How to Make Your Long Exposure Photography Rock By Using ND Filters

Long Exposure Photography Using ND Filters
Image by Robert Balog

As artists, as photographers, we are always learning, we never ‘arrive’, we never stop learning. The moment that you think you have arrived then you stop progressing and you run the risk of becoming arrogant!

So with that in mind there are certain techniques every photographer worth their weight should learn, and one of them is taking photos with long exposures particularly using ND filters, which I will explain in this guide.

One thing I am not good at – but have had to learn – is patience, and photography often requires a lot of it. But the rewards are worthwhile.

If you want to get those shots of soft, milky waterfalls cascading down the side of a mountain then you will need to learn how to take long exposures using ND filters (Neutral Density). My 10 stop Tiffin ND filter and remote control trigger goes with me everywhere (and my tripod of course).

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Waterfall In Newlands Valley f2.8, ISO100, 6 sec exp

The photo above of the waterfall is one that I took in The Lake District (UK) whilst balancing with my tripod precariously on some rocks in the middle of a stream (thank God for good hiking boots).

Equipment To Pack For Your Long Exposure Photography

Keeping all your equipment clean, dry and to hand can be challenging, especially when you are up a mountain. So being prepared is essential. I make sure I have everything I need for a shoot ready and that I am prepared for any eventuality.

When you find the scene that you want to capture on a long exposure, and the weather is on your side (don’t you just hate it when rain scuppers your planned photo shoot) then there are several things that you will need:

  • A good sturdy tripod
  • ND filters – I used a Tiffin ‘10 stop’ ND filter for all the photos in this article, (the type you screw in to the front of your lens).
  • Lens cleaning cloth and blow brush (long exposures near water may mean regular cleaning and drying the filter)
  • A remote trigger
  • Turn off the long exposure noise reduction setting if taking the photo in good light – this setting means it takes the camera a much longer time to process each photo.

I mainly use a 10 stop ND filter and because focusing with the filter on the lens is tricky I always make sure that I have composed the photo and focused the camera correctly, before gently screwing in the filter.

A remote trigger is also a necessity as well as a sturdy tripod. If you don’t have a remote trigger then a remote with a cable is ok but I prefer the remote triggers as then I can be sure I am not causing any camera shake at all.

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Other Great Examples Of Long Exposure Photography

The other great thing about ND filters is you can use them to remove people in a scene (as long as they're moving) and create some interesting effects due to the movement.

I took the photo below on a frantically busy Millennium bridge in London at sunset in the freezing cold! There were people dashing around me and yet you don’t get that impression from the finished photo. I used my Tiffin 10 stop filter, and the exposure was for 8 seconds.

What you get is some really interesting movement in the photo with the subtle colors in the sky as the sun goes down. Sometimes with certain ND filters there can be issues with false color cast (when a tint of particular color effects the whole picture) but this I find can most times be changed in editing.

If you are a purist then you may want to look for a ND filter which deals with this problem.

DSC_0360_tonemapped copy f16, ISO125, 8 sec exp

Personally, one of the main reasons for liking long exposures with an ND filter is the effects you can create, especially with moving water and clouds moving in the wind.

The shot below was taken on Lake Wast Water in The Lake District (UK) on a cold windy day. Balancing on that small outcrop and staying very still for 20 seconds was very difficult as the wind was so strong and it was freezing!

I love to create moody ‘chiaroscuro’ landscapes and I am finding that my 10 stop filter helps me creates just that.

Wastwater f9, ISO200, 20 sec exp

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Further Resources

About Author

I studied at art college in Farnham between 1987 and 1990, so my background is fine art but I've always loved photography and now my camera is my brush. I have been photographing landscapes for some years now and have been developing my skills in HDR photography and long exposure.

Using the 2-second delay also results in sharp pictures. The mirror goes up and the camera then takes the shot 2 seconds later.

The Millennium Bridge in London at sunset is a f16, ISO125, 8 sec shot with a 10 step ND? Impossible! This means a 1/125 sec without the filter. Possible at f16 in bright daylight but not at sunset.

Best regards,

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