May 31, 2014  •  Leave a Comment



I know you have seen the beautiful and interesting results of long exposure photography and wondered how did he do that? More then likely the he you're asking about is our guest contributor today, Craig Houdeshell. When I first saw one of Craig's images of a beach at sunset I admired it for its beauty, there was a  sereneness that intrigued me, that drew me into it. When Craig agreed to be a Guest Contributor I was excited but when he told me he wanted to do an article on Long Exposure Photography, I was thrilled. It is always wonderful to learn the technique and the mind set that goes into any work of art. To have a master of that technique agree to impart his knowledge is just an amazing opportunity. That is what we present today Craig Houdshell talking to you about a subject he loves.

We are holding our first contest in honor of Craig, after you read Craig's article go out and try your hand at long exposure photography. When you have an image your happy with it share it on Facebook with Craig and myself. Craig and Vincenzo Bruno, a well known Italian Photographer  will pick their  favorite and we will announce the winner. You will receive a Free Large Print of your image plus Craig has offered three hours of one on one instruction, if you live near or are willing to travel to Craig's location.  The voting will be open until June 25th and the winner will be announce on June 30th.




                     Long Exposure Photography as a Creative Tool




Jim Brandano and I have never met in person, even though we live only 35 or so miles apart.  In this age of social media it is easy to build new friendships based on common interests, need for education/information and mutual respect.  Modern day penpals, if you will.  

When Jim and and his wife, Phyllis, announced, that after considerable discussion they chose to redefine their photography business to more closely align with their personal interests of wildlife and travel photography, I was excited for them.  Having started and run several businesses of my own I understood the excitement, the freedom, and the sometimes fear of the small business owner.  When Jim asked for guest writers for his new photography & travel blog, I jumped at the chance to help him succeed.

I thought well, I’m not the greatest writer, but I know a bit about photography and I love to travel so here I am.  The somewhat accidental guest blogger.  I certainly hope you enjoy what I have to share.

My Long View of Long Exposure Photography

Interestingly, I love extremely short exposure as well as long exposure photography.  I think each allows the viewer to see something that cannot be seen with the eye in real time.  Those readers familiar with my photographic work know me as an event, bird, and seascape photographer.  Extremely short shutter times are typically needed to capture the action of a bird in flight, perhaps 1/2000 of a second is needed to freeze the action for the viewer to examine the details of the image.

On the other hand, my seascapes (and more recently my other artistic work) use long exposure times to alter reality and bring something to the viewer that a real time exposed image does not.  As you would probably guess I love impressionistic painting.  I am highly influenced by tonalist painters such as: Andrzej Skorut, Russell Chatham and James McNeill Whistler.  I am also influenced by the photographers who are today considered part of the early 20th century Pictorialism Movement, such as: George Seeley, Alice Boughton, Alfred Steiglitz and Edward Steichein.

My long exposure photography seascapes are about color, shape, tone and emotive response to the beauty, vastness and open nothing of the sea.  

My view is that the most successful long exposure photography holds most everything in the frame static (still) while allowing one (or a few) points of interest in the frame to blur (or move, if that is more meaningful.)  Start-trail movement with trees, buildings and mountain horizons would be one common example: the stars spin and everything else is still.  Race cars moving across a finishline while the rest of the frame is static is another example.  Generally, photos where everything in the frame are moving are less successful.  Of course there are examples where this rule is broken.  The bottomline is experiment to see what you see.

One last point, and one that is important to me is that my images are photos, not digital art.  My images are done in camera, not on the computer with image manipulation.  I do very little to the photos other than white balance correction, , perhaps a bit of burn/dodge, play with contrast a bit and do some spot removal, because as close as I stand to the ocean sometimes, it is inevitable a bit of the ocean ends up on the lens or filter.

Now on to the Good Stuff

Those of you still with me, thank you.  Now I will discuss why you started reading this article - the details of you trying long exposure photography as a creative tool. 

Long exposure photography can be done will any film SLR or digital SLR.  While it is beyond the scope of this article you must learn to master Manual Exposure on your camera.  I assume most everyone has a tripod. If not a steady tripod will be needed.  Other things needed are a remote trigger (for “bulb” exposures) and neutral density filter(s).  That is all.  Well, those few items and lots of experimentation.

There is one other item you may find handy but is not necessary is a good light meter, a spot meter is even better.  Meters by Sekonic are really nice, but pricy.  A few years ago I bought an old Minolta meter on Ebay for a few dollars.  It works great.

