DAYTIME LONG EXPOSURE PHOTOGRAPHY

Give your daytime shots a twist with a long exposure.

Using a longer exposure means that moving objects such as clouds and water can take on a magical feel.

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I will agree the thought may seem absurd. Why would you ever want to use a longer exposure during the day given the abundance of ambient light perfect for using those high shutter speeds and a less chance of motion blur? Well, it's for ... want of a better expression, 'an artistic choice'. When you look at an image taken during the daytime some of the things you'll first notice is how sharp it is, free from camera shake, and how much everything is frozen in place.

Now if that's the look you're going for then that's fine, but lets consider how the world changes when you try taking an image at night. Have you ever noticed how much things are a bit more surreal at night when your shutter speed drops to seconds or even minutes to make an exposure. Those longer exposure times mean that moving objects such as clouds, water, people or cars taken on a magical feel. Including some of that feel to your daytime shot can not only be fun but can elevate your image from a standard capture to something wildly creative and engaging to the viewer.

So how do you take control of the daylight to achieve the shutter speeds required for this effect? Well, you'll need a few pieces of kit. It goes without saying that first you'll need your camera and your favorite lens. For this kind of work as a Canon shooter I use a Canon EF-S 10-22mm F3.5-4.5 USM or a Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0L USM. However if you've got a full frame camera then a Canon EF 16-35mm F4L IS USM / Canon EF 24-70mm F4L IS USM is also a great setup.

Because you're dealing with deliberately long exposures there is no question you're going to need a tripod to keep your camera perfectly still. The shutter speeds you may encounter will require that you use a remote shutter release or setting your camera to a 2 second timer mode to avoid any camera movement. Last and certainly not least is a neutral density filter. Without this bit of kit, the long exposures you require just can't happen.

A neutral density filter is simply put, sunglasses for your camera lens. It filters out a certain amount of light that passes through your lens to your camera sensor. Much like the glass you'll see in a welder's mask which I will say some photographers have actually used as an ND filter.

The Canon EF 24-70mm F4L IS USM is a great lens for most shooting conditions. However If you find you need a wider field of view then something in the Canon EF 16-35mm F4L IS USM or APS-C Canon EF-S 10-22mm F3.5-4.5 USM shown below is what you'll need.

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Canon EF 24-70mm f/4.0L IS USM Standard Zoom Lens

 
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Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens

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Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM SLR Lens

 
 

Manufactures like Lee, Cokin and Formatt Hitech offer a wide range of rectangular filters and filter holders.

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Lee Filters 100mm Big Stopper 3.0 Neutral Density Filter (10-stops)

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LEE Filters 100 x 100mm Little Stopper 1.8 Neutral Density Filter

 

Screw in filters can be cheaper however by going that route you'll be restricted to buying ones that will fit the diameter of each lens you're using.

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Breakthrough Photography 95mm X4 10-Stop ND Filter

 

A sturdy tripod is essential for long exposure photography to avoid any possibility of camera shake.

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Manfrotto Befree Advanced

 

A good cable release or one of the more advanced intravalometers often used for creating time lapses is also a useful tool to control your camera remotely when shooting longer exposures.

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Neewer Timer Remote

 

There are many types of ND filters. There are the versions that are flat rectangular pieces of plastic/glass that slide into place within a holder that screw to the front of your lens via an adapter ring. Then there are the circular screw-on types of various sizes for different lenses.

Essentially, they also come in a range of optical densities. A standard ND2 (1-stop) filter will only let in 50 percent of available light, whereas a ND4 (2-stop) filter will only let in 25 percent, an ND8 (3-stop) lets in 12.5 percent, while a ND16 (4-stop) filter blocks out 25percent and so on. For long exposures during the daylight you'll typically need a ND1024 filter otherwise known as a 10-stop filter which allows 0.098 percent of available light to enter the lens and reach the sensor.

As you would have guessed cost for these filters vary too. A 10-stop filter by Lee, for example is in the range of $129 but you will also need to purchase the filter holder kit as well for about $100. A single screw-in type filter, depending in the lens size that it has to fit can cost as much as up to $229. These filters can be quite pricey but they are worth their weight in gold.

So do you just screw on your filter and point your camera at the scene you want to capture an that's it? Well not exactly. For starters if you look through your viewfinder or if you prefer Live-View with the filter on then you're not going to see much. In fact you'll be pretty much staring at black image. Metering a scene with your 10-stop filter attached will cause some problems too. The best method is to work out your composition and expose for the scene before you attach your filter to the lens.

Start by composing the scene how you want it, with the ISO, aperture setting and shutter speed required dialed in for the final shot. Then make a test exposure and check your histogram to ensure the image isn't overexposed. At this point you'll want to make a note of the shutter-speed without your 10-stop filter attached.

