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Long exposure landscape photography

I will discuss the practical aspects of long exposure landscape photography later, but first, we need to consider other key factors in getting quality long exposure photographs.

Location is the key

The first step in creating stunning long exposure images is choosing the correct landscape, one that is conducive to this kind of photography. Long exposures are ideal for conveying movement, but it can also be used to blur unwanted movement, removing the ripples or waves on a lake or sea scene can give a surreal feel. While showing a river, a waterfall, waves crashing onto a beach, or stormy passing clouds can depict movement and drama.


Once a location has been identified, consider the time of day. The golden hour is undoubtedly the best time, and it happens twice a day. The golden hour is the short window of time right after sunrise and again right before sunset, when the air is filled with a flattering golden hue that is perfect for photographing everything from landscapes to portraits.

abandoned boat in black and white / fine
Beautiful golden hour view over Dublin c

During this time, the sun is low in the sky and more diffuse (and redder) than normal thanks to being filtered for a greater distance through the atmosphere. At golden hour, you will not find the harsh shadows seen at high noon.

Because the sun is so low on the horizon, the light is directional, creating long, and soft shadows giving dimension to photographs. That soft dimensional light can be used to achieve creative effects that are not possible at other times of the day.


So, when does the golden hour occur? It varies depending on the location, the time of year, and weather conditions. Apps, like PlanIt, can help determine sunrise, sunset times, the direction of the sunrise and sunset, and the optimum golden hour times. A general rule of thumb is that the golden hour is about an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset.

Subject matter

Consider ways that can be incorporated into the frame, like static objects, a boulder or two, a tree, jetty, or island in a lake, icebergs, or a wreck on a beach. Walkabout looking for interesting subjects that might provide a focal point.


Shoot in RAW

​RAW is a file format like jpeg, but unlike jpeg, it captures all the image data recorded by the camera’s sensor rather than compressing it. Shooting in RAW provides higher quality images but also allows for more control in post-processing. For instance, correcting underexposure problems or adjusting aspects like colour temperature, white balance, or contrast.

​However, one negative aspect of shooting in RAW is that the files take up more space, so I advise using larger SD or Micro SD Cards. Furthermore, RAW photos need some sort of post-processing, so photo editing software is essential.

Black and white photo of three old & str
Spectacular aurora borealis (northern li

Set the cameras White Balance

If the camera is set to Auto White Balance, it will compensate for all the beautiful warm tones you are there specifically for. Auto White Balance makes images bluer than required for the golden hour. In RAW, it is easy to adjust the white balance in post, nevertheless, it is still a good idea to manually set the white balance to get a better idea of what the scene is meant to look like. For beginners, a good initial point for beginners is setting it to shade or cloudy to help get the required golden hues.


Aperture Priority mode

Aperture Priority mode allows you to choose your aperture and the camera will automatically determine the best shutter speed. Set the ISO of the camera to 100 or lower if possible and let the camera decide the shutter speed. ISO determines the sensitivity of the camera sensor to light, so using the lowest value means that the sensor is minimally sensitive. Additionally, using the lowest ISO can minimize digital noise or grain in the shot. The less noise, the higher the image quality will be.


Of course, a sturdy tripod is essential, and an external shutter release device or set the camera to a 2 or 5-second shutter delay to prevent camera shake.


Shooting in RAW will undoubtedly require some post-processing to enhance the look and feel of any long exposure landscape image. First consider increasing the blue primary in Lightroom or Photoshop as this will increase the vibrance of any rocks, boulders, tree trunks, etc. Then, think about enhancing colours by boosting saturation or vibrancy. Adjust the levels and curves to create an image with a more robust dynamic range. If you find areas of the shot are too bright or too dark, try your hand at dodging and burning to create a more well-exposed image throughout.

However, post-processing is all about personal preference and one’s own creative perspective on photography as it is to compose the shot taken on location. Always make small adjustments that you feel are necessary to create the image desired and keep the master copy unaltered and safe.

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