How to Take Long Exposure Photographs

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Have you ever wondered how photographers capture stunning shots of fireworks, the movement of water, or those nighttime pictures where all you can see is the blur of the headlights of traffic on a busy street? These pictures are taken using a long exposure on the camera. This is actually not very difficult to do, but you need a little info in order to capture shots like this.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed refers to the length of time the shutter of the camera, the opening that lets the light in, stays open. In a typical photography situation the shutter will stay open for just a fraction of a second. When you are taking a long exposure, you will leave the shutter open for an entire second, or even longer. This lets more light into the camera and also allows the capture of motion. Almost all of today's cameras have a setting that will automatically keep the shutter open for four to eight seconds, and fancier cameras will have a "bulb" setting that keeps the shutter open for as long as you push down the shutter trigger.

Equipment for Long Exposure Photographs

If you want to take a long exposure photograph, you will need a tripod. When the shutter is open for more than a split second, you will not be able to hold it steady. Without a tripod, you will experience camera shake, which causes unwanted blurs in your photo.

Tripod

Tripod

Light in Long Exposure Photography

When you take a long exposure shot, you will be letting a lot of light into the camera. If you are in a low light situation, such as when photographing a city at night, this is not a problem. However, if you are photographing motion during the day, such as you would be doing if you wished to capture the motion of running water in a stream, you will need to adjust the ISO on the camera.

ISO technically refers to film speed, but it is also a setting that can be adjusted in a digital camera. The smaller the ISO, the less light is absorbed by the film or image sensor, so adjust the ISO down when taking long exposure shots outdoors. You can leave the automatic ISO setting when shooting at night, or adjust the number higher to allow more light to be absorbed.

The Setup

Once you have found your subject, whether it be a night time scene, running water, or something in motion, position yourself at the appropriate distance and set your camera on the tripod. If you do not have a tripod, find a level, hard surface you can use, such as the top of a fence or wall. Then, set the shutter speed to the desired exposure length. Focus the camera and shoot.

When shooting long exposure photos, it is difficult to capture the desired image, especially when the subject is in motion. For this reason, take many pictures of the same subject, and vary your shutter speed and ISO settings as you do. This will give you a better chance of capturing that winning shot. Keep track of what worked and what didn't, because learning to capture long exposure photographs is truly a trial and error process.