Week 7 – Longer Exposures


Our first week back after the Easter break, we looked at longer exposures (slower shutter speeds) and why you might need them; how you can manipulate them to create basic special effects, and the extra kit that is essential or just downright helpful.


  • Night photography: long exposures allow you to take pictures at night using just ambient light. That ambient light could be the light from a house; a street light or even just the light of the moon or the stars; unless you are somewhere completely pitch black (like stuck down a mine without a torch), there’s no need for flash.
  • Landscape photography: Long exposures allow you to capture greater detail, even when working on a wide-angle/low aperture setting. Ken Lee is brilliant at combining both landscape and night photography – see here: http://www.kenleephotography.com/ for more info.
  • Depicting movement: The streaming lights of traffic along a highway at night; a cyclist zipping through frame; stars moving across the sky at night – select the right shutter speed and you can show that movement.


Ken Lee – award-winning photographer



  • A tripod. No buts: you need one to avoid camera shake. For the time being, I’m getting by with a basic, quite heavy tripod that’s more suited to studio work (which is what my lovely Aunt, who lent it to me, used to do), but it’s a pain to lug around and I need to invest in a new one.  Any tips gratefully accepted, although I’ve been told the SLIK brand is pretty good value for money. Which reminds me, don’t forget to turn off your camera’s Auto Stabiliser, otherwise, it will compensate and, in doing so, cause shaky images.
  • A cable release kit/remote control – for two reasons. Firstly, in manually pressing the shutter release you can cause camera shake (although you can get around this by using the self-timer delay so that the camera only fires a few seconds after you press the shutter release). A cable release kit/remote control gets rid of that issue and means you don’t have to be right by your camera (useful when photographing lions at close range, for instance).More importantly, if you want to use an exposure of your own choosing, versus the camera’s pre-selected settings, you need to select the BULB shutter speed setting. The BULB setting is used for upwards of 30 seconds exposure – how long is up to you – but you either have to hold it down for all that time (impossible to do without causing camera shake) or use a remote timer. It does not work on a press shutter release down to start, press shutter release down to end schedule! (Which explains why, when I tried to use the BULB setting to do a 30-minute exposure of a meteor shower in Lyme Regis the other week and simply turned the camera on its back and pressed the shutter release once to start and once to end, I got two images of exactly diddly-squat).Cable releases range from the very basic but effective air-operated release: a lead that you attach to your camera with a squeezy bulb on the end that you use like a stress ball. Simply squeeze the bulb to open the shutter and continue to squeeze it until you want the shutter to close, as once you let go that’s exactly what will happen.  It’s probably quite good for RSI, too. There are also manual cable releases that “lock down” for BULB use.

    Alternatively, there are various remote control options, ranging from tiny plectrum shaped ones that you simply press on and off, and swanky digital types that let you programme in your shutter release times and will do the whole thing for you. (So you don’t even have to be there – unless you are worried its going to rain or your camera will get nicked)

  • ND FILTERS: neutral density filters limit the amount of light that gets into your camera, so are useful for daytime shots of landscapes when there is too much light (so you can use a long exposure to ensure adequate detail is captured, but without the risk of over-exposing the shot given the current light levels) and also for shots of running water where you want to “vanish” waves on beach or create a shot of a waterfall where it appears almost mist-like. Pre-digital, filters would come in a variety of colours but post-editing removes the need for this. Instead, the only useful ND filters for digital use are grey. There are two systems, screw on or slot filters. Screw filters are easier to use.TOP TIP: Rather than buy a selection of different grades of filter, you can just buy a variable filter that offers a range of intensities. Also, you don’t need to buy separate ND filters to fit different size lenses (within reason). Instead, buy a larger filter than fits the standard lens that comes with your camera and just buy a step-up ring to bridge the gap. That way you won’t have to buy another set of filters if you buy a lens with a larger diameter. (My camera has a 58mm standard lens, so I plan to buy a 58-88mm step up ring and then a 77mm variable ND filter). Remember, buy to fit the diameter of your camera lens – NOT the focal length!


Using long exposures, there are numerous ways that you can play around with light to create striking images.

  • Light Painting: at its most basic, you can work in darkness, using a torch, sparkler, lighter to “write” on your image. Darius Twin takes it to insane levels, though:
  • Creative lighting: use your flash to highlight various points of your shot – like here:DCM109.shoot_creative.stones 2a5e8aa1b4b343f6aa2368b099c7d264
  • Troy Paiva’s “Lost America – Night Photography of the Abandoned West” is a phenomenal example of creative lighting used to surreal effect.The-Staircase
    (Suitably inspired, I’m now collecting Quality Street wrappers with the notion of doing something similar in Richmond Park…)
  • Multiple Exposures – by covering the lens while your subject moves, you can create ghost-like images. Which is probably how the old “ghosts do exist!” shots of old were created. Using the bulb setting, this is also how you can create montage images of fireworks, so that you have an image full of explosions that didnt all happen at the same time. Simply cover the lens in between fireworks.

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