A comprehensive guide to long exposure photography using ND6, ND10 and ND15 filters.

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Long exposure photography is one of the most sought after “tricks” in the industry. For beginners, long exposure in a nutshell, is when you make the waterfall freeze or when you make the cars on the road look like lines of light.

To start at the beginning, what you will need and how to set up your camera. To achieve such dramatic images, you need to make sure that there is no shake or movement of the camera when the image in being taken.

Hence, you will need a sturdy tripod. Obviously, you will also need a manual DSLR camera (one that you can adjust ISO and exposure) as well as a lens. We will get to using filters to enhance the effects as well.

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How to set up your camera for long exposure photography:

  1. Start with switching your camera to Manual Mode.
  2. Set your ISO to the lowest possible number on your camera.
  3. Set up your aperture to F11 or higher. This will ensure a good balance of focus and depth of field.
  4. Adjust the shutter speed. To do that, you can either use the live view if your camera is equipped with one or look through the view finder. Then press the shutter release button half way (do not take a picture) to activate the light meter. Most DSLR cameras have a built in light meter which will help you see the amount of light entering the sensor. Usually light meters are indicated as -3..2..1..0..1..2..3+.When you see these values, just reduce or increase your shutter speed to have the indicator at 0 (Zero).
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  1. A Note of caution, most cameras read the light from where the focus point is. Hence, make sure your focus point is in the desired location to get the correct light reading.
  2. When you achieve the above you may notice that the sky is super bright due to the amount of light coming in. This is where the filters come in handy. You then add the filters and see which effect best captures what you are looking for. These filters are designed to reduce the light.
  3. Next focus. When you have achieved focus, make sure to turn lens to manual focus (some lenses have a button that you can switch from auto focus to manual). This will ensure that after focus on a point, the camera does not hunt for other points of focus.
  4. Lastly, to calculate the time for the shutter release, you can either try different setting sch as from 10 seconds to 20 seconds and see how the image turns out. Or there are several apps in the market that will help you calculate that time. One of those apps which is free to download is a Lee Filters app. All you need to do is to tell the app what ND stop filter you are using, and dial the shutter speed currently in use and it will tell you the exposure time in seconds.
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After you have mastered the above beginner steps, you can then move on to a bit advanced level using your camera’s histogram.
If you have achieved the above, then your histogram should be in the middle which will give you enough room to make adjustments.
By keeping an eye on the histogram, slow the shutter speed down until the graph is at nearly the edge without clipping. This will fine tune your exposure. Then follow the steps above with the time calculation and take your picture.

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