I’ve done tons of long exposure photography during my career and I oftentimes get asked how my photos come out so sharp. With long exposures, obviously some elements of the scene will be changing and show movement, but for anything that’s stationary, it’s important for those objects to be as sharp as possible. Those are what viewers will be looking at when they’re judging your photos. Personally, I even go as far as zooming in on other photographer’s images to see what kind of clarity is in the photos. Those edges can say a lot about someone’s skill and equipment.
I’m here today to let you know my secret. This is basic stuff, so don’t think you need to know anything magical or anything like that. If you follow this short set of instructions, you should be able to take very sharp, crisp and clear long exposure photographs.
1. Get yourself a good sturdy tripod. If you’re going to spend the time and money traveling someplace interesting to take photos, go with good equipment. A tripod that’s too small or not sturdy enough can impact the sharpness of your images.
2. Turn off your lens’s image stabilization. IS is meant to reduce shake when the camera is being handheld. If you’re taking photos while using a tripod, turn the feature off because it can actually add a slight bit of shake and vibration to your images when still.
3. Lock your camera’s mirror in the upright position. We all know about camera mirror slap. If you lock the mirror up so it doesn’t move inside the camera, you can reduce the vibration it introduces into your shots.
4. Use a remote shutter button or a 2-second delay. Your finger on the shutter button can cause camera shake. Take your finger out of the equation by taking advantage of one of the suggestions I just made.
Now, I know that if your exposure is long enough, it’ll negate any shake or vibration that’s introduced way back at the beginning of the shot, but it’s a good idea to get into the habit of integrating the suggestions I just made above into your photography. After all, you can never quite predict the length of exposure a specific scene is going to demand, so following these instructions for all photos is the best.
Also, regarding what to focus on, if you’re doing landscape shots and the primary subject is somewhat far away, simply focus on that. If everything is far away and there are multiple objects that you want in focus, you can focus on an area that’s 1/3 the distance of the primary subject and your depth of field should be deep enough to focus in on it all.
If you have any questions, please let me know below. Also, if you’ve got some good advice to share about long exposure photography, please share that down below as well.