Long exposures are my all time favourites when it comes to photographing water or cloudy skies. Especially when it’s windy. I think thats probably the only time you will EVER hear me say I like wind. I actually hate it. It makes me extremely agitated, probably because it’s always blowing my hair in my face. Anyway wind blows and makes clouds move, creating some perfect conditions for long exposures of the sky. You know those images where the clouds are no longer fluffy, they are long and silk like creating loads of drama! And where the water is no longer rough and choppy, but its a beautiful silky peaceful seascape.
Long exposures are where you push the shutter and your shot will expose over a certain time frame. Your camera then captures the movement of the scene during the time the shutter is open.
My top 5 tips for nailing super sharp long exposures
Use a Sturdy Tripod
You need a sturdy tripod. I cannot stress this enough. If there is one accessory you invest in its the best tripod you can afford. I am onto my third tripod, because I made the mistake in investing in shit first! Whilst my first tripod was a Manfrotto and quiet sturdy – a little sea water and the legs are jammed and there is no adjusting that baby! The second was a piece of rubbish from China… Definitely not sturdy enough to hold my camera + lens. A couple of good brands I recommend are Sirui + Really Right Stuff. These guys are quiet expensive but buy it once and I reckon it should last at least 10 years! On tripods – it doesn’t stop at the legs… You have to make sure you have a ball head or the likes that can hold the weight of your camera. There is nothing worse that getting home and finding the weight of your camera has just ever so slightly tipped down and your images are no longer sharp, but blurry. Its a waste.
Tighten your Tripod
Make sure you check the legs of your tripod are tight and won’t slip and the tripod attachment that sits on the bottom of your camera (or lens for telephoto lenses) is super tight. I use an ‘L Bracket’ on my camera and its forever coming loose so I carry a 5 cent piece in my bag and tighten the L Bracket prior to shooting.
Add some weight to tripod centre column
You know how I said its good to shoot long exposure in the wind… well its always a good idea to put a little weight on the centre column of your tripod when shooting as well. This helps to anchor your tripod and alleviate it from tipping over.
Use a shutter release. These don’t need to be fancy, it’s just a cord that goes to a camera outlet plug and allows you to take a photo without having to touch the camera. Of course there are flash one’s that take batteries so you can do things like star trails but thats not relevant here. The weight of your finger pushing the shutter can be enough to move the camera resulting in another unsharp or blurry photo due to camera movement.
If you can’t get your hands on a shutter release you can always use the 2 or 10 second timer but this only works for shots up to 30 seconds long. You would definitely need a shutter release for using bulb mode. Bulb mode will allow you to take an image longer than 30 seconds and you don’t want you finger on the camera for that long thats for sure!
Watch the ground under you
When you are shooting at the beach and close to the water and the water touches the tripod leg, IT WILL SINK! Most likely just slightly but will ruin your photos. Think ghost photos… Half your exposure in one position and the other half in another position. It happened to a friend of mine and boy was she disappointed when she got home and realised nearly every shot was the same and ruined…
Use Manual Focus
Use manual focus when shooting long exposures. Switch the little toggle up to MF on your lens and focus manually. One great tip is to use the live view and zoom in 10x to where you want to focus. You can get really accurate with the focusing using this method and the focus is set where you want it. When I am using ND filters I will always focus the shot with the ND filter holder off my lens. Once focused I pop the filter holder back on. I wouldn’t recommend this if you are heavy handed or using the round screw on filters. You may accidentally push the lens backwards if its a zoom causing it to become out of focus.
Use the aperture ‘sweet spot’
This one can be a bit of trial and error but all lenses have an aperture where your images come out the sharpest. When I tested my lens I felt f/9 came out the sharpest on my Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L.
Have any other tips for super sharp images? Leave a comment!
** Pin this image for later.