pect­ed ways.

One of the most com­mon long expo­sure mis­takes is to leave the viewfind­er open and cre­ate an addi­tion­al light source as a result. Leav­ing the viewfind­er open can cause light leaks and strange effects that dis­tort your pho­to, which can oth­er­wise ruin a per­fect shot.

For­tu­nate­ly, this is eas­i­ly solved. Some­times spe­cial cov­ers are offered for cam­eras or they have a but­ton to close the viewfind­er. If your cam­era does­n’t have either, you can cov­er the viewfind­er with black tape.

Mistake #3: Incorrect Settings

Set­ting up your cam­era cor­rect­ly is vital. Some­times it is dif­fi­cult to do even for expe­ri­enced pho­tog­ra­phers. Here are a few key areas to focus on:

  • Use man­u­al mode

This will allow you to con­trol all aspects of your cam­era. Man­u­al mode is espe­cial­ly impor­tant when shoot­ing long expo­sures because each set­ting depends on the envi­ron­ment and how you see it.

  • Focus on the diaphragm

Most lens­es reach f22. High­er val­ues ​​let in less light than low­er val­ues. High val­ues ​​are usu­al­ly best for long expo­sure shots, as long expo­sures get a lot of light onto the cam­er­a’s sen­sor.

How­ev­er, if you choose a val­ue that is too high, it may cause dif­frac­tion. Dif­frac­tion is a phe­nom­e­non in which light is blurred as it hits the cam­er­a’s sen­sor, result­ing in an image that is less sharp.

  • Use man­u­al focus

When shoot­ing at slow shut­ter speeds, espe­cial­ly when using ND fil­ters, your cam­era will see a very dark scene when you press the shut­ter but­ton.

Focus point search starts auto­mat­i­cal­ly. This can cause the main sub­jects to be out of focus. To avoid this, switch to man­u­al focus and set the focus point your­self.

  • Dis­able Image Sta­bi­liza­tion

It may seem counter-intu­itive, but if you want a sharp pho­to, turn off your cam­er­a’s image sta­bi­liza­tion when shoot­ing at slow shut­ter speeds.

Image sta­bi­liza­tion is designed to be used while hold­ing the cam­era by hand and may intro­duce jit­ter and vibra­tion to images when shoot­ing on a tri­pod. If your cam­era is prop­er­ly mount­ed on a good tri­pod, you won’t need image sta­bi­liza­tion.

Mistake #4: Don’t Use ND Filters

Neu­tral den­si­ty fil­ters are a key part of any land­scape pho­tog­ra­pher’s toolk­it.

A Neu­tral Den­si­ty (or ND) fil­ter sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduces light from all wave­lengths that hit the cam­er­a’s sen­sor with­out dis­tort­ing col­ors. This is very use­ful when shoot­ing long expo­sures, when a lot of light hits the cam­er­a’s sen­sor for a long peri­od. The Neu­tral Den­si­ty fil­ter reduces this effect and helps pro­duce a sharp­er image.

Neu­tral den­si­ty fil­ters come in dif­fer­ent strengths and each is suit­able for dif­fer­ent con­di­tions. It’s best to do a cou­ple of exper­i­ments and find what works for you.

Mistake #5: Picking the Wrong Scene

A long expo­sure pho­to­graph can be cre­at­ed in var­i­ous con­di­tions, but still it does not always give a beau­ti­ful effect. Some scenes are not com­pat­i­ble with slow shut­ter speeds, so you need to be able to deter­mine when you can and when you should­n’t use it. Here are a few things to watch out for:

  • Too many things are mov­ing

When pho­tograph­ing with a long expo­sure, we want to cap­ture some kind of move­ment in the pic­ture. But remem­ber that too much move­ment will result in a blur­ry and incom­pre­hen­si­ble image. It’s best to have one key object move, like a water­fall or cars on a high­way, while the rest of the scene remains sta­t­ic. This results in a lot of con­trast between blur­ry smooth motion and harsh envi­ron­ments.

  • A few words about light­ing

While it’s pos­si­ble to adjust to the con­di­tions, remem­ber that light­ing can make or break your pho­to.

Shoot­ing in envi­ron­ments where light­ing changes rapid­ly can result in blur­ry or con­fus­ing images, so be sure to test dif­fer­ent light­ing con­di­tions to see what works and how.

Amaz­ing results can be achieved dur­ing the blue and gold­en hour*. Dur­ing blue hour, you often don’t even need a ND fil­ter due to low lev­els of nat­ur­al light.

*Blue hour is the time of day when the sun has just set or is about to rise, when the sky above takes on a deep blue col­or and the land­scape is flood­ed with bluish light. The gold­en hour (or “mode”) is the peri­od of the day short­ly after sun­rise or before sun­set, dur­ing which day­light is red­dish and soft and sil­hou­ettes are black and deep.

  • Clear com­po­si­tion

When shoot­ing long expo­sures, we tend to focus on move­ment — whether it be water, clouds, stars in the sky, etc. Too much move­ment in your image or lack of a clear com­po­si­tion can lead to not the most attrac­tive result.

Mistake #6: Forgetting the Basics of Photography

It’s impor­tant to keep the details in mind, espe­cial­ly when shoot­ing long expo­sures: set­ting up your tri­pod, get­ting the right set­tings, addi­tion­al equip­ment, find­ing the right scene.

How­ev­er, we still need to keep the basics of pho­tog­ra­phy in mind: light, sub­ject, and com­po­si­tion. Don’t just rely on the inter­est­ing long expo­sure effect to make up for a dis­ap­point­ing shot.

Mistake #7: Only one photo

Even if you are sure that every­thing turned out per­fect­ly, it is still worth tak­ing a few extra shots. Try dif­fer­ent set­tings to find out what works best for your cam­era.

Don’t just take long expo­sure pho­tos. Back­ing up pho­tos tak­en at nor­mal expo­sure can be very help­ful if you find ran­dom blur or move­ment in some part of the pho­to. Hav­ing a clear back­up pho­to will help cor­rect mis­takes.