Nikon D800, 14-24mm f/2.8 lens @24mm, f/16, 15 seconds, ISO 100.

Long exposures are a whole different world of photography, and in the winter months when the sun is gone more often than not, they expand your opportunities for shooting. Here are a few quick tips to get you started making long exposure photographs.

Get Stable

First of all, use a tripod, or a bean bag, or your jacket on the railing of the pedestrian bridge. It doesn’t matter how you do it, but you need to stabilize the camera so it doesn’t move even slightly during the time the shutter is open. Also, this is a good time to use the virtual horizon if your camera has one.

Get Sharp

Next, choose your aperture. I’d recommend starting at f/11. This will likely give you good sharpness and probably good starbursts on any lights in the frame. I frequently use anything from f/8 to f/22. A smaller aperture will yield a longer exposure or a darker picture.


Avoid Noise

ISO should probably be set as low as possible—200 or 100 on most cameras. This will help reduce noise, and also yield a longer exposure.

Shooting Approach

When the sun is completely gone, I usually start my nightscapes at about 8 seconds or longer. The camera’s light meter is useless in these instances, so don’t pay it any attention. Make a frame, look at the screen and make adjustments to shutter speed and ISO for more brightness or longer exposure. You might want a longer exposure to show more movement of things like traffic or water–the longer the exposure, the smoother the water will become.

By the way, on many cameras you’ll know you’re making an exposure of one second when the display reads 1″. If the exposure is less that one second it often reads something like 30, or 15, or 1.6, but when you crossover to more than one second the quotation marks will follow the number; eight seconds reads: 8″.

White balance is the last adjustment you might want to use, and I love to use it for effect. The right white balance will make clouds grey and snow white, and that’s boring. I frequently use a fluorescent setting to liven up the night sky. Try all of them out, and try even more in Lightroom when you’re done shooting. There is no ‘right’ white balance for this stuff.

Look for Movement

Now just shoot away! Use the camera’s timer or Exposure Delay Mode to reduce camera shake. Wait for the right moment and capture moving traffic and airplanes. Be a part by standing still in a sea of movement.


While I was traveling this week I met up with Bryan, whom I became acquainted with on the Photofocus Facebook page. We made long exposures downtown and grabbed a quick breakfast. We got done in time for Bryan to get to his office on time. I hope you all will join the communities on Facebook and G+ and get together and make some pictures. Just like exercise, sometimes it’s easier if you go with someone; and Bryan and I agreed that making pictures beats jogging every time.


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Join the conversation! 9 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on blogagaini and commented:
    Winter here we come with this welcoming photo tip.

  2. Oh Fantastic!!

  3. Reblogged this on Life 365 Photo Project and commented:
    Thinking I need to read this one!

  4. […] via Essential Tips for Long Exposure Photography | Photofocus. […]


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About Levi Sim

Passion drives Levi to make photographs, teach, and help new friends. He tells people he's a photographer, but he really does more than just make pictures. His professional photography is primarily commercial work for businesses, both small and large, and he really helps show how great it'd be to work with those companies. He excels at photographing people, from two-year-olds to oil field workers to couples married for 60 years, everyone has a good time making pictures with Levi. Besides people and businesses, Levi enjoys all other aspects of photography, and practices landscapes and still life, as well. Other people enjoy photographing everything, and Levi wants to be able to help, so he practices as much as he can to be ready to help. He also runs a local photography club, is a Rotarian, actively helps at church, is a husband, and poppa to a peppy four-year-old girl. Levi writes regularly for and is co-author of books on Adobe Lightroom.


Architecture, HDR, Landscape, Panoramic, Photography, Shooting, Street, Technique & Tutorials