Photography 101: Long Exposure Photography

Landscape and Nature photography created by landscape and nature photographer Melissa Fague from PI Photography and Fine Art

Photographs created by Melissa Fague – Abstract Photography

Long exposure photography is best know for night photography because the available light is limited which allows you (the photographer) more flexibility with your shutter speeds. However, I recommend trying long exposure for other applications and at different times of the day; you may find the results quite interesting. I found that using a long exposure is great for light painting landscape, nature, still life, portraits and so much more during the day a. Today I am going to share a few ideas, recommendations from my experiences, and share with you some of the results I got when I tried using this technique.

With the use of a Long Exposure you can:

  • Show motion
  • Create mist
  • Create silky smooth water
  • Create drama
  • Show speed
  • Control lighting
  • Express personal creativity
  • Show depth
  • Show patterns normally unseen by the eye

Recommended equipment for Long Exposure Photography

There isn’t much equipment needed to start experimenting with Long Exposure Photography

  • Camera with a manual setting
  • A sturdy tripod or flat secure surface for your camera
  • Weights for your tripod – A weight to weigh the tripod down is needed because the camera will pick up movement from wind and ground shake with the prolonged time. Unless you are in a studio with a concrete floor, you will more than likely need a weight to hang on the tripod there too; hardwood vibrate from movement. For example, I have an old house and my home studio, as well as the rest of the house, has hardwood floors. My camera picks up the vibration of my children simply walking by or if a doors shuts. Nothing is more frustrating than having to re-shoot a 2 – 5 minute exposure because of vibration blur.
  • A viewfinder cover or a thick dark piece of cloth – covering you viewfinder with o plastic cover or piece of cloth to drape over the viewfinder will help with light seeping into the camera from unwanted places during the exposure.
  • A remote trigger –  A wired or wireless remote with a shutter lock. Once you have your camera in position and in focus you really want to refrain from touching the camera at all until your next position change. Touching the camera you can cause vibrations too; even if it is a slight touch. If you do not have a wired or a wireless remote  to use I recommend reading up on how to set your self-timer.
  • A flash light – the size of the flashlight will depend on what you are shooting. If its a small setup in your studio or a small object outside, a little pocket flashlight will work fine. For landscapes and large objects I recommend investing in a high powered Mag-light. You will used the flashlight to focus on you subject as well as for painting the subject. (side note, this is great tool for security too).
  • A stop watch or a timer app for your cell phone – Depending on your camera, times over 30 seconds to a full minute will require you to set your camera to the “Bulb” mode; this is where the lock on the remote trigger comes in handy. Use your stopwatch or cell phone app to monitor how long you shutter is open.
  • Something to do in your downtime – remember with every second your camera lens is open during the exposure time it will need an equal amount of time to process. This process time helps to reduce if not eliminate noise in the photograph, so a 5 minute exposure actually takes 10 minutes to be completed.
  • Extra batteries – your camera will drain the power out of your batteries 3 times quicker because the camera is working so hard.
  • Neutral density filter – There are different sizes and strengths of ND filters on the market today. There are also gradient Neutral density filter that can be purchased to reduce the light in only part of the scene. You can usually find them through any camera supply store, on B and H, or even Amazon. Because of my curiosity, my collection of ND filters has grown over the years. I’m pretty sure I have every strength for each of my lenses, in both circular and plate form. I like the ability to build up the strengths.

***Side note: if your lenses and or camera has an image stabilization feature, also known as vibration control, turn it off when your camera is on the tripod or on a sturdy surface. The stabilizers are counterproductive when your camera is already stabilized. There are little motors that help stabilize the camera while shooting hand held when the camera is stabilized by something else the motors create a vibration and will slightly blur your image. This blur normally goes unnoticed until you have the image upload onto your computer and are working on it in post production, by then it’s too late to correct the problem.

 Daytime Long Exposure Photograph

For those that follow my work, you have recently seen this photograph on my blog. Below you will find the shooting information on how I created it.

