A long exposure can be used as a tool to improve a composition, it can be used to either simplify elements in a photo making them less important or in the opposite way creating a dynamic shape to enhance the weight of the element in the composition. Long exposures are not only limited to night-time photography, in this article we’ll discuss the technique behind daytime long exposures.


For a daytime long exposure you need a very dark filter. Filters offering more than 5 stops of light reduction are recommended. Some examples are the Hoya ND400 (9 stops) or the B+W ND1000 (10 stops).

The Setup

You need a good tripod, the filter, your camera and a lens of choice. A remote release is useful but not a must. Mirror lockup is not needed in long exposures as camera shake is not relevant if the exposure goes beyond 1 second.

If your camera has live-view with exposure simulation use it as it will help you compose the shot while the viewfinder might be too dark. Without live-view compose without the filter and then put the filter back (yes it hurts but…) The same goes for focusing.

If you only have 1 filter you can either use the aperture or the ISO to make small changes in the exposure time. You can double the exposure time going from F8 to F11 and a little extra DOF is not going to hurt. Diffraction might play a lesser role in long exposures so you can play with your aperture up to F22 if you really need a very long exposure.

Common Problems

Some combinations of cameras and filters can create a color cast due to infrared light filtration, the cast can be difficult to control so shoot RAW and be prepared to tweak the white balance. If there’s no good way to remove the cast you can always think about a B&W photo.

Ideas for Daytime Long Exposures


If you have moving clouds you can turn an ordinary scene under “bad” light into something interesting. Clouds might need really long exposures to create movement in the sky. If possible try to position the camera so the clouds come towards you or away from you, the effect is usually better in that way.


If you have moving water you can play with a long exposure to render different abstractions with its movement, from a high-speed freeze effect to a complete abstraction with minutes of exposures. In the middle some shutter speeds can render the water abstract and preserve its movement texture at the same time play with exposures from 1/30 to 1 second to see what happens.


If you take a long exposure moving objects tend to disappear as they are not enough time in the same position to be recorded in the final photo. This can be used to remove people, cars and other moving objects from a scene making it look like a desert.

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