Top Photographers on the Secrets of Successful Long Exposures

Long exposure times are a classic technique undergoing modern changes. Discover how these pros utilize long exposures to explore new trends and ideas.

Long exposure times were necessary in the early days of photography. In fact, moving people simply vanished in the very first photographs due to slow shutter speeds. In 1839, Louis Daguerre created the first known photograph of a human being, titled Boulevard du Temple. Although all the pedestrians in the photo did not show up in the final image, a single stationary shoeshiner who had stayed in place for the full duration of his exposure remained.

Today’s cameras, on the other hand, can capture even the fastest-moving objects. We now have cameras capable of a half of a billionth of a second exposures. Photographers of the 21st century have an almost infinite array of choices when it comes to shutter speed, so you might wonder when a long exposure is necessary. Below, we discuss the applications of long exposure times and dig into some of the trends we’ve noticed recently. Along the way, we touch base with some outstanding photographers and pick their brains for their best tricks and advice. To learn more about shutter speed, be sure to check out this video tutorial.

1. Classic Long Exposures: Fine Art Landscapes

Slow shutter speeds have an established place in the art world, especially when it comes to classic or traditional landscape photography. Through the decades, artists have tapped into the ethereal quality of slow shutter speeds to create serene, tranquil images that seem to transcend the rules of time and space.

Yunus Malik

Top Photographers on the Secrets of Successful Long Exposures — Fine Art

Image by Yunus Malik. Gear: Nikon D7100 camera, Sigma 10-20mm lens. Settings: Focal length 10mm; shutter speed 30 sec; f13; ISO 100.

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“Long exposure photography has its own lovers and market,” Shutterstock Contributor Yunus Malik tells us. “I’ve noticed long exposures becoming a trend in fine art and black and white images.” He applies his knowledge of artistic trends to his own work, including his commercial photographs. “I’ve used long exposures on most of my natural landscape images,” he adds. “I think people love these images because they have effects like silky smooth water and moving clouds.”

Francesco Libassi

Top Photographers on the Secrets of Successful Long Exposures — Landscape Photography

Image by Francesco Libassi. Gear: Nikon D800E camera, Nikon 16-35 F4 lens. Settings: Focal length 35mm; shutter speed 361 sec; f8; ISO 100.

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Offset Artist Francesco Libassi, a master of the method, agrees. “As far as themes go, I particularly love to shoot waterscapes and stormy clouds using long exposure techniques,” he says. Simplicity is key for this kind of fine art landscape. “I can spend hours shooting a single rock in the sea and completely ignore a gorgeous sunset happening right next to me,” Libassi continues. “I think more intimate scenes are more likely to carry some sort of message and deliver that to the viewer.”

Elroy Spelbos

Top Photographers on the Secrets of Successful Long Exposures — Serenity and Tranquility

Image by Elroy Spelbos. Gear: Canon 5d mark II camera, Canon EF 16-35 f/4L IS USM lens. Settings: Focal length 18mm; shutter speed 136 sec; f11.

Shutterstock Contributor Elroy Spelbos has also tapped into the meditative quality of long exposure seascapes, and it’s paid off. “Actually, five of my ten best-selling images on Shutterstock are long exposures,” he says. “I think these images are popular because they convey a feeling of stillness or serenity. I think the effect of a long exposure time on the sky (if there are clouds in the frame) and on water is appealing to people.”

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