Hoope's Falls in the Autumn is a landscape photograph of the little waterfall on the Brandywine River in front of Hoope's Reservoir in Wilmington, Delaware and a array of colorful leaves lining the river banks. Title: Hoope's Falls in the Autumn Photographer: Melissa Fague Genre: Landscape PhotographyThis photograph was created at 3:30 pm on an overcast day. It was the third day of a large storm that had past through the area; we had two full days of rain storms making the river high and moving swiftly. I was standing in the middle of the river with my camera which means I had to add a significant amount of weight to the tripod before I was comfortable attaching my camera to it. I had about 7 lbs of sandbar weights but for extra security of my camera I added a couple mesh bag with about 10 more lbs of rocks from the riverbed.  I used a circular polarizing filter with an adjustable ND filter. I tried a few settings before I settled on the following:

  • ISO: 125
  • Focal Length: 28 mm
  • Exposure time: 1.6 seconds
  • Aperture F22
  • The Adjustable ND Filter was set to a 6 stop
  • Equipment used: Tripod, weights, ND filter, Circular Polarizer and a wired shutter trigger

***Side note: I find the best practice is to set my focal length before setting the ND Filter because the scene will darken from the ND Filter making it difficult to make out the details correctly when viewing through the viewfinder.

Unseen Patterns

Landscape Photography, Urban Night: Ferris Wheel 1 by Landscape Photographer Melissa FagueThere are somethings that can come as a surprise in a photograph. When I went to the St Anthony’s Carnival in Wilmington Delaware I wanted to practice on artificial lights as my photographic subject. I figured what better place to play with light than at a carnival. However, what I didn’t know at the time was the movements can create some very interesting patterns that go unseen with our natural eyes.

The camera’s settings for this photograph were:

  • Exposure 1.3 seconds
  • Aperture: F16
  • Focal Length: 18 mm
  • ISO: 200
  • Equipment used: Tripod and a wired shutter trigger (remote)

Studio Creations

Steph Low Light photographed by nature and landscape photographer Melissa Fague

Steph Low Light photographed by Melissa Fague – Abstract Photography

My daughter and I were practicing with studio lighting and creating low key photographs when we decided to create a long exposure photograph with her in three different poses. This is one image, nothing was merged in Photoshop to created this. We created this by using a long shutter speed of  13 seconds and one studio light. We set the camera up on the tripod, checked focus, set up the strobe light for the first pose, and shut all of the overhead studio lighting off. I used a wireless remote trigger to start the camera as I manned the strobe light. I fired the strobe light off once the shutter was open for the first pose, then we both moved two steps with the strobe in a lateral line across the scene and repeated step 1 two more times.

The camera’s settings for this photograph were:

  • Exposure 13 seconds
  • Aperture: F13
  • Focal Length: 26 mm
  • ISO: 100
  • Equipment used: Tripod, weights, a wireless remote, and one studio strobe with a Cone Gobo.

Face Mask photographed by Melissa Fague Commercial Photography

This image was created for a client for her online retail store. This image was created using a long exposure and light painting with two flash lights. I created this by suspending the mask from a backdrop bar about 12 inches in front of the backdrop. One small pocket flashlight was used to illuminate the backdrop, with a green gel to create the color cast and an aluminum foil cone Gobo attached to control the direction of the light. The second flashlight was used on the mask; this one had a thin piece of Muslin cloth and an aluminum cone Gobo as well. However, this Gobo had a small opening to really control the overflow of light that would have hit the backdrop if one wasn’t used. Both of the flashlights were passed over each of the objects simultaneously to create the appearance of the mask hovering in place.

