Long Exposure Photography - Part Two

Posted by Mitchell Pearson-Goff on

So last week I wrote a blog post about long exposure photography and the reasons I love it as a creative process and technique. If you haven’t read it then you can take a look here. This week I want to provide a quick overview of the equipment required in order to create long exposures. A quick caveat is that I receive no sponsorship or benefit from the brands that I currently use. I will be reviewing equipment in the near future, so watch this space. 

1. Camera

Clearly having a camera seems rather obvious but if you are about to purchase a camera with the intention of trying long exposure photography then you need to make sure it has either a manual mode or bulb mode. Manual mode gives you more freedom, flexibility and overall control of your camera and its settings. However, manual mode is limited to shutter speeds of 30 seconds or less whereas bulb mode allows you to go beyond that. I have shot with a number of different cameras over the years but I am currently shooting with the Canon 5D Mark IV which is a fantastic piece of kit.

2. Tripod

There are many tripod brands available with different materials, mounts and designs. In my opinion the heavier the better to avoid camera shake. Depending on where you are shooting sometimes it is impractical to carry a heavy tripod so you need to find a balance between weight, personal preference and practicality. I use the Manfrotto 190 and it meets all my needs. I like Manfrotto tripods because they provide an excellent combination of features including load capacity, size, stability, transportability, and construction quality. 

3. Cable release or shutter remote

A cable release or shutter remote is a must-have if you wish to extend the shutter speed beyond 30 seconds. By default when shooting in manual mode most cameras do not allow shutter speeds beyond 30 seconds. When shooting in bulb mode you are able to extend your shutter speed well beyond 30 seconds depending on the available light, the use of Neutral Density filters, ISO and aperture. I do not use a cable release and instead opted for a wireless infrared Canon RC6 remote. The reason I chose the remote was that I like the fact it is wireless. If I am shooting in windy conditions then I do not have to worry about any movement associated with a cable release being plugged directly into the camera body and providing a source of vibration or movement.

4. Filters

The main filters used to extend shutter speed are neutral density (ND) filters. An ND filter blocks out or reduces the amount of available light which results in the shutter needing to be open for a longer amount of time to obtain a correctly exposed image. These filters come in a variety of strengths including 10 stop and 6 stop (square filters pictured below) and also different designs such as circular screw-on filters or square and rectangular drop-in filters. I have used B+W, Lee and I am now using Nisi ND filters. I love the quality, optics and design of the Nisi filter system.

In addition to ND filters, I also use graduated ND filters which are specifically designed to assist managing or balancing the exposure of the sky and the foreground (rectangular filter pictured below). I have used numerous brands including Cokin, Lee and Nisi. I will write a future blog post about my impressions of each.

So that’s it! Essentially, they are the primary pieces of equipment required to take long exposures. If you have any questions or queries then please don’t hesitate to contact me. I will be providing more in-depth discussions about equipment in future posts. In addition, I will be writing a blog regarding techniques that can be used if you don’t currently have particular filters. Thank you for taking the time to read this post. The next instalment will look more closely at the technical aspects of long exposure photography including composition and settings. 

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