Getting Sharp Long Exposures

April 09, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

If you are new to long exposure photography, and you are ending up with blurred shots, these tips will help you get sharp shots no matter how long you leave the shutter open. The key theme of all of these tips is the reduction of motion, when it comes to long exposure shots, the slightest motions can ruin what may have been a great shot.

The main points of this guide will cover the following;

1. Tripods

2. Remotes and Timers

3. Mirror Lockup Mode

4. Image Stabilization

5. Shooting Modes

 

1. Tripod

Your tripod will be one of the most important parts of the long exposure process. Mount your camera, frame your shot and tighten down your adjustments. If you are shooting in a windy environment you can attach a small weight to allow for a little added stability, many tripods have hooks for this exact purpose.  When shooting outdoors, depending on your location, you may not always have the most solid places to put your tripod so just do your best to find firm footing for your tripod to avoid blur from a shifty tripod. I usually give the tripod a little shake to firmly plant it to the ground. 

If you don't have a tripod, they are one of the best first camera accessories as well as one of the most affordable. Starting out, just about any tripod will work. Amazon has a great selection of affordable tripods if you're in the market.

Shop for Tripods

 

 

 

2. Remotes and Triggers

If you don't have a cable release, set your Drive Mode to "2-Second Delay", This will allow you to press the shutter and remove your finger before the shutter fires, giving time for any vibrations to cease.

If you do have a cable release, you can eliminate the need for "2-Second Delay" and you can also utilize "Bulb Mode" on your cameras dial, bulb mode allows you to take shots longer than the typical maximum of 30 seconds the camera allows without a cable release. This mode is great for getting super long exposures when using dark neutral density filters such as a Lee Big Stopper.

Shop For Cable Releases

 

3. Mirror Lockup Mode

Within your menu settings you'll find "Mirror Lockup Mode", this setting allows the mirror to open prior to the actual exposure which gives any vibrations caused by the mirror box to subside before the image is captured.

 

4. Image Stabilization

This one is pretty important, no matter how secure your tripod is, if your image stabilization system is enabled you will end up with blurry shots.

 Image stabilization is great for getting sharper shots as slower shutter speeds while shooting free handed but if enabled while on a tripod it can have the opposite effect. As seen in the photo below, significant blurring can occur.

 

5. Shooting Modes

When shooting long exposures, you'll be best served and have the greatest level of control by using either Bulb Mode or Manual Mode. You'll use manual mode for exposures up to 30 seconds which happens to be the maximum most cameras allow. If you wish to use shutter speeds longer than 30 seconds, you'll need to use Bulb mode in conjunction with a cable release. You can also use "Shutter Priority/TV mode" as well, this mode allows you to choose your shutter speed while the camera chooses aperture. I've found it best to stick with full manual mode as I always need control over the aperture. The camera if left to decided on its own, will almost always choose the largest aperture available when the light is low. This can cause you to have soft photos due to having a shallow depth of field. 

6. Getting in Focus

If you are having trouble focusing, try using live view. By using live view, you can utilize the magnification feature of your camera and you'll then be able to manually peak your focus. If you are shooting a static subject such as a landscape, you can turn on manual focusing once you've found the sweet spot and keep shooting till you zoom or change subjects.

Tip: Most DSLR lenses will need to be refocused once you zoom in or out as they do not hold focus when zooming.


Conclusion

A good thing to remember about shooting long exposures is unlike shooting freehand, you aren't limited by the shutter speeds needed to avoid blurring from camera shake. This gives you the freedom to try various settings that you'd not normally be able to use while hand holding your camera.

I'll be posting little guides like this from time to time, for corrections, suggestions and questions please use the comment section below the article.

 

 

 

 


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