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Camera Settings for Perfect Long Exposure Photography

Before even diving into the introduction of this article, let me clear that there is no perfect camera settings for not only Long Exposure Photography but for any kind of photography. The reason is because of the very nature of the photography itself.

The result of any Long Exposure photograph heavily depends on the environment and situation of the subject or the place it’s taken which means there is no perfect setting or golden rule that’ll apply everywhere. The same is the case for every other genre of photography. Certainly, there are some boundaries to stay on but again no rule is unbreakable and there is no punishment for crossing the limits and experimenting.

So, while giving some examples of usable camera settings in various situations, this article will also focus more to help you apply not perfect but almost perfect settings in any situation and session of Long Exposure Photography.

If you are out of time, go directly to the paragraph, How to find perfect settings for every situation?

Why Long Exposure photography require different settings?

Long Exposure photography is different. Different than the type of photography that we’re used to do on a usual basis. That includes different shooting methods, different kind of subjects, different camera gear and so on. But most importantly, different camera settings.

Although the basics of photography almost remain the same, the camera settings and preferences for Long Exposure photography differ a lot if compared to general photography. And, still, there’s no gold set of perfect settings like any other kind of photography.

But, there are some aspects that if understood in the right way, will help to perfect the settings for Long Exposure photography in a professional way, in every session which I’ll explain below.

What should be considered while shooting Long Exposures?

As I already said, Long Exposure Photography is different. And, it has its own method of shooting and also has its own boundary to stay on when it comes to playing around different camera settings.

That includes never shooting objects to make them appear still or frozen. That’s pretty obvious for Long Exposure Photography, right? But, that’s almost it. Until your shots are typically ‘long exposures’, you have plenty of room to play around different settings like any other genre of photography.

I would want to remind you again that, there is no perfect rule or set of Long Exposure photography or any type of photography that would fit all scenarios of photography sessions.

Now keeping that in mind, you have to consider the following aspects to determine the required settings, especially for your Long Exposure session.

Type of Long Exposure photography

While shooting Long Exposures or more importantly while applying required camera settings for Long Exposure Photography, you MUST know what kind of Long Exposure you’re gonna shoot.

This is the first turning point to consider while shooting Long Exposures as all other aspects later will be hugely impacted by the type of Long Exposure photography you’re doing. Knowing the type of Long Exposure photography is not a huge deal especially if you’ve read this article about the types of Long Exposure photography.

Some of the general Long Exposure types, such as Long Exposure on Day, Long Exposure on Night & Long Exposure on Artificial Light are shot differently. By differently, I mean with different settings. For example, if you are shooting Long Exposures on daytime, you may require faster shutter speed if compared with the night time.

Time of the Day

The time of the day you’re shooting Long Exposures is another factor that matters the most when it comes to camera settings. Daytime and Nighttime are pretty obvious but the in-between time intervals play a big role too.

Amount of Gear

The amount or the quantity of camera gears play a really big role to select the camera settings for your Long Exposure Photography session. Take ND Filter as an example. If you’re using an ND filter you would apply a bit slower shutter speed to adjust the exposure that would result the ‘length’ of exposure you want.

But without ND in the same situation, it’s a bit tough to get the same result as before as you’re applying faster shutter speed to compensate for the exposure. ND filters are just an example. The number of gears or using gears or not using them at all may make a big difference in how you would apply camera settings.

Other minor considerations

Those aspects that you read above are the major factors that would impact the camera settings you would apply in various situations. But there are other minor aspects that matter too. They may have a bit low level of impact on how you would apply the settings but they do matter.

A good example is while shooting Long Exposures in lowlight. Comparing daylight sessions, lowlight sessions require much more careful and high threshold of every camera setting like slower shutter speed, wider aperture, higher ISO, etc. Other aspects that may make a difference are hazy day session, bright light session, macro sessions, etc.

Camera Settings to look after

While tweaking and playing around with camera settings, you have no limitations or some kind of rule on how much you can play around with various options. But, there are some major settings or options that may bring a drastic difference in the final image. And, these settings are the common settings you may already know about. So no worries there.

Aperture

aperture - longexposureschool

Aperture is a mechanical hole in a camera that allows light to pass in & hit the sensor when needed. So, if aperture largely opened, more light hits the camera sensor thus we get a bright image & vice-versa. And this impacts Long Exposure photography in a big way.

If you’re shooting Long Exposures in a low light environment and you don’t want a grainy image by messing with the ISO, tuning a larger aperture may come handy as that would allow more light to pass in and resulting in the properly exposed image. Read more about Aperture here.

