How to Capture Long Exposure Landscapes

long exposure landscapse photography

Long exposure landscape photographs are some of the most diverse, memorable and beautiful we can create. This type of photograph is notoriously difficult to perfect, but those who can, are able to produce some epic and magnificent shots. Long exposure photography enables us to capture movement and transform mundane objects and scenes into something completely different.

What you can see with your naked eye, and what a long exposure photograph can capture are often extremely different. You may see a small fast-running river with a strong current for example, but a long exposure photograph could transform that fast-flowing water into one fluid and silky smooth element. If you can master this type of photography, you are opening yourself up to a whole new world of creative possibilities. To help, we have produced a guide on how to capture long exposure landscapes, enjoy!

Step 1 – Gathering the right equipment

Long exposure photography is not something you can easily create without the correct equipment. In most scenarios, you can simply take your camera into the great outdoors and maybe attached a couple of different lenses – this will not suffice for long exposure landscape photography if you wish to create pristine results. The following equipment is essential:

– A stable and durable tripod;
– A shutter remote control;
– A wide angle lens.

As you can see the equipment list is short and sweet. A tripod is absolutely vital to ensure stability and no camera movement. Long exposure shots open your camera shutter for a number of seconds – it is virtually impossible to keep your camera perfectly still during this time period by hand. A tripod ensures that there is no movement and that you get a crisp and clear shot.

A shutter remote control furthers the stability of your long exposure shot – instead of pressing the camera shutter button you can use the remote control and never have to touch the camera. Finally, a wide angle lens will provide you with a beautiful sweeping shot and will allow you to capture more of the landscape. A wide angle lens is not essential, but it will certainly allow you a greater level of creative control.

Step 2 – Choosing a suitable subject

Now that you have gathered your equipment, you can consider what landscape you want to photograph. It is important to remember that not all landscapes are suitable for long exposure shots. Remember that long exposure shots capture and amplify movement – if there is no movement in your landscape, the long exposure effect will have little impact. The following landscape types create some stupendous effects:

– Beaches (long exposure waves/sea is simply gorgeous);
– Rivers/Lakes/Streams (you can create a beautiful smooth glassy effect in the water);  
– Rolling fields (fields of swaying grass/corn can look magnificent);
– Any landscape with sweeping clouds (individual clouds can form together to create a blanket);
– Cityscapes with traffic (the vehicle headlights can create awesome smooth trails).

long exposure landscapse photography

These are just a handful of examples – the world is packed full of suitable landscapes that are perfect for long exposure shots. The main point to remember, however, is that movement is key. Other things to consider are the weather, the angle and the positioning of your shot. Some of the best long exposure shots we have seen for example have dark cloudy skies or a blanket of rain and snow!

Whatever you choose as your subject, be sure to perform a little reconnaissance and think carefully about how your long exposure shot will work.

Step 3 – Taking the photo

Equipment – check. Location – check. Now you can actually take your long exposure photo. This type of photograph requires full manual control of your camera as you must alter the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO – we suggest switching to manual mode on your DSLR to give you the greatest amount of flexibility.

As your shutter will remain open for a long period of time, the aperture has to be reduced accordingly otherwise the photo will be flooded with light. In essence, you must try and find a suitable balance between exposure time and aperture that gives you a desirable end result. We suggest an ISO setting of 100 to provide the least amount of noise and an aperture of between f/8 – f/16. These settings should create a clear photo with little distortion and a suitable depth of field for your chosen landscape.

long exposure landscapse photography

Unfortunately, we cannot provide a guideline for the shutter-speed/exposure time. This is something you will have to simply figure out with trial and error. We advise setting your first shutter speed to 5 seconds – use this as your benchmark and see what the final result is. You can then either decrease or increase the shutter speed to alter the exposure effect. Slower shutter speeds will create a smoother effect but will also become progressively lighter. The beauty of long exposure photography is that you can simply keep taking photos – play with the camera settings until you find an end-result you are happy with!   

Step 4 – Post-processing

By now you have taken some magnificent long exposure photos – the hard work is nearly over! It is now time to get back to your computer and do some post-processing. Consider using a post-processing program such as Photoshop or Luminar that allows you to edit RAW files and alter parameters such as the white balance and color strength.

Long exposure shots should not need a huge amount of editing – providing you have set your camera correctly and used the equipment listed, your end product should already be pretty awesome! You can, however, make these photos even more unique and marvelous with a few simple tweaks. Consider playing with the color saturation to make a sunset more vivid for example. Alternatively, consider altering the white balance to provide a different lighting effect. As this type of photo already looks slightly unnatural, you can really go to town on your editing and create a jaw-dropping landscape photo.

We hope you have found this guide useful – long exposure photography allows a photographer to let their creative side loose and truly experiment with landscape compositions. We wholeheartedly suggest trying out your own long exposure skills and seeing what magnificent affects you can create!

Guest Post by Max Therry:

Max Therry is an architecture student who is fond of photography and wants to become a professional photographer. He is also working on his photography blog about photo editing, modern photo trends, and inspiration. Feel free to reach him by email.

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