Getting Creative with Long Exposure Photography

Long Exposure photography has always been a passion of mine and whether it’s shooting landscapes, the night sky or steel wool and light trails, the satisfaction of creating an image that has a dynamic feel to it fills me with a great sense of achievement. I enjoy many areas of photography, but long exposures are where I really feel in my element.


To create long exposure images you need a few pieces of equipment in your photography arsenal to help you create the images you have in mind.


First of all, your camera is the obvious key to creating your images and ideally it should be able to shoot for at least 30 seconds, but bulb mode is essential to creating those really long exposures as it allows you to hold the shutter open for as long as you like. A shutter release cable is also a must have if you want to use bulb mode as this allows you to lock the shutter open for your desired exposure time.


Secondly, a good sturdy tripod is required to allow you to fix your camera in place so that it doesn’t move and cause the image to look blurred. There are many tripods on the market today and while you don’t have to go out and buy the most expensive one, I do strongly recommend a good quality one. I have three Manfrotto tripods and I highly recommend them.

I have a small compact action tripod with a simple ball head, I have the 190XPRO aluminium tripod with the XPRO 3 way head. This is a fantastic bit of gear, it’s a bit heavy, but it’s very sturdy and if I’m shooting at the coast I prefer this one and then my latest edition is the 190 Go! Carbon Fiber tripod  with the Xpro ball head . This one is amazing! The weight reduction alone is great and really helps when I’m out walking and the fast setup of the twist locks has definitely made this my go to tripod. The XPRO ball head allows more freedom of movement when composing an image.


Filters are an important piece of equipment for long exposures taken during daylight hours. I like to use ND (neutral density) filters for most of my landscape photography.

I generally use a 10 stop filter to create my images often with a 0.9 soft graduated ND filter to help retain the detail in the sky and I recently added a 6 stop filter to my kit to give me more options when shooting in low light and when I don’t want such a long exposure time. I also use an exposure calculator App for working out my exposure times when using my ND filters.


This image was taken at Janet’s Foss in Malham, North Yorkshire and for this I used my 6 stop ND filter to give me a 30 second exposure at f/8, ISO 100 to soften the water.

This image was taken at the lone tree up in the hills in Malham, North Yorkshire and for this I used my 10 stop ND filter to give me a 30 second exposure at f/18, ISO 100 to blur the clouds.


Filters aren’t needed for long exposures at night, although you can experiment with ND’s to create some images and there are now a couple of natural night light filters on the market that are designed specifically to block the most common wavelengths of light pollution. When capturing images of the night sky you will need to compose your image and then play about with your settings. The ISO will need to be increased, but this will differ depending on your location and what you’re shooting. The rule of 600 is helpful when photographing the night sky as it helps you determine the best shutter speed for your image so that you don’t get any trails off of the stars. Divide 600 by your chosen focal length and this will give you the correct shutter speed, so as an example, if you’re shooting at 24mm, your ideal shutter speed should be 25 seconds (remember to adjust for crop sensors). Another helpful bit of gear for night photography is a torch. This will allow you to light paint any foreground interest so that it shows up clearly in your image. The image below of the Milky Way over Lindisfarne castle in Northumberland was a 30 second exposure at f/2 with the ISO at 3200 and the castle was lit up using a small L.E.D. torch.


My favorite subject matter for long exposure photography has to be steel wool. I feel extremely creative when I’m working with steel wool and you can use it in all sorts of locations (always check with landowners) and if you’ve never had a go, I strongly suggest doing so. Not only is it fun, but you can come away with some great images for your portfolio. Last year I was given permission to create an image on Capability Brown’s bridge (below) that crosses the lake at Burton Constable Hall in East Yorkshire. For this image I opened the shutter using bulb mode with no subject in the frame and then after ten seconds I covered the lens to stop light getting to the sensor, I the positioned the Subject (my dad) started the steel wool and then removed the lens cover for another fifteen seconds to capture the trails form the steel wool. I converted the image to black and white as a nearby light was casting a blue hue on to the foreground.


This was a great opportunity for me as it had never been done before and it allowed me to show the location in a completely different way. Below are a few more exaples of my steel wool work.


I’ve got quite a few projects and adventures coming up including a week long trip touring Iceland with some friends and I can’t tell you how excited I am about it. If you like what you’ve read and you’re interested in following my work, please sign up to my website and follow me on my social media pages.


Lee GaleOther articles by author

Lee Gale is a Photographer from Hull, East Yorkshire, UK with a keen interest in Long Exposure, Landscape, Urban Exploration and Light Painting Photography. Lee has always been a lover of the great outdoors and photography has gone hand in hand with that passion over the last few years. Lee has recently taken part in some local photography exhibitions and one of his goals is to put on a solo exhibition of his own work and hopes to one day produce a book of his work.

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