The camera settings for this photograph were:

  • Exposure 66 seconds
  • Aperture: F5.6
  • Focal Length: 35 mm
  • ISO: 100
  • Equipment and props used: Tripod, weights, a wireless remote, two pocket flashlights, a green gel, muslin cloth, aluminum foil, fishing line, two backdrop stands, and a piece of dark gray backdrop paper

Zooming and Panning

Abstract Reading Pagoda Photographed by nature and Landscape Photographer Melissa Fague - Abstract Photography

Abstract Reading Pagoda Photographed by Melissa Fague Zoom technique

Abstract Photography Color Blur Photographed by nature and landscape photographer Melissa Fague - Abstract Photography

Color Blur Photographed by Melissa Fague – Panning technique

Zooming and Panning are also really fun photographic techniques to do.  For panning you intentionally move your camera across the shooting surface. If it is a stationary object it will blur it, such as the image on the left, I was playing with the reflections of light on DVDs. If the object or subject is moving through your frame and you pan, the subject will remain in focus while the background blurs out of focus creating the feel of fluid motion in the image.

Camera setting for the image Color Blur

  • Exposure 1/4 second
  • Aperture: F32
  • ISO: 100
  • Focal Length: 35 mm

Zooming… honestly, I have no clue if this technique even has a name. The first time I tried this I stumbled upon it. I was trying to capture an abstract photo of the ornaments and lights on my Christmas tree a few years back. The image turned out horribly but I liked the concept and I continued to try it on a few other thing but the image above of the Pagoda is by far my favorite to date. Each time I tried the technique, my hands became a custom to rotating the lens and the lines from the lights became less choppy from my hands shaking. With this technique, I set the camera for a 10 second exposure and extended the 200 mm telephoto lens all the way out and the focal length was set to infinity. Once I hit the shutter of the remote I immediately began to rotate the lens in until I reached 18 mm as smoothly as possible.  The last few seconds of the exposure were dedicated to capturing the building itself.

Camera setting for Abstract Pagoda:

  • Exposure: 10 Seconds
  • Aperture: F18
  • Focal length: (starting) 200 mm – ended on 18 mm
  • ISO: 100

Ideas for your own shoots

…Still stumped on what to photograph? Here are a few more ideas I like to work with from time to time:

  • Long Exposure and Zooming a Telephoto lens in or out (example the read Pagoda in the header)
  • Give your kids some of those neon glow sticks or flashlights and let them dance around the yard (if nothing else you’ll get a good laugh)
  • Have a or go to a bonfire
  • Capture leaves floating down a creek
  • People watch at the park (try panning the runners and bicyclists)
  • Traffic passing by
  • You in traffic (as a passenger not the driver)
  • Try making intentional movement of the camera when you shoot
  • Star Trails
  • Cloudscapes
  • Seascapes
  • Go to the city or a heavily populated area and photograph people
  • Slow water to a complete standstill
  • Take a Lazy Susan and spin it slowly while your camera is rested on it (example is the pink swirl in the header of this article; its a Cherry Tree in full spring bloom)

Long Exposure photographs take longer to create than normal photographs but the payoff is you have something that stands out from the normal “every day” view of the world. There isn’t any real investment that you need to make in order to create Long Exposure photographs you just need to be creative with the tools you already have. Working with this technique not only helps you think “outside of the box” of everyday life, it provide you with another photographic challenge that can stimulate your mind as well as intrigue your viewers with any subject. The most important piece of advice I can give is have fun with it; photography is about exploring the world and creating our own unique experience in it for others to see.

Please let me know your thoughts about this article and if you have time check out my website please visit: PI Photography and Fine Art.


About the Photographer:


Melissa Fague is an emerging nature and landscape photographer from Bear, Delaware USA. In just a few short years her work has been published over two dozen times and she has won multiple national and international awards for her beautiful photographs. Her most recent accomplishment is her first published photograph in an international publication with a worldwide distribution, “Landscape Photography Magazine”. Melissa is passionate about the art of photography and nature. Exploring areas and creating photographs is her form of stress relief and art therapy, but she also loves to share her visions so that others can enjoy. Her goal is to one day be ranked among the most famous nature photographers in the world. All of Melissa’s nature and landscape photographs are available for purchase, visit Pi Photography and Fine Art.

Join our VIP List for exclusive offers, notification for upcoming events and more. To read Melissa’s full story on how she became a nature and landscape photographer please visit: In the Beginning.


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