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Photography: Long Exposure

December 7, 2010

My sister commented with the following request:

…your moving water photos are so awesome. Feel free to explain how you did that.

Since I enjoy training and explaining, I’ll use her question as my first blog photo lesson. Let me know if you enjoy this because I wouldn’t mind doing more of it, but only if I know it’s helpful and not boring or annoying.

[DISCLAIMER: I am an amateur and don’t always know the terms or best ways to approach different photos. There are plenty of more qualified people online who can explain these things, I’m just offering up my personal experiences and thoughts in case it is helpful for you.]

It’s popular to take moving water photos with a long exposure time in order to give the water a smooth, soft appearance. When I say “long exposure time,” I am referring to the shutter speed, which is the length of time the shutter is open. The long exposure allows the camera to capture the motion of the water from one point to another, which translates to a silky, matte appearance in many cases.

One thing about long exposure times is that there’s more opportunity for shaking the camera and making the entire photo out of focus. This is why a tripod, or at least a level and steady surface, is useful (and often essential) for these types of photos.

You might also know that the longer the shutter stays open, the more light is allowed in. If you slow down your shutter speed without changing other settings on your camera, your resulting photo may become overexposed. To compensate, you will probably need to adjust the ISO and the aperture.

For starters, I always put the ISO (light sensitivity) down to the lowest setting (100 on my camera). Lower ISOs are more desirable anyway, so this is a perfect opportunity to use one. Then I adjust the aperture (by setting the f-stop to a higher number, meaning a smaller opening) to what works best with the shutter speed for correct exposure. Take some practice shots and see how it goes.

Here’s an example. The above photo’s settings are as follows:

ISO = 100
Aperture/F-stop = f/22
Shutter speed = 1 second

You can use this technique to soften moving water of any kind. I’d like to try it on the ocean sometime, but haven’t had the opportunity.

The settings for the above photo are:

ISO = 100
Aperture/F-stop = f/11 (it had gotten darker by now so I didn’t need it as high)
Shutter speed = 3.2 seconds

If it’s too bright outside, sometimes it’s just not possible to use a very slow shutter speed, even when the other two settings are adjusted. It’s better to take waterfall photos in the shade or while it’s dim outside. Low light was on my side on this trip to Silver Falls since it’s winter and was approaching sunset.

Okay, I hope this wasn’t too boring and maybe even helpful. Let me know if you try it!


From → photography tips

  1. This was very informative! πŸ™‚ I have zero experience with any of this stuff, so I'm impressed!

  2. i learn by demonstration and this route is, sadly, probably the closest i will ever come to learning by demonstration from jessica–i'd much rather learn from you in-person. πŸ˜‰ thank you for taking the time to assemble explanation of these techniques, and i hope you will do it again!

  3. Unpoedic: Yeah, I know that a lot of people don't do well with written explanations! But it's hard to imagine you learning from me–I've learned from YOU!

  4. Anonymous permalink

    This is great! I love that photo at the top of this post. Soooo cool. And refreshing! πŸ™‚ Anyway, thank you so much for sharing some of your expertise. Very well-explained and written in a way that isn't boring like those silly manuals that I never read. -R


    I love them!

    And hopefully I can learn from your expertise :).

  6. *repost of comment that got somehow lost*

    I've heard this stuff lots of times before but it never really sank in. Normally my eyes kind of glaze over when people start talking about the nuts and bolts of photography. But this was really good and informative! It actually made sense for the first time ever : ) Thanks for doing this and definitely feel free to do some more of these types of things!

  7. Joe – I still don't get how your first comment didn't post. 😦 Sorry. Thank you so much for reposting.

    And thank you! It's encouraging if someone who isn't even into photography wouldn't mind reading more of these. πŸ™‚

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