When I first started to study photography, as in do more than have my camera on the automatic setting, it quickly became overwhelming. After grasping the relationships among aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, it was finally time to take photos! Long exposure photography is a great creative technique stepping stone for beginners to try. It requires a small investment in gear. However, it offers a wide range of artistic expression to be captured directly in the camera with little to no post processing required. To help get started, here are a few easy beginner tips for slow shutter speed landscape photography.
#1 – Grab the Necessary Photography Gear
Since slow shutter speed landscape photography involves having the shutter open longer, the risk is higher for camera shake. The solution to reducing camera shake and capturing a sharp image (where you want sharpness) is to use a tripod. Next, you will need at least one neutral density (ND) photography filter. Rather than buying a bunch of various filters, I recommend purchasing one 6 Stop (1.8 optical density) neutral density filter. Become comfortable with that one filter works before you invest in additional neutral (ND) density or graduated neutral density filters. It is strong enough to produce bold effects. Yet, it still gives creative flexibility to experiment with different shutter speeds by adjusting your aperture and ISO.
Okay, you have a tripod, a ND filter, a camera (I hope I didn’t have to mention that but just in case). The last tool needed is a remote shutter release. The release is a cable or wireless trigger to take a photo without having to directly touch your camera body. It will help reduce that dreaded camera shake disturbing the sharpness of the photo.
Does it really matter if you press the camera’s shutter button during a longer exposure? The short answer is yes. It doesn’t need to be a high-end shutter release model. If you really want an alternative way, then you can set a timed delay for your shutter button on the camera. This allows you to press the shutter button where the camera will wait 2-5 seconds before taking the photo. The delay allows any vibrations from your touch to dissipate. Okay, camera, tripod, neutral density photography filter, shutter release or timed delay, and we’re ready to shoot!
#2 – Choose the Right Conditions
Slow shutter speed photography is about capturing and showcasing movement so ensure that the scene has movement. Taking a long exposure photo where there is no wind, moving clouds, and/or water will yield very little change. It will look similar to a short exposure image. Ideal conditions for long exposure shots is a scene with strong winds blowing across a field of flowers or clouds sweeping across the sky.
Another ideal condition is to freeze movement, such as ironing out ripples in a lake or pond to create a glass-like body of water. Sunrise and sunset are still some of my favorite times to experiment with longer exposures since the sun is low in the sky increasing the contrast in the clouds. For me, the color and contrast give a more dynamic effect in the photo. So we have our gear and know the ideal scene to capture or freeze movement, that means we’re finally moving on to shooting.
#3 – Set Your Focus and then Switch to Manual Focusing
Sunrise is my favorite, so we’ll use that for our example. You awake from your slumber and make your way to your shooing location while the air is still chilly. As the world is quiet and almost stands still for a moment, you setup your gear while the occasional sip of coffee offers moments of warmth. The camera is on the tripod with your desired composition. The shutter release is connected or a timed delay is set. Then, you ensure that the tripod and camera body are secure and stable so there is no movement if the wind picks up.
It is difficult for the camera to focus with a strong neutral density filter. Therefore, it is better to set your focus first and then put the ND filter on your camera. First, set your focus and take a test shot to confirm you are happy with the sharpness. Next, change your setting to manual focus to ensure the camera doesn’t try to automatically readjust the focus. Normally, this is a switch directly on the barrel of the lens. Finally, place the ND filter on the lens camera being cautious not to move the camera or lens barrel.
Set your focus and take a test shot to confirm you will be happy with the sharpness. Now, change your setting to manual focus to ensure the camera doesn’t try to automatically readjust the focus point you just tried to set. Normally, this is a switch directly on the barrel of the lens. Next, carefully place the Neutral Density filter on the camera being cautious not to move the camera or barrel of the lens.
#4 – Experiment
The last step is to choose your aperture, shutter speed, and/or ISO settings. This will depend on if you want to shoot manual, aperture, or shutter priority mode. Choosing these settings is an entire, e-book or video course itself so I’ll just leave with this piece of advice. Start taking photos during blue hour and as the sun peaks over the horizon into the morning. Experiment with different settings until you get your desired effect on the image. If you are hungry for more then dive into some of the video courses and e-books to learn more in depth on different shooting priorities. In addition, focus on tips to avoid light leak on mirrored cameras or color cast from filters, which are common issues with slow shutter speed.
Here are some more landscape photos on Visual Wilderness created with slow shutter speed:
Feel free to share your own experience with slow shutter speed in the comments below.