Long Exposure Photography Tips & Techniques

Stop me if this seems familiar, you’re scrolling through Instagram, and you stumble across a few stunning long exposure photographs of some amazing places. In this article, I want to show you some long exposure photography tips and tricks I have used to capture some of my favorite photographs. I also want to spare you the heartache that I went through in trying to learn about them.

Long Exposure Photography Tips

Part 1: Hello Darkness, My Old Friend 

The best long exposure shots, in my opinion, come on cloudy days or heavily shaded locations. This is because long exposure shots require a tremendous amount of light. Think of your lens as a giant bucket. Instead of rain, your bucket collects light. If you expose a real bucket to rain for a long time, it will overflow. The same is true of your camera’s lens. 

The longer you expose your lens to light, the more it will flood in your picture. My favorite long exposure shot of mine, I got in Hilo, Hawai’i. 

Long Exposure Photography Tips - Waterfall
Shot: 3/10 sec. f/25 49mm, ISO: 100 | Long Exposure Photography Tips

If you’ve never been to Hilo, then what you need to know is that it’s almost always rainy or cloudy. This particular shot I got at Akaka Falls. On the way up to the falls, there are many other tinier waterfalls in the shade.

If you aren’t in Hawai’i and have no plans on going anytime soon, take some time to explore the world on a cloudy day, if you’re near running water. However, don’t be bound by just water, fire too can have an equally beautiful quality about it if you’re in a position to capture it. In this photo of the Polynesian fire dancer, I tried to capture the fire mid-spin. 

Long Exposure Photography Tips - Fire Ring
Shot: 1/4 sec. f/5 200mm, ISO: 3200 | Long Exposure Photography Tips

If you’re able to embrace the motion of a picture like this, do not be afraid of being open to slight imperfections in capturing movement. If you’re not near a fire dancer, see my previous article on light painting another great use of long exposure! 

Long Exposure Photography Tips - Fire
Shot: 15 sec. f/14 23mm, ISO: 100 | Long Exposure Photography Tips

Part 2: The Right Stuff! 

When it comes to taking long exposure shots, a phone camera is not going to cut it, but is it necessary to buy cutting edge, state of the art equipment? The simple answer is, no! of course not! I used a simple entry-level DSLR camera to take all the photos that I have shown. Believe it or not, all of these photos were taken using a Canon Rebel T5. A Nikon D5600 will also be able to get the job done for you if you’re a Nikon fan. 

The key to getting a tremendous long-exposure shot is to get two essential tools, a tripod, and a shutter remote. Trust me, the last place you want to be is a beautiful location for a long exposure shot and not have these tools. You might believe that your hands are steady enough to stay still for several seconds, I promise you; they’re not. When you set your camera to a long shutter speed, it’s going to pick up every micro-movement, and that’s the last thing you want for a once in a lifetime photo op! 

A shutter remote is a tool that I have found to be indispensable in all of my long exposure shots. Why? Because the farther you are away from your tripod, the less likely it is to shake. Shutter remotes come in two forms, wired and wireless. I am quite frugal and have only ever used wired ones, but if you’re willing to spend a few extra bucks, a wireless remote will give even more distance between you and the camera. It’s important when you buy a shutter remote, that you get one appropriate to your make and model. If it’s a Canon, make sure you get the right shutter remote for it, and the same for Nikon users.

Summary

The key to great long exposure shots is a willingness to get creative and scout out interesting locations. Remember, it’s up to you to capture that amazing photo! Be willing to break the mold, try new things, and don’t be afraid to share with me by mentioning me @grahamohayonphotography in the comment section of whatever amazing shots you capture! I’m excited to see what great work you’ll do! 

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Graham Ohayon-O'Shaughnessy

I love to photograph the amazing world around me and tell stories through my work. I currently use a Canon 5D Mark ii and Lightroom CC to edit my shots! I hope that we can grow and learn together!