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When should you use a long exposure to create interesting effects

Long exposure is a very commonly used technique of photography. You have probably seen many examples of long exposure photography, but do you know when you can use it and when you should avoid it? What is long exposure photography Long exposure is when you use a long shutter speed to intentionally show motion blur in your photos. This motion blur can create exciting patterns and leading lines which you do not find in traditional photography. These effects can often be seen as mystical and out of this world.

A long shutter speed is defined as anything more than 1 second. Therefore a photographer would have their camera on a tripod, be using a shutter release cable or self-timer and in daylight hours be using a neutral density filter. However not all of the following techniques need these things.

When you should use a long exposure

Sunset/sunrise – Capture the amazing colors in the sky even after the sun has left the scene.

Water scenes – Whether it is a waterfall, river, lake or ocean, water is always moving. Capturing this movement creates a silky effect.

Lightning storm – Unless you have a special trigger which can set your camera to take a picture at the exact same split second as a lightning bolt flashes, you will need to use a long exposure to capture the light in the sky.

Street scenes – Blur the hustle and bustle of people to make the buildings and other structures stand out.

Traffic – At night time the traffic lights up the roads and this can be used to add an extra element to you photo.

At the fair – Capture those bright lights and the patterns they make.

Painting with light – This can be done with any light source, including burning steel wool and glow sticks. The purpose of painting with light is to create patterns by moving the light source around the scene for the duration of the exposure.

Fireworks – Just like painting with light, fireworks create mesmerizing shapes and patterns.

Camera spinning – Don’t put your camera on a tripod for this one. Instead rotate your camera slowly for the duration of the exposure.

Long exposure zoom – A more advanced technique of changing the focal length (zoom) of the lens whilst the exposure is taking place.

When not to use a long exposure During the day – Unless you have a strong neutral density filter, it simply won’t work. The long exposure will allow for too much light to enter the camera and your image will be over exposed.

Star trails – although the images you see may appear to have been taken in one long shot, this is not the case. These are many photos shot over a period of a few hours and then combined in Photoshop. Portraits – Generally you don’t want to have any motion blur in these photos. No matter how still you ask your model to stand they will shake if the shutter speed is longer than 1/60.

Wildlife and pets – This one depends on which creature you are photographing, but in general animals move. Sports – Most sports happen so fast that normally you would not be able to keep up if using long shutter speeds.

When hand holding the camera – Unless you want camera shake in the image. Learn more

I have only just started to experiment with camera spinning and long exposure zoom. These are techniques which I am enjoying using but take a lot of practice to get right. Let me know in the comments if you want to join me on this journey.

Watch my recent video on painting with light.

Learn how to get a correct exposure with my new book and find out why it is important in this blog.

Don't forget to share this with all your photography friends.


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