Long Exposure Photography: Expect the Expected

Various photographic techniques each have their own ups and downs, ins and outs, and so on. I want to talk about some of the simple things that you can do to prepare yourself for a long exposure photograph.

Night – Lets say you are photographing a landscape scene at night, and hoping for the moving stars and beautiful moon glow. Capturing such a photograph is nearly impossible without the proper equipment. For example, a good sturdy tripod is essential to a long exposure photograph. Keep in mind, at night it can be hard to see so having a flashlight can be a life saver.


My tripod of choice is a Really Right Stuff TVC-24L which has thick carbon fiber legs and extends above my head. I also opted for a center column with the tripod so that I can further extend the height if I really needed to. Not everyone can afford a Really Right Stuff tripod and if you are in that boat I recommend a Manfrotto, Induro, or Gitzo tripod. Each are fantastic, but of course there are many other great manufacturers out there as well. The key to a tripod for long exposure photography is to find one that isn’t too light, doesn’t wobble with wind, has the ability to weigh it down, and includes additional vibration dampening.

Water – If you know you will be photographing near water, it is very possible that you will get wet. While a tripod can keep your camera out of the water, a rain jacket for yourself and a rain cover for your camera can help prevent possible damage from waves or waterfall splashing. You might even want to bring some water shoes, flip-flops or waterproof boots depending on the situation. Think about your situation ahead of time, look at the weather reports and prepare accordingly. As the traveling gnome says, “don’t forget your hat.”


Whenever I know I am shooting near water I typically wear a pair of Merrell waterproof sneakers. They’re heavier than most sneakers but the materials are extremely durable, the thread is great for all terrain and I don’t have to worry about my feet becoming soaked if I step into the water.

Changing Light – Light changes very fast. Out of nowhere your exposure can change from 30 seconds to a minute. With long exposures it is important to have a cable release available for when the shutter speed is so long that your camera cannot handle the time. Set the shutter to bulb and use your cable release.

Chasing light can be a useful tactic for long exposure photography as well. There are a few ways to do this, but my favorite is to plan ahead of time so that I can expect the expected. There are two iPhone apps that I recommend checking out that can help plan for sun changes, sunrise and sunset. The first is called Photographer’s Ephemeris and the other is PhotoPills. I prefer PhotoPills over the other because it has many other benefits including a long exposure photography calculator. I talk about it more in the eBook but basically you can put in your normal exposure, add neutral density filters within the app and then a new shutter speed is displayed.


This can really help when you shutter speed time is extremely long or if you’re tired and can no longer think straight. At the same time, Photographer’s Ephemeris is available for iOS and Android where as PhotoPulls is (currently) only available for the iPhone.

Wind – Sometimes the wind will pick up pretty dramatically and even the best tripod might start shaking a bit. To help with the shake, I recommend hanging your camera bag from the center post/hook that most tripods have. If yours does not have one, there products that add a hammock to the legs of your tripod. You can then sit anything on the hammock to help further weight the tripod down.

Not only does wind tend to shake things up for your long exposure photographs, but it can also play a role on your body’s ability to keep shooting. I recommend wearing appropriate shoes, sunglasses that protect your eyes, a hat (changes for sunburn increases with wind) and carry a light jacket. On days when I know it will be windy I usually carry a Scottevest jacket. The beauty of the jacket is that it can fold into itself and be tied to my camera bag. In addition, the jacket has twenty or so pockets inside to carry my bubble level, business cards, cable release and so on.


Soft Ground – If you are photographing a landscape on sand, dirt or any ground that is softer than normal then your tripod might slip. Many tripod manufacturers offer spikes that replace the rubber feet of your tripod legs. These spikes usually twist into place and are meant to dig into the soft ground. Utilizing these spikes will make your tripod stay put until you pull the legs out of the ground.

Having the right shoes comes into play with soft ground as well. If you are wearing footwear that has no tread underneath then you are more likely to slip into the mud, dirt or sand. the Merrell sneakers that I wear when shooting near water have so much tread I’m unlikely to slip.

I have now shared a bunch of simple advice for you to keep in the back of your mind when planning for long exposure photographs. Always expect the expected.

About the Author:
Scott Wyden Kivowitz is a New Jersey Photographer with a focus on landscape, portrait and commercial photography. When not taking photos he is also a blogger, educator and author.

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