Common Myths Surrounding Long Exposures

Long exposure photography can offer views of landscape or urban environments in ways that are impossible to see with just the naked eye. However, there are still some myths surrounding long exposure photography that get brought up during conversations that I hope I can address with this list.

It has to be dark to do a long exposure photograph

The first thing you think of when you hear the term long exposure photography are landscape shots of star trails and frozen mountains or waterfalls. Depending on the time of day you can turn dark into light. You can also turn sprawling urban environments into lifeless scenes reminiscent of disaster movies.

Forth Rail Bridge and Anchor

This image was shot in the afternoon under bright skies and intermittent cloud cover.

By using ND filters you can reduce the amount of light that hits your sensor in order to increase the exposure time. This means you could take a long exposure of a city center on a busy Saturday afternoon and have an end result that gives the feeling of isolation. Because the people are moving most wont stay in the same place long enough to be exposed in your image.

You need to buy expensive filters

This is the same myth that surrounds many aspects of photography. You do not need expensive equipment. In fact my first forray into long exposure photography involved making my own filter using welders glass.

Bow Fiddle Rock

The image above was taken using a DIY welders glass filter.

You can buy squares of welders glass which you can attach to your camera using elastic bands or in my case using the ring from an old UV filter and attaching it with bluetac. Welders glass is normally around 10-14 stops and can be bought for £5 or less on ebay. And this can still give results on par with branded 10 stop filters and is the perfect way to experiment before forking out on expensive filters if that is what you want to do.

If you want a 10 stop ND filter then you can get the cheaper threaded ones that mount onto the front of your lens. Haida do a great one for £35 which works a treat and you can find them on Ebay. The image of the Forth Road Bridge above was shot with one. I’ve seen photographs of the same bridge shot with the expensive Lee 10 Stop filter which retails around £120 and usually has a waiting time of a month or two. That’s a big financial commitment to make to something that you might just be getting started with.

Glasgow Necropolis

In fact sometimes you don’t even need filters to do a long exposure. If it’s dark or the light has started to fade you can get a shutter speed of a couple of seconds simply by setting the ISO to 100 and the aperture to anywhere between f11 and f22, and then changing these settings to get the length of shutter speed you desire. It should be noted that changing these settings should largely be creative decisions. Normally for landscapes I’d recommend f8-f16 and nothing smaller* as you introduce diffraction and chromatic aberration.

The longer the exposure the better the photograph

Excess doesn’t always mean better. For example, you could expose a scene too long that the end result is actually detrimental to what you were trying to convey. For example a long exposure of the sea could result in a scene that resembles an ice rink or a sea of milk with very little movement and a smooth level surface. This takes the life out of the scene and reduces interest. This is particularly problematic if the sea is taking up the majority of real estate in your photographs composition.

Long exposure photography requires a different skill set

Long exposure photography and regular photography both require the same understand of the basics of photography; composition, shutter speed, aperture, ISO and the ability and willingness to get into position to get the photograph. The only difference is long exposure photography takes longer. If you understand how to compose a photograph and can visualise an image then you can do long exposure photography.

Haida 10 Stop


The only extra equipment you might need that you don’t carry with you normally would be a tripod and a filter. Oh, and maybe a flask of hot tea or coffee depending on the time of day and season you venture outdoors. I’ve been out a few time shooting castles at night and wished I had some hand warmers and a cup of tea.

You need a tripod

This might surprise a few people but in terms of necessity you don’t really have to have a tripod with you to try long exposure photography. There are a few ways in which you can stabilise your camera when you’re attempting long exposure photography. In the past I’ve used car bonnets, car roofs, rocks, camera bags, planks of wood, tree branches. Once I even used a carrier bag laid on top of a sandy beach and moulded the wet sand into position, using the carrier bag to keep the sand off the camera. Now obviously the length of exposure will determine which DIY method you want to use or what you have available to you but for the most part these work out well if you’ve forgotten your tripod at home. So if you do find yourself without a tripod then all it takes is a little ingenuity and imagination. No reason to miss out on the shot. Gorillapods are great kit to carry around with you because they can be relatively small compared to full size tripods and can be used to mount cameras to tree branches, fences, car windows, poles and a few other things. Always good to have as a backup.

