Long exposures have become very popular over the past few years and they are a great way to gain some attention on most photo sharing platforms these days. It's a fun way to get creative and add interest to an image when done properly. Capturing a surreal image with streaking clouds or smoky waters isn't that hard once you have the keys to long exposures!
When it comes to the gear there are a few things that you must have and number one is a sturdy tripod. When taking a long exposure the shutter will be open from a few seconds to several minutes depending on the situation. You will need a solid tripod to ensure that you get a nice sharp image in the end. You will want to position the tripod securely enough that it doesn't wobble when touched. In really windy conditions you may need to hang a weight or your camera bag from the bottom column of the tripod to help anchor it (most tripods have a place to do this). I personally would recommend taking your camera strap off the camera too as the wind will catch it and cause some subtle camera shake. I am a Vanguard Pro and exclusively use their tripods which I would recommend to anyone looking buy. I currently use the Alta Pro 2 and VEO 2 travel tripods. There are a lot of options out there so here are a few things to consider. Weight rating, ease of use, portability, and price. If you have any questions about tripods leave them below and I will gladly help.
The second item you will need is a remote or cable release. This too will help you avoid any camera shake that would result in a blurry image. You also have the option of setting the cameras timer so any movement created while pressing the shutter is done before the camera starts taking the photo. However if you are set to bulb for exposures greater than 60 seconds it's much better to trigger the camera remotely. There are many options for cable releases out there from name brand to 3rd party. I personally buy the cheap 3rd party ones on Amazon so if I accidentally dangle it into the lake I'm not out a lot. Sooner or later you'll do it ;)
The next item you will need if you plan to shoot daytime long exposures is a Neutral Density Filter. There are several brands out there and they offer kits and or single filters to buy. To get a decent long exposure during the day you will want a 10 Stop ND Filter. You will find them ranging from a few bucