Tip of the Day: 3 Ways to Take a Long Exposure

Turn ordinary scenes into magical landscapes. Whether capturing silky waterfalls or the motion of the stars, you must use a tripod and remote shutter release—and avoid windy conditions. Here are three ways to get longer exposures by day or night.1) Turn down ISO. Higher ISOs mean more noise, and you don’t need the greater sensitivity since you’ll be leaving the shutter open for a long time. Turn on your camera’s noise reduction setting (if it has one).

Turn ordinary scenes into magical landscapes. Whether capturing silky waterfalls or the motion of the stars, you must use a tripod and remote shutter release—and avoid windy conditions. Here are three ways to get longer exposures by day or night.

1) Turn down ISO. Higher ISOs mean more noise, and you don’t need the greater sensitivity since you’ll be leaving the shutter open for a long time. Turn on your camera’s noise reduction setting (if it has one). Long-exposure night shots may still give you a lot of noise even with a low ISO, so you may still need noise reduction software on the final image.

2) Select a small aperture. If you want to capture light trails (such as car tail lights), try setting your f-stop as high as f/22 to allow for very little light to strike your sensor while still getting a lot of detail in the motion.

3) Use neutral-density filters. A must-have tool for daytime long exposures, an ND filter cuts the light coming through the lens, so you can open your shutter longer even on bright days. Its light blocking power is described in stops, usually between 3 and 9, so that an exposure you’d ordinarily set to 1/60 sec would be 1/4 sec using a 4-stop ND filter. For really long exposures, stack them up to 13 stops. High quality ND filters are the most color-neutral, but some inexpensive models can lend a muddy orange cast to color images—if that happens, convert to black-and-white.

—Kathleen Davis
Assistant Editor