Long Exposure Daylight Photography

posted by Tony Bates in Tips and Tutorials

Donnington Castle, image © Tony BatesThe successful use of the ND110 filter requires some planning for the shot plus a procedure to record the best possible image. If you are prepared for a bit of extra work then the results can be spectacular and worth all the effort.

Equipment needed

  • Sturdy tripod (I tend to hang my camera bag from the tripod for extra stability)
  • ND110 filter (or similar)
  • Shutter release cable with lock Timer (most mobile phones do this job)
  • Hot shoe mounted level (useful)
  • Sheet of A4 white paper (see below)
  • A wide angle lens is essential if you want lots of cloud in the picture.

Lone Ship, image © Tony BatesThe first important thing to be aware of is the White Balance. Basically the ND110 gives a warm tint to the image. I recommend shooting in RAW + making a custom white balance exposure with the filter on once you have set the camera up (hence the sheet of white paper). Check your camera hand book if you don't know how to make a custom white balance setting. You should then be able to use Adobe raw converter to get a true colour image. I find it is still a good idea to get the colour correct first even if you intend to convert to B&W.

Taking the image

Brighton west pier 3, image © Tony BatesSet your camera to Aperture priority and a low ISO. Set the aperture to around F16 or F20. Without the filter fitted make a regular exposure. Check the histogram and if all looks OK make a note of the shutter speed the camera selected. I tend to use the AEB setting and take 3 bracketed shots and chose the settings from the best one. If you are up for some extra PS work these regular exposures could be used to make an HDR with your long exposure image.

OK, so assuming your best exposure was 1/60 second you now have to add 10 stops for a correct exposure with the ND110 fitted. This would be 16 seconds, though I would normally double this to 30 seconds as the calculated exposure is often one stop underexposed. You may wish to make a little exposure reference table that saves having to work it out every time.

  • Set the camera to Manual and Bulb and make sure you are still on F20 (or whatever you selected).
  • Turn the auto focus to Off.
  • Fit the ND110 filter.

You will not be able to see anything through the viewfinder, though switching on Live View does give some limited display.

If your camera has a time elapse timer built in use this or some other timer for the exposure, (mobile phone).

Make your exposure with the cable shutter release. I always cover the viewfinder to stop stray light entering the camera. Canon provide a (pretty useless) slide on cover that is fitted to the camera strap.

When finished check the histogram and be prepared top make a second time adjusted exposure if needed. It is a good idea to have the highlight exposure warning switched on (if available).

Llyn-on reservoir, image © Tony BatesWhen composing your image try moving water and clouds. Clouds are best if the direction of travel in the sky is towards you. Don't forget that having movement does not make a good picture on its own so composition is all important. It is possible to add a Polarising filter for an extra 2 stops of ND filter, but watch out for lens vignetting.

Don't forget to set the camera back to Auto White Balance and auto focus to On when finished.

Sorry this is rather long winded and a bit complicated but once you have tried it a few times it will seem relatively straightforward.

Be prepared to experiment and sometimes have results that aren't as good as expected.

Good luck.


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