Over the years I have had a lot of fun shooting long exposures on film and also digital using full Neutral Density Filters. Like everything it has a learning curve that you have to accept through trial and error, but reading through tutorials and articles like this I hope to iron out some of the oversights beginners or even experienced photographers can make or overlook, I know I still do from time to time that’s for sure.
The whole idea of long exposure photography is to get a correctly exposed image that is nice and sharp and free from any additional movement or in camera issues that can be avoided. So in this article, I am going to outline for you 10 common mistakes you can make when you’re shooting long exposure images.
KEEPING YOUR IMAGE STABILISING FEATURE TURNED ON
NOT USING MIRROR LOCK UP
When you look through your viewfinder you’re looking to a mirror that is also looking into another mirror at the bottom of your camera and it is this mirror that is sitting over your camera’s sensor. When you take a photo this mirror flicks up, the shutter activates and closes and the mirror drops back down. When you’re doing long exposure photography you want to limit any unnecessary movement at all in your whole capture process. This is why in your camera’s menu there is a feature called Mirror Lock Up.
Now when you activate mirror lock up remember this. It is now a two-stage capture process. The first time you click the shutter release button on your remote (yes you need to have a remote shutter release) that first click lifts the mirror, then next time you push the button it activates the shutter and captures your image.
If you can’t be bothered going into your camera menu system to change this or can’t find it, don’t even know if your camera has it then it’s simple, shoot your camera in live view mode where you see the image live on your LCD screen this is the camera projecting the image with the mirror already up.
YOU STILL NEED TO BALANCE YOUR EXPOSURE
THINKING YOU CAN SHOOT AT F22
When someone says’s “Hey how can I slow down my shutter speed” a quick and logical way to answer that is to say “stop down” / close your aperture. If your shooting at F11 for 30 seconds then at an aperture of F22 (two stops) then your shutter speed will go to 2 minutes. But if you’re doing long exposure photography there are better ways to reduce your shutter speed than doing this, like using Full Neutral Density Filters.
Now the reason why we don’t just jump to F22 is due to something called optical refraction. Photographer will talk about the sharpest aperture of their lens being between F8 and F11 and this is why most landscape images are shot at these apertures (Subject to Depth of Field needs) but F11 pretty much covers that as well. Optical refraction is something that causes a loss of image sharpness at smaller apertures due to the light having to bend to fill the image sensor.
NOT KEEPING YOUR FILTERS CLEAN
USING POOR QUALITY FILTERS
When I teach students I tell them the same story about going cheap when it comes to buying photography accessories.
As a landscape photographer you wake up early to shoot a sunrise, or you travel a good distance to a nice location, you set up your good quality camera, that has a good quality lens on and nice stable tripod, the scene is perfect and the light is amazing then you go to take your photo and the first point of contact your amazing light has is a cheap filter that cost you $50 when a good one would have cost you $150. Doesn’t make sense. If you’re interested enough in photography to start playing around with long exposure and all the effort your going to go into with your time, travel etc then you should at least invest in a good quality full ND filter. For more details about full ND filters and brands then check out my article “Shooting with and How to use full Neutral Density Filters“
BELIVING THE LCD SCREEN AND NOT USING YOUR HISTOGRAM
NOT COMPENSATING FOR LIGHT CHANGES
Long exposures on sunrise and sunset can really give you an amazing image but you need to understand that if your shooting in quickly changing light like the rising of the sun, a long exposure that goes for 5 minutes may only need 3 minutes to be correctly exposed as the five minutes that was correct when you started will cause it to over expose due to the increasing light brightness that will occur during the exposure period. Hope that makes sense.
The opposite is the case on sunset when the light is being removed from a scene a five-minute exposure might end up needing 7 or 8 minutes as a five-minute exposure was correct at the time of working it out but during the exposure, the light dropping needs to be accounted for and adjusted.
Now you’re probably expecting me to give you the answer to work this out and I can’t, it comes down to an educated guess, a feeling, experience on getting it right and wrong.
NOT COVERING THE VIEWFINDER
KEEPING EVERYTHING STEADY
For additional information, I have an article “Mastering Long Exposure Photography” which will help you look at practical examples of long exposure images, how to shoot them and the filters used.
For information on using full Neutral Density filters I have this article on “Shooting with and how to used Full Neutral Density Filters“