Long exposure photography, when done well, can produce among the most visually effective images a photographer can make. And while it is possible to spend thousands of dollars on gear to produce such images, that is by no means a necessity. Today we're going to go over a couple of gear setups that you can use to get your own long exposure images.
This list is inspired by Kent Dufault's extremely popular guide to long exposure photography that is on special for Light Stalking readers until next Monday. Grab it now.
Long Exposure Photography Without Spending a Cent Beyond Your Camera and Lens
- plastic bag of sand
Yup, that is pretty much all you need to get started and there is absolutely no reason that this gear setup cannot result in some amazing images.
If you haven't guessed what the plastic bag of sand is for, it's simply a slightly maleable surface to rest your camera on so that you can mount it in the perfect position. Use two plastic bags if you're worried about the first bag breaking and getting sand everywhere. You can actually buy proper sand bags for photography, but there is no real need unless you're getting really serious about using sand bags as a stabiliser.
Of course, you will need to shoot in low light (think night time) and use the timer on your camera to release the shutter (to avoid your hands shaking the camera and blurring the shot). What you're looking to do here is to really lower your ISO (think 100 ISO) to lower noise and keep that shutter open for at least a second (and sometimes much much longer).
This setup, if you can find the right vantage point to shoot, is perfect for the classic car brake light shots that are so popular online. Just remember, the classic guidelines to composition still apply to long exposure so consider your framing before you locate your camera.
The Tradition Gear Setup for Long Exposure Photography
Note: This can be as cheap as $20 or $30 or as expensive as many thousands of dollars.
- ND filter
Now, this is actually the classic gear setup for most photographers who take their long exposure photography seriously and want to move slightly beyond the sandbag and basic camera/lens setup. This kit, or a variation of it, is what most will use.
Strictly speaking, you probably don't need the ND Filter, but, as its only job is to block certain amounts of light, it is quite useful for long exposure photography. It allows you to keep the camera's shutter open for a little longer during the day and sometimes very long at night, depending on its strength.
Now, if you're just starting to get into photography, there is no need to run out and spend $1500 on a set of Lee ND filters. Not even close. I personally own a set of Lee filters and STILL one of my favourite ND filters is one I bought from China on Ebay for $6 (including the holder).
In fact, if you're only just getting started in long exposure filters, I'd recommend you go the cheap option. You may find that you prefer not using an ND.
Strictly speaking, you probably don't also need the tripod and could just use that sand bag to stabilise your camera, but as you get more serious about longer exposure photography, you will probably want to get yourself a tripod. We have an entire guide to choosing a tripod, but the short of it is that, if you are serious about your photography, you probably won't want to skimp on a tripod.
The basic strategy for shooting with this setup (including ND filter) is to set the ISO as low as possible (usually 50 – 200 ISO), choose the aperture you want that corresponds to the depth of field you want, and then let the shutter speed do the hard work of exposing the image correctly. The shutter speed is basically the main variable.
This is the basic gear setup and shooting strategy used for those beautiful beach sunset images that are popular and in fact many other types of long exposure photograph.
Final Thoughts on Gear for Long Exposure Photography
Now, as with any genre in photography, you can really go down a rabbit hole with long exposures. The gear setup can also take you into the thousands of dollars, but it doesn't have to! Get what suits yourself.
And if you really want to master long exposure before you rush out and spend thousands of dollars, consider getting to know the topic well with Kent Dufault's guide to long exposure photography. You won't regret it and it's on special now.