Long exposure photography is only for landscape

Long exposure photography is a technique and one which can be applied to different styles of photography. You can use flashes to light up people / models, the same as you can use them to light up buildings, cars and forests. It’s just how you apply them that matters. The same applies to long exposure photography. A great example is to record the movement of people. I was once asked to photograph some new maps and signs in Glasgow and rather than having the exposures too long that you couldn’t see the people I decided to have exposures of a second or two that would allow me to capture people interacting with the signs, moving around, looking and pointing. Long exposures allow you to capture energy and in this case kinetic energy.

Kuljit Athwal Photography

Another example is capturing light trails of cars on roads; catching streaks of red light as cars go past you and light streaks as they come towards you. I’ve seen great examples where people have taken long exposure from the tops of multi-storey buildings and captured the movement of cars around large swathes of the city.

* the smaller the aperture the higher the f number. Yeah, it a funny one to remember,

Quiet Forest Path

A quiet path leading through Tentsmuir Forest

Beach Cyclists

A couple cycling along the beach at Tentsmuir Forest

Birks of Aberfeldy in January

A long exposure photograph of a small waterfall at the Birks of Aberfeldy.

This area was made famous by Robert Burns’ poem The Birks of Aberfeldy which he was inspired to write by the Falls of Moness, one of the larger waterfalls in this area of Scotland.

More information about Aberfeldy.

More information on the Birks of Aberfeldy.

We All Walk the Long Road

A man walks along the riverside in Dundee during sunset with the Tay Rail bridge in the distance.

December iPhoneography

A nice little selection of images that I managed to capture this month to round up the year. These were all shot on my phone, which is remarkable considering the image quality you can get these days of such devices. I hope you like them. And if you haven’t already, you should visit Scotland.

What is so amazing about mobiles is practically everyone has one, if it’s not an iPhone then it’ll be something else but it’ll still have a camera on it. And no matter what the quality of the camera you can always use it to come up with interesting images. You’ve got it with you all the time and with todays smart-phones it’s even easier to edit before posting online. Coupled with a decent case and you’ve pretty much got a go with you everywhere anytime camera. What’s not to like?

The Rail Bridge

The Tay Bridge (sometimes unofficially the Tay Rail Bridge) is a railway bridge approximately two and a quarter miles (three and a half kilometres) long that spans the Firth of Tay in Scotland, between the city of Dundee and the suburb of Wormit in Fife.

As with the Forth Bridge, the Tay Bridge has also been called the Tay Rail Bridge since the construction of a road bridge over the firth, the Tay Road Bridge. The rail bridge replaced an early train ferry.

“Tay Bridge” was also the codename for the funeral plans for Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother.

This photograph was captured from the Wormit end of the bridge. On a clear day when the tide is out you can see the foundations of the original bridge which collapsed in 1879.

Loch Awe and Kilchurn Castle

Loch Awe (Scottish Gaelic: Loch Obha) is a large body of water in Argyll and Bute, Scotland. It has also given its name to a village on its banks, variously known as Loch Awe, or Lochawe.

It is the third largest freshwater loch in Scotland with a surface area of 38.5 square kilometres (14.9 square miles). It is the longest freshwater loch in Scotland, measuring 41 kilometres (25.47 miles)from end to end with an average width of 1 kilometre (0.62 miles).

The loch runs approximately south-west to north-east, roughly parallel to the two sea lochs of Loch Etive and Loch Fyne. Via the River Awe and Loch Etive it drains westward from its northern end and thus into the Atlantic Ocean.

At the narrowest section of the loch are North Port (Taychreggan Hotel) and South Port (Portsonachan Hotel). Once used by cattle drovers, a ferry ran between these shores to facilitate crossing to markets beyond. The Transatlantic Cable, which runs through the village of Kilchrenan, was laid across at this point in 1955.

Loch Awe contains several ruined castles on islands, and at the northern end has one of the most photographed castles in Scotland, Kilchurn Castle, which in summer may be visited by a short boat trip or by a half mile walk from a small car park just after the bridge over the River Orchy.


Some photographs from a wander around the reservoir at Monikie Country Park, Scotland. The last photograph was taken on my mobile using the Instagram app. Came out really nice. I’ve been really impressed with the quality of the camera on my phone. I’ll need to use it more often for spur of the moment photographs like these.

A Walk on the Beach

A mother and her children take a stroll on the beach of Tentsmuir.

It’s such a beautiful area and only a few minutes from where I live and fast becoming one of my go-to places when I’ve got some time to myself. A glorious beach on the left and an enchanting forest on the right it’s a perfect place to while a day away.