Tips for Long Exposure Photographers: 5 Mistakes You Can Avoid When You Use the Right Equipment

Tips for Long Exposure Photographers: 5 Mistakes You Can Avoid When You Use the Right Equipment

Long exposure photography can be tranquil, serene and dreamy whether you’re shooting landscapes, waterfalls, astro or urban.  It can also be pretty tricky to capture those beautiful photos. Using the right equipment and techniques is essential to getting the shot you imagine. Here are the top 5 mistakes that can ruin a great shot... long exposure photographers set up with the SLIK LITE series
  1. Shaky or Blurry Photos
This may be an obvious one, but there are several factors that can lead to camera shake. Strong winds can result in blurry shots especially when shooting astro shots with clouds or stars. To avoid wind causing blurred photos, use a stable, quality tripod. Whether you want a lightweight tripod or a heavyweight tripod, SLIK tripods are among the best in the industry. For travel, adventure and landscape photographers we recommend the SLIK Lite series. You’ll get the stability you need without adding weight or sacrificing quality. There are five Lite Series tripods that we recommend:
    • SLIK LITE AL-420
    • SLIK LITE AL-420M
    • SLIK LITE AL-420S
    • SLIK LITE CF-422
    • SLIK LITE CF-522
Each tripod has a removable center column flashlight and features the easy to use Rapid Flip Mechanism (RFM) technology which lets you flip the legs 180 degrees for a space saving package and easy travel. They are available in aluminum and carbon fiber and from smallest (folds down to 12.3 inches (AL-420S) to the largest (extends to 70.1 inches (CF-422) the Lite Series has a tripod to fit your needs. Even though your camera is placed on a tripod, your hand can introduce shaking when pressing the shutter. Remember to use a cable release or remote trigger instead. Prepare the best to avoid shaking and just be patient if it happens and take the shot again. long exposure shot of fall leaves falling“Moving” Foreground or Background If you are taking a long exposure photo of clouds sweeping over a beach landscape, you might want the surrounding environment to stay sharp and clean, to avoid everything on the ground becoming blurred. Understanding depth of field is essential for long exposure photographers. The "depth" in depth of field is the distance between the nearest sharp object and the farthest sharp object in your image. It's the part that is "in focus." That distance may be two inches or two miles, depending on many factors involving your subject, your camera, and your lens. If you keep the following three principles in mind, you'll avoid the typical confusions about DOF:
  1. Depth of field defines how much of your image is sharp, not how much is blurry.
    • Depth of field is a continuous range, not an abrupt border. "Acceptably sharp" is a judgment call. There is no sudden transition from sharp to blurry but a gradual fade.
  2. Depth of field applies equally to objects in front of your subject and behind it.
Tokina makes a wide variety of quality lenses with wide apertures. For this type of shot we recommend the Tokina At-X 16-28mm F2.8. Available at tokinausa.com. This lens will allow you to vary your depth of field and play with what you want in sharp focus and what you don’t. You can also bracket your shots and take one exposure with a faster shutter speed without a filter and maybe even a higher ISO if it is dark to freeze the moving part. You can blend this shot with others later in Photoshop.
  1. Color Cast From Poor Quality ND-Filter
Colorcast is an unintended color change to an image caused by poor quality ND filters. This means that your entire photo will look e.g. green, magenta or blue. Buying a better quality filter is the solution to avoid color cast altogether. We recommend HOYA’s Solas IR ND series filters or the Hoya Variable ND filter. The key features of the Solas IR ND filters are:
  • Density’s range from 1-10 stop light reduction
  • Infrared Contamination is suppressed evenly
  • Maintains Consistent color balance across entire ND range
  • No spectrum spikes or color shifting due to IR
  • Available 46mm – 82mm filter sizes
  • Limited 1-year USA Warranty
While the Hoya Variable ND filter has a higher price point than the Solas IR ND filters, it replaces a whole set of stacking neutral density filters and removes vignetting which may be caused by using multiple filters.
  1. False Light Creates Light Streaks Across Your Image
Another common issue many long exposure photographers experience is false light hitting the sensor during the long exposure when the mirror in your DSLR is lifted up. During a long exposure, you want the light to hit the sensor through the ND-filter, but small amounts of light hitting the sensor without coming from through the ND-filter might show itself as strange uneven light streaks across your photos. False light can come from several factors: a wrong mounting, a poorly designed ND-filter holder or light finding its way through the viewfinder and in this way affecting the sensor. There are some easy fixes to solve this problem. The use of a circular screw on ND filter will allow less false light coming in from the front of your camera. If you use the square filter holders, take a look at the design and if there are obvious ways for light to enter you might want to replace the filter holder with a better designed one. Black tape on the filter holder will also close small holes allowing for less false light through the front of your camera. Another way false light can get in is through the viewfinder on the back of the camera. Most cameras come with a viewfinder cap that shuts all light out. If you don’t have one, you can either buy a cheap one or use a piece of black tape.  
  1. Shooting in Poor Conditions
Even though you cannot say that any condition, in general, is wrong for photography, it can be less than optimal for a specific type of photography. A cloudless day in bright sunshine is obviously not great for long exposure photography.  If you want cloud streaks across the frame, aim for shooting when there is fast moving clouds with a cloud cover of about 60%. Too many clouds or foggy conditions will make everything moving, like water and clouds into one big gray mass that you cannot separate one from the other. long exposure shot of plants against a sunset   Shoot during the blue hour or golden hour to get the best lighting. During the blue hour, you will get long exposure even without using ND-filters and with amazing blue, purple and magenta color hues. So if possible go shooting before sunrise or after sunset, so you can get really great looking photos. Remember that even with these tips, a great composition is still essential for amazing photos. Happy Shooting!