Daytime Long Shutter Speed Photography with a 10 Stop ND Filter

Long exposure photographs stand out from the rest as they have the potential to create dreamy and mesmerizing results. Subjects that are static remain sharp in the photograph while moving subjects turn out blurry which creates an artistic effect. It is quite natural for budding photographers to use this technique during low-light and night conditions. Photographer Gavin Hoey from Adorama explains how you can take a long exposure photograph during day time using a 10-stop neutral density (ND) filter:

If you aren’t familiar with an ND filter it, it’s essentially a shade for your lens. It darkens the scene by blocking light rays from entering the lens, and this allows you to set your exposure for a longer duration (10–15 seconds, for example) even during day time without overexposing your shot. Now that we know what an ND filter is, let’s see how we can use it to click a long exposure photograph during day time.

Steady Your Camera

Since we are aiming for a long exposure, it is essential to have the camera on a stable surface. You can use a tripod, a gorillapod or even place it on a stable surface. It is a good idea to turn off any kind of stabilization (i.e. the camera’s in-body stabilization function, and/or the lens’s stabilization function) whenever your camera is stabilized using a tripod or any other medium. Keep it on for handheld shots, though.

Compose the Shot

Now that your camera is stabilized, the next step is to compose your shot. Notice that we have not yet placed the ND filter on the lens. This is because once the ND filter is mounted on the lens, the viewfinder/LCD screen gets pretty dark making it difficult for you to compose.

Set the Exposure

If you are not familiar with using a ND filter, setting your exposure can get a little tricky. Remember that you are yet to mount the ND filter on the lens. Hence, if you meter your shot correctly beforehand, the shot will be underexposed once you mount the ND filter. So there is a little math to be done. There are charts and apps that can help you with the calculations but if you use a 10-stop ND filter, it is fairly easy to remember the conversion. For instance, with a 10-stop ND filter, if you meter a scene correctly at 1/30 second before placing the ND filter, you will need to dial in a shutter speed of 30 seconds to get the exposure correct after the 10-stop ND filter is mounted. Similarly, a 1/60 second shutter speed will need to be a 15 second exposure, and so on.

10 stop nd filter exposure chart

Focus

Why can’t we just focus after the ND filter has been mounted on the lens? Remember that the loss in light caused by the ND filter can cause difficulty for some cameras to focus. It is thus a good idea to focus on your subject before the ND filter is mounted on the lens.

Mount the ND Filter on the Lens

Finally, you can now mount the ND filter onto your lens. However, be sure not to accidentally rotate the zoom ring or the focus ring. Otherwise you will need to recompose and refocus.

Cover the Viewfinder

If you are a DSLR user, cover the viewfinder of your camera with the cover that came with your camera or use some dark cloth. This is because light can leak from the viewfinder into the camera and mess with your exposure.

Release the Shutter

Now that you are all set, you must be pretty excited to press that shutter release button. Before you do that, you might want to consider a few things:

  • If you have a shutter release cable, use it. This will help in eliminating the camera shake caused while pressing the shutter button resulting in a sharper photo.
  • If you do not have a shutter release cable, use the self-timer mode on the camera to reduce camera shake.
  • If you are a DSLR user, use the mirror lock-up function to eliminate camera shake caused by mirror slap. Mirrorless camera users can use silent shutter mode.

Take Care of White Balance

You must have noticed how we struggle to precisely identify colors while wearing shades. Similar is the case for a camera when the lens has an ND filter attached. You will notice a color shift and incorrect color being rendered while using ND filters. If you shoot RAW (which you should be) this should not bother you, as it can be easily corrected in post. But if you want to get it correct in-camera, then you might have to guess and dial in the white balance manually until you get it right.

before and after white balance correction

The image on the left is before white balance is corrected while the one on the right is after the white balance is corrected in post production.

Retake the Shot

Why the redundancy? Because during long exposure photography, if the camera shakes even by a tiny bit while taking a photograph, then the photograph will turn out blurry. To be on the safer side, it’s always a good idea to take multiple photos of the same scene.

What are you waiting for? Get out there, find a scene with a primary stationary subject and other subjects with subtle movements to add drama to your photograph, and create magic with long exposure photography.

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