ISO

ISO is just a standardization of the camera’s sensor that refers to how sensitive the sensor of the camera becomes with the light. Basically, higher ISO means that the sensor is more sensitive to the light and vice-versa. That means it has a quite important role when it comes to Long Exposure Photography. It may help you maintain correct exposure while cramping down the shutter speed. Read more about ISO here.

Shutter Speed

Speaking of shutter speed, it is the defining aspect or camera setting when it comes to Long Exposure Photography. Shutter Speed is what allows us to get the perfectly done sweet Long Exposures. More specifically slower shutter speed. And of course, slower the shutter speed, the more bright your result photograph is going to be. So, playing around with slower shutter speed, narrower aperture, and lower ISO is what leads to the perfectly done Long Exposure photograph. Here’s an article that explains everything you need to know about Shutter Speed.

How to find perfect settings for every situation?

As you may already know at this point is that there’s no such thing as ‘perfect settings’ necessarily. But, there’s a certain way of considering camera settings that will help to find the ‘perfect settings’ in almost every situation and session of Long Exposure Photography. Here’s a step by step process:

STEP 1 – Analyse the environment:

By analyzing it means to understand the environmental variables of the venue you’re shooting Long Exposures. That includes understanding the lighting situation (how bright or dark the ambiance is), how far your subject is, how ambient your subject is, and more.


STEP 2 – Determine your result:

Now, this is where you will determine the type of result you want to achieve. Determining refers to the pre consideration or the pre imagination of the end result you want. This is really important because determining the end result will surely help to tweak camera settings in a much efficient way possible.

STEP 3 – Gear Up if you need to:

Gearing up or equipping yourself is another really important step to consider if you’re really serious about your Long Exposure session. I say serious because most of the time you can easily get away without any gears except something like a tripod. Gearing up includes ND Filters, lens cleaner, long exposure calculator, remote shutter, etc. If you’re unknown about gears needed for Long Exposure photography, here’s an article that may help.

STEP 4 – Adjust Shutter Speed:

And, this is the step where the real fun begins. After you get ready to adjust settings on your camera, the very first setting you should be looking at is the Shutter Speed. The reason is simple. Long Exposure photography is all about shutter speed. More specifically, slower shutter speed. The speed of your ‘slow shutter’ totally depends on the type of Long Exposure photography you’re doing and the type of result you’ve determined.

For example, consider a scenario. You’re shooting a waterfall on daylight and you want silky smooth looking waterfall image like this.

Robert Lukeman

You would probably use a shutter speed of around 5 seconds with a narrow aperture and an ND filter. That shutter speed will allow your sensor to capture the movement of water and result in a silky smooth effect of water. Using narrow aperture and ND Filters will help you compensate for the exposure that got increased because of slow shutter speed on daylight. More about this later. 

Remember this is just a consideration and the shutter speed will always ALWAYS vary on the light situation and the type of result you consider.

STEP 5 – Adjust other settings:

It is true that shutter speed is the primary consideration while tweaking settings for Long Exposure photography. But that doesn’t make other settings less relevant. In fact, it is almost impossible to shoot good Long Exposures 95% of the time by only tweaking the shutter speed. Other settings like Aperture & ISO play a big role to maintain your exposure.

For example, if you’re shooting stars at nighttime (obviously), you may want to ramp up the ISO and open up the Aperture along with slow shutter speed. And if this results in overexposed night image (crazy), you will always have room to decrease ISO and increase the shutter speed. If you need more in-depth article about ISO and Aperture, here they are.

STEP 6 – SHOOT:

Now the final and a very obvious step is shooting your shot. This falls under the ‘steps to find perfect settings’ because honestly, noone knows the perfect settings for any situation unless the photo is taken and TAKEN again. You HAVE to experiment around with various settings to determine the final settings for every single situation. And considering this age where a TeraByte storage fits in a mini-pocket, it’s not a huge deal to try multiple shots. Not a huge deal if compared to the ‘film’ age.

Conclusion:

As I’ve said in the very beginning of this article, there is no perfect way of doing things when it comes to photography. Period. You can always break the rules, you can always shoot overexposed images and you can always learn from the mistakes you made.

You just need to be aware that you should not be a one-shoot lover. Like I mentioned in the above paragraph, you should not think that it’s a huge deal in this age to take multiple ugly shots to finally get a lovely one.

I believe in a philosophy of not being a photo sniper. Shoot as much as you can and choose your perfect one from the collection. Actually there’s a video from one of my favorite travel photographer and Youtuber, [his name] that might actually help you understand this whole philosophy of not being a photo sniper. I’ll link it down below at the end.

Saying that, please let me know what you think about this article and additional tips that you would give regarding this perfect settings thing by commenting down below. And, don’t forget to rate the quality of this article.

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