Have you even seen that soft misty water in a picture and wondered how the photographer captured that? It is a long exposure shot. They are a lot of fun to try, but you will need a few things to capture a long exposure shot that you may not have already. You will absolutely need a tripod. Long exposure shots require that the camera stay completely still. If it does not stay still you will wind up with blurry photos, and no one likes those! Most people can only take a shot as slow as 1/60 or 1/40 of a second hand held. I am awful at it, so I am lucky if I try something at 1/50 and it actually turns out in focus. These types of long exposure shots require that you keep your camera still for multiple seconds. It is also a good idea to have a remote or a cable release for your shutter too. Even touching the camera the slightest bit to press the shutter button can cause it to move and make your picture blurry.
Now, if you have this equipment, you are good. The one other thing you may also need though is an ND, or Neutral Density, filter. An ND filter is kind of like putting sunglasses on your camera lens. If there is too much light coming through the lens, an ND will block out some of that light. You don’t want too much light in your pictures or they will just be blown out and over-exposed. Since you are leaving the shutter of your camera open for so long, it is allowing a lot of light to come through the lens. If you want to filter that light, an ND filter will do the job. If you are on a budget, there are some pretty cheap variable ND filters out there. You can buy one of these to get your feet wet and try some long exposures. If you like them and want to try more, then you may want to invest in some more specific ND filters for the job.
Besides making water smooth, there are a few other reason that you may want to take a long exposure photo. Fireworks is one of my favorite reasons, and Disney fireworks are great for this!
When you take a regular picture of a single firework burst, all you see is white sparkles everywhere. If you take a long exposure shot, you can get several bursts in the picture at one time, but that will be too much light in one shot. You will have to use an ND filter to keep the fireworks from over exposing the whole shot. You can also edit the photo to bring back some of the color of the bursts if you have filtered out enough of the light.
Another reason to use a long exposure shot is trying to take pictures at night. You may not need an ND filter for this one. If it is really dark where you are shooting, you may want to keep your shutter open long enough to let in enough light to be able to actually see your subject in the dark. I love doing long exposure shots at Disney World. This was one of my first attempts at long exposures at night, but I love this one at EPCOT because I can actually see the Fountain of Nations spraying up in the background behind the trees.
Here is a more recent attempt of a nigh-time shot I took of the Yacht Club Resort on a trip to Disney World in January of this year.
Another really fun thing to try is to do a long exposure shot in the middle of the day in the graveyard. You can really freak out your friends by making your own ghost.
If you have a person moving through the frame of your shot pretty quickly, they won’t appear in your pictures. If they move slowly through the frame though, it will create ghosting. I twirled around in this cemetery shot so you see me twice in the frame. You actually have to move slowly to show up in the frame at all though.
Long exposure photography is a lot of trial and error, just like any other photography project. It can be a pretty fun thing to try. Just don’t get frustrated with it, because it will take a lot to get it right. I really like doing long exposure night pictures. Maybe it is time for me to get out and try some more myself!