Tips for Taking Daytime Long Exposure Photos

A long exposure can be used as a tool to improve a composition, it can be used to either simplify elements in a photo making them less important or in the opposite way creating a dynamic shape to enhance the weight of the element in the composition. Long exposures are not only limited to night-time photography, in this article we’ll discuss the technique behind daytime long exposures.


long exposure

For a daytime long exposure you need a very dark filter. Filters offering more than 5 stops of light reduction are recommended. Some examples are the Hoya ND400 (9 stops) or the B+W ND1000 (10 stops).


Daytime Long Exposures

The Setup
You need a good tripod, the filter, your camera and a lens of choice. A remote release is useful but not a must. Mirror lockup is not needed in long exposures as camera shake is not relevant if the exposure goes beyond 1 second.

If your camera has live-view with exposure simulation use it as it will help you compose the shot while the viewfinder might be too dark. Without live-view compose without the filter and then put the filter back (yes it hurts but…) The same goes for focusing.

If you only have 1 filter you can either use the aperture or the ISO to make small changes in the exposure time. You can double the exposure time going from F8 to F11 and a little extra DOF is not going to hurt. Diffraction might play a lesser role in long exposures so you can play with your aperture up to F22 if you really need a very long exposure.


Daytime Long Exposures

Common Problems
Some combinations of cameras and filters can create a color cast due to infrared light filtration, the cast can be difficult to control so shoot RAW and be prepared to tweak the white balance. If there’s no good way to remove the cast you can always think about a B&W photo.

Ideas for Daytime Long Exposures

If you have moving clouds you can turn an ordinary scene under “bad” light into something interesting. Clouds might need really long exposures to create movement in the sky. If possible try to position the camera so the clouds come towards you or away from you, the effect is usually better in that way.

If you have moving water you can play with a long exposure to render different abstractions with its movement, from a high-speed freeze effect to a complete abstraction with minutes of exposures. In the middle some shutter speeds can render the water abstract and preserve its movement texture at the same time play with exposures from 1/30 to 1 second to see what happens.


Daytime Long Exposures

If you take a long exposure moving objects tend to disappear as they are not enough time in the same position to be recorded in the final photo. This can be used to remove people, cars and other moving objects from a scene making it look like a desert.

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7 Comments on "Tips for Taking Daytime Long Exposure Photos"

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Another trick is to take multiple photos, as if you were going to make a timelapse video. Then in photoshop you can select the frames you want (for example, let’s say a bug flies in front of your camera. You can remove those frames so no bug shows up in the final picture) and then stack them. You just create a smart object and use the stack mode “mean” or “median”.

Do it right, and it’s pretty much the same as taking a long exposure. And you don’t need filters.

Nate Kay

Great tip JP. Thanks!

Toni Aull

Absolutely something that I would like to invest, always knowing different settings…thank you for sharing

Dr. kass

oh! that is wonderful i like it please shear us more. When i see these real pictures I am living on earth. thank you for sharing


Thanks, these were some nice tips. I liked the water fall tip, long exposure can make the water abstract and fast exposure can freeze, somewhere in the middle would capture both water movement and its path – I will try that.

Peter Haken

Great tips especially reminding that great way to remove people etc

Andrew cresswell

Can anyone suggest an ideal shutter speed/filter setup to capture people walking with a motion blur. Need to photograph a shop front (to be sharp and in focus) and capture the motion of lots of people walking in and out of the doors. Thanks in advance.

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