Neutral density filters (ND filters) can be purchased as all pricepoints, cheap Chinese ebay filters for a few dollars to extremely expensive ND filters by Lee or B&W.  In my opinion and experience, what you are purchasing is lack of color cast (change in white balance.)  Frankly the more expensive the filter the less color cast.  I suppose I am like most people and tried the inexpensive filters hoping to save some money.  I gave those filters away because I could not correct the white balance.  Eventually I have settled on the moderately priced Hoya filters with prices from about $35 to $90, depending on the number of f-stops filtered and size.  I made the decision to save money and only purchase 77mm diameter filters and “step-down” rings to get to the diameters of my other lenses.  One example of a step down ring is 77mm to 67mm for when I use my Nikkor 18-105mm lens.

I have 2-stop, 3-stop and 10-stop ND filters.  I have been known to stack them for extremely long exposures and when I want a long exposure in the middle of the day.  Some of my exposure times range close to a half-hour.  Stacking ND filters can create a strong vignette that needs to be fixed in post-processing but it is certainly doable.

As alluded to above you need to become comfortable shooting in manual mode.  It is only in manual mode where “bulb exposure” can be found.  Once you start experimenting with long exposure photography you will learn that the 30-second exposure limit of most DSLRs is limiting and you will want to go beyond that time.  Putting your camera on bulb exposure and using a wired (or wireless) shutter timer is the way to get extremely long times with the shutter open for moving traffic, star trails, smooth water, moving clouds, etc.

Anyone who had shoot photos for a while and then shoots with another photographer friend quickly learns that workflow is a personal thing.  I only know my in the field workflow.  I will describe what I do with a digital camera (it is somewhat different if I am using a film or pinhole camera.)  It is only one way of doing things, I am sure there are other ways of getting the shot.

Once the camera is set up and a composition reveals itself, I take a shot to see where I am at exposure duration wise.  Do not look at the image on the back of the camera as it is a lie.  Look at the exposure histogram.  The histogram will tell if you are over or under on your exposure.  Once a good exposure is found through experimentation and experience, I make a decision about how much movement I want in the image and select the ND filter(s) of choice.  For example, let’s say the proper exposure is 3-seconds and I choose to stack my 2-stop and three stop ND filters for a total of five stops.  

Now it is time for the interesting part, the counting, the mathematics.  Moving each stop doubles the exposure time so then five stops is: 6-seconds, 12-seconds, 24-seconds, 58-seconds and finally the proper exposure of 115-seconds (almost 2 minutes.)  See you need to use the bulb mode and your trigger.  

I almost always use the base ISO, with star trails being the exception when high ISO is needed.  I use the countdown timer application I downloaded to my phone to know when to release the shutter trigger.  Also, you need to focus before putting the filter(s) on the lens.  It is extremely difficult to focus with the ND filters on the lens.  Therefore, I focus, lock focus and then install the filter.

One way to focus is to choose a reasonable f-stop between 8 and 11 then move the focus to infinity and lock focus.  This is sometimes hard to do in the near dark, in which I like to shoot so I either use a red laser pointer or a small penlight to help focus.   I am currently looking for old manual lenses with a hyper-focus ring so I can easily put focus on infinity and forget it.

Post Processing

I have found using ND filters is an exercise in fighting white balance.  I know I discussed using high quality filters to reduce color shift but even the best filters are not perfect.  There is always some color shift.  To simplify correction I shoot in daylight white balance, as opposed to auto white balance.  That way my starting place is constant.  I also shoot in a *.RAW format to male color correction easier. 


I have learned what I have learned through lots of reading and experimentation.  It has been a lot of fun.  Of course, there are many failure but I view them as a chance to learn.  

Living close to the beach helps with access and the frequent morning early excursions to check the light.  I am constantly amazed at how the light is always different each morning.  

I have a few ideas of I go from here creatively.  I would like to explore more long exposure portrait and street photography, and new locations for landscape/seascape photography.   I hope you got something from this article and are now ready to try some long-exposure photography.  Now go create!

Equipment Examples

Below is a list of the equipment I list in the article.  The list should be considered suggestive, showing examples, for clarification.  It is up to the reader to identify the equipment that works for you and with your camera.

  1. Sekonic light meters:
  2. Wired timer trigger (intervalometer):
  3. Hoya ND filters:

Craig is an award-winning photographer living on Singer Island, Florida who specializes in: event, bird, and seascape photography.  More can be learned about Craig at his photo Facebook page and his website. Trips for seascapes and bird photography and one on one instruction are available by writing an email.



Photos Gallery and Captions

  1. f/13, 2 seconds, ISO 200
  2. f/11, 3 seconds, ISO 160
  3. f/14, 10 seconds, ISO 100
  4. f/16, 15.5 minutes, ISO 2,000
  5. f/3.5, 11 minutes, ISO 1,000
  6. f/10, 10 seconds, ISO 100



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