Tripod

What Are The Prerequisites To Capture Long Exposure Shots?

Tin (Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam) asked: Your gallery has some really amazing long exposure night shots. I am also interested in taking such photos. How should I prepare myself for the long exposure shots?

If you want to take long exposure shots, there are few requirements in terms of accessories you might need and the camera settings you need to setup. And if you are just starting, you can start with a minimal setup and as you grow more with your experience, you would find out what else you might need to improve your skill. This is what I would suggest to anyone who is starting into any genre of photography; start with the basics, you would make mistakes, learn from those mistakes and keep practicing. This is coming from my personal experience.

Now, to answer your question about the requirements for the long exposure shots, let's talk about the accessories you might need in the first section and then I will go through the camera settings in the following section.

1. Accessories you would need for the Long Exposure shots

- Tripod

Tripod is a must have device when you are taking long exposure shots. The general rule of thumb is: if you are shooting with a shutter speed that is slower than the focal length value, you would need a tripod to get the sharper image. Let’s say you are shooting at the focal length of 80mm, any shutter speed that is less than 1/80th of a second requires a tripod to produce a crisp image. I think it pays to invest in a good tripod (carbon fiber if you can afford) so that you won't have to keep replacing the tripod with every new camera you would buy in the future. I suggest you to get the one that can support heaviest camera-lens combo in the market and have extra features like panning support and easy movement of the camera in all possible directions. I think finding the best tripod requires a little bit of research of your own based on your budget and future plannings.

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The New York City!

Living in Washington DC, only four hours drive from New York City, I have been lucky enough to be able to visit this incredible city many times in the last ten years. It is always crowded, busy and messy but still magical. It hosts people from all around the world and serves food from all continents. I read somewhere that, in the New York City, even if someone eats two meals a day in a different restaurant everyday, they wouldn't be able to taste all the restaurants in their lifetime. That says so much about the magnitude of this world's largest city which has so much to offer to everyone. You can possible buy everything that money can buy here. After all, this is the Financial Capital of the free world.

This majestic city is the home for almost 10 Million New Yorkers and travel destination for almost 60 Million tourists every year. No matter what day of the month or what month of the year it is, the crowd doesn't seem to be lessening. People are out and about even if it's blazing hot outside or freezing cold. This city of concrete jungle welcomes you with the magnificent view of countless skyscrapers which seem to be growing in numbers every day. One does not have to be an architect or a photographer to admire the skyline of New York City. When I visited this city for the first time in 2009, I drove through New Jersey Turnpike and reached to the city via Lincoln Tunnel. When I saw the glimpse of these skyscrapers for the first time (from a distance), I was in complete awe and forgot to take a photo. I went there for the July 4th weekend to celebrate America's independence day and witnessed one of the biggest fireworks in the world. Even though I had just started learning about photography, I took my camera with me but didn’t feel ready to go out and shoot. I returned with some casual shots of friends and family gathering and promised myself to come back more prepared. I visited the city many times ever since and had managed to take few shots here and there. However, I was not satisfied with the outcomes and felt something was still missing. I decided to visit the city again and this time, I went back fully prepared to capture NYC in its full glory. This time, I was determined to get the shots I have always wanted and from as many places as I could pinpoint.

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Long Exposure Shot To Create Silky Water Effect

When I saw the first image with silky water effect, I thought it was some skillful task accomplished using Photoshop rather than something produced on the camera itself. I was just getting into photography and didn't have much knowledge about various types of photography. After I got my first DSLR, Nikon D60, I started learning the basics of photography; Shutter Speed, ISO, Aperture and was enjoying whatever I could shoot. Actually for the first few months, my expensive DSLR was just a point and shoot camera in Auto Mode. It was only after I learned about various shooting modes and how it works in different light condition, I got interested to dial into them and experiment with the subjects and (objects).

Soon after, I upgraded my DSLR after realizing the limitations and the features that my camera offered. When I bought Nikon D90, I started using external flash units, configured them into remote flash units into group using built-in commander mode and learned other advanced camera settings. Everything was working great but knowing more about different DSLRs and what could it offer enticed me to upgrade myself to my first full frame DSLR, Nikon D700. It was probably one of the best camera I ever owned. It never failed me and always exceeded my expectations. I learned so much about long exposure shots, variety of landscape shots using combination of full frame sensor and wide angle lens and many more other small but very useful photographic techniques. I also learned that the very first silky water image I saw was not any tricks done using Photoshop but the long exposure shot done very carefully by using the combination of camera, wide angle lens, filters and tripod.

After learning about the technique, I went to the nearby falls in Washington DC Metro area to test my knowledge. It was a fail! I learned a very important lesson and that is reading about the technique and actually doing it in practice are two different things. There are so many variables that could contribute to the final image. Our gears and it's setup is what we can control but the ambient, finding good vantage point and getting the right composition is equally important. After many attempts in nearby small water streams, I gained my confidence and went to the Great falls park in Potomac, Maryland last year only to find out that the bridge that I had to cross to get to the fall was closed due to the construction. As soon as the construction was completed and the bridge was opened, I went to the park last Monday (on the Presidents day) and got the shot below. Let me explain in details about how I got this shot.

Long Exposure Effect on Water Falls (click the image to view full size)

When I went there, I tried composing and taking shots on my phone from different angle. Once I found my angle, I setup my camera on the tripod and took one shot. I was shooting in Aperture priority (A) mode at f/11 and since it was a bright daylight time, camera automatically bumped the shutter speed up to compensate the light and froze the water motion. I wanted smooth running (silky water) effect and the only way to get that effect at that time was by using the filter. I attached ND 3 filter (which is 10 stops filter letting in only 1/1000th of the light and requiring 1000 times longer shutter speed to get the same exposure as without the filter) and then the shutter speed got reduced to 6 seconds with an Aperture being fixed of course. After I got home, I exported it to the Lightroom and adjusted the exposure and the color tones little bit. This is one of the main reason I started shooting in RAW mode which gives you an option to adjust settings later on the computer that you missed on site. I hope you like my post and if you have any questions or suggestions, please comment them below.

Happy Shooting!

Another Shot Of Baltimore Inner Harbor

Couple weeks ago, I shot the Baltimore Inner Harbor during blue hour and I was very happy with the result. If you have enjoyed doing landscape photography, you might also have realized that how fast natural light changes from the sunset to the blue hour to the darker hour. If you are not well prepared for the shot, it's very easy to miss the window for the proper light. Usually, when I plan to shoot for the blue hour, I complete the camera setup just before the sunset and then monitor the light very closely. Then after the sunset, I take few shots in 10-20 minutes interval until I get the result I am happy with. Last week after passing the blue hour, I stayed little bit longer and then captured the darker hour Inner Harbor as well. I think I took this photograph around 9:00 - 9:30 PM on the same day I shot the Harbor in a blue hour. You can see how much difference the changing light from the blue hour to the darker hour makes on the photograph. Even though these two photographs are not taken from the same spot, you can see the similar buildings on both photographs and the composition is also somewhat similar.

This shot was also taken in an Aperture Priority (A) mode with an aperture value of f/8 at 16mm focal length using ISO 200. The camera adjusted the shutter speed for me automatically.

Baltimore during darker hour (click the image to view full size)

Even though I love taking all kinds of photographs, landscapes and cityscapes are my favorites. This photograph was taken using Nikon D700 and the Nikkor 16-35mm f/4 lens without using any filter attached to it. I welcome any comments or critics you may have. Happy shooting!