Photo Tip: How To Take Long Exposure Photos of the People and the Sea During The Day

…and unfortunately for me, without a tripod!!!

Title: Sonoma, The Timeless Sea I

6-second long exposure shot, with my friends staying verrry still! Nikon D90, 18-200mm Nikkor VR at 32mm, F/29 ISO 200 for 6 seconds, two Tiffen 0.9 neutral density filters, camera on flat rock (forgot my tripod!). Photograph: Ken Lee. Location: Salt Point, Sonoma County, California, USA

Tip 1.  Have a better memory than me.  I forgot the tripod when I went to the ocean.  Fortunately Adam (pictured) found some relatively flat rocks for me to place the camera.  See?  This blog is already useful.

Tip 2.  Reduce Incoming Light.  Use an external filter called a neutral density filter.  These are like sunglasses for your camera, and reduce incoming light without affecting the color.  Cool.  I stacked two Tiffen ND filters together to double the amount of light being reduced, but you don’t have to do that if you have either an adjustable neutral density filter or one that is simply darker.  I just happen to own two of these.

Now, you can also reduce the amount of light coming in by reducing the aperture of your camera.  For this photo, I set the camera to f/29, a super tiny opening, and set the ISO for 200 so it wouldn’t be ultra sensitive to light.  Then I experimented around with the shutter speed.  The longest I could go was 6 seconds on this very bright day, but sometimes, I can get away with as long as ten seconds with those two filters.  Again, if you have darker filters than what I have, you can keep the shutter open for considerably longer.

Tip 3. Soft things help steady the camera if you have no tripod. Adam found some rocks nearby.  They weren’t quite flat enough, so I asked one of the kids for some clothing.  I forget, I may have used a hat or a hoodie, I don’t remember, but it helped balance the camera so I could help frame the subjects and keep the image relatively flat (almost…I leveled the horizon just a wee bit in Photoshop).

Tip 4.  Count Down!  The last time I did this, the subjects were far away, so I didn’t count down, and what happened occasionally was that the kids would turn around prematurely, wondering if I were finished.  This time, they were much closer, so I counted down:  “6…5…4…” so they’d have a sense of how long they had to stay still.  It worked.  When you can photograph 3 year old kids staying still for six seconds, you’re probably doing something right.  :D

Tip 5.  Cheat.  Because the day was foggy, the sky was very very white.  At first, I kept it white, as I don’t tend to monkey around with coloring my photos in Photoshop.  But after a while, I decided to add a graduated neutral density filter using Nik Software Efex Pro, adding a little blue to the sky, which looks a little better and helps add a nice highlight around the subjects as a bonus.

If you look closely, you can see what my friends are looking at:  some harbor seals laying on the rocks by the water.  They look like they were laying very still as well.  Tip 4 works really well, even for seals.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S ED VR II Nikkor Telephoto Zoom Lens, Tiffen 72mm Neutral Density 0.9 Filter, Nikon MC-DC2 Remote Release Cord for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras, and sadly, no tripod!

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