Now there's a bit of calculation here but nothing you'll need to worry about. Let's say after setting up your scene your camera's exposure meter is telling you that using an ISO of 100 and aperture of f/11 you need a shutter-speed of 1/15 of a second to gain the technically correct exposure. You now have to slow your shutter-speed down by 10-stops. This means by adding our 10-stop filter our shutter-speed now has to be altered to 60 seconds to achieve the correct exposure.

If you're like me and not much of a math whiz, there are several apps for your iOS or Android phone that can easily calculate the correct setting according to the density of the filter used. Check out the Lee Filters Exposure app or NiSi Filters Australia.

One thing to be aware of when using a ND filter is the color cast. Even the most optically perfect ND filter can suffer from some form of color shift when using a 6-stop or higher filter. The most common issue I've experienced a magenta color cast caused by infrared light still passing through the filter. For the best results you should always shoot in RAW mode and at your camera's lowest ISO setting.

As always, experimentation with various shutter-speeds is key. Be on the lookout for some familiar daytime moving objects (cars, bicycles, clouds, water, or people) that could look quite surreal if captured with a long shutter-speed. This exposure technique has been employed by many professionals to magically empty city landscapes filled with cars and people by using very strong ND filters. Now that you know it's up to you and your imagination to take control of your creativity and give your daytime shots a twist with some long exposures.

Chasing, "The Perfect Light".

As landscape photographers one of the things we often find ourselves obsessed about is chasing the light. And while this mindset can allow us to create some of the most amazing images it can also become a crutch limiting both our creativity and the images we images we produce.

Learning to appreciate the subtle transitions in texture as the light moves across the landscape not only not only allows us to better enjoy our time spent in the vast outdoors but also nurture greater opportunities to express ourselves more creatively.

Your Expectations can also create limitations

When I first began my journey as a landscape photographer, I was obsessed with creating images only when there was a burning sunrise or sunset. I would constantly check my weather apps daily hoping for conditions that would show promise of amazing colour and perfect clouds. And although every now and then I was blessed with the perfect conditions to make an amazing image I was often met with utter failure in less than ideal conditions forced to walk away unable to create the image I had hoped.

The expectation of ‘the perfect light’, can greatly limit our opportunities in the field

As a landscape photographer the expectation of, 'the perfect light' can create two possibilities; one you either head out to your location hoping for the perfect conditions only to be disheartened when the light doesn't take shape as you'd hoped or two, consult your 'trusty' weather app and if it doesn't forecast the conditions you hope for you stay indoors and watch TV. If you're thinking that option two seems the more practical approach the truth is neither mindset will help you become a better photographer. For myself, the expectation of, 'the perfect light' has been something which as all too often served as a disappointment limited my creativity and a landscape photographer and ultimately in the images I created.

When we commit our landscape photography to shooting in, ‘the perfect light’, we not only limit our vast opportunities to become more versatile photographers but also to shorten the time spent in the field experiencing the landscapes to find and refine our compositions.

Get out early & stay out late

If you're the type of landscape photographer who likes to shoot 15 minutes before and after sunrise or sunset, I urge you to consider shooting a bit longer. Try getting to your location a couple of hours earlier to find a composition you really like and continue shooting until the light has faded.

By doing this you'll not only be able to discover amazing compositions but also gain a better understanding of how the light interacts with the key elements within the landscape. Arriving to the location 10 or 15 minutes before sunrise or sunset is never going to allow you to find compelling compositions to make a great image.

There's never enough time

Any landscape photographer who has a full time job then you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. If you fall into that category then you have to ask yourself, "Do I want to create a body of images from several locations?" Or, "Do I want to create a body of work for my portfolio?"

Spending more time in any landscape allows you to better experience the scene as the light moves across the landscape. If you've never experienced it you'd be surprised just how much the light can change within the space of an hour before and sunrise to sunset often creating a soft yet moody atmosphere emphasizing the foreground and mid-ground elements of your composition.


Take the Challenge


Challenge yourself by spending more time in the landscape. I guarantee that you'll not only be able to find that compelling composition to create a stunning image but other compositions to open up opportunities to create other images you otherwise would have walked past.


Try not to fall into the trap of chasing, 'the perfect light'. If the forecast shows less than ideal conditions get out anyway. It doesn't matter if it's several hours before or after sunset, take time to explore the landscape.

How else are you going to find a compelling composition?


When shooting seascapes don't be afraid to take your camera hand held and get close to the waves. Shooting a wide vista? Try using your telephoto lens to pick out areas within the landscape you find interesting. Spend time looking for light and shadow (contrast) within the landscape and don't forget to include a human element in the frame to show scale. Use that 10-Second Timer and get yourself in the shot (you'll need a tripod for this). And when you cant find anything that strikes your interest, look at your feet. Take 100 steps from the point your standing and look down. I guarantee you'll find something to make a great abstract image.

Now get out there and Happy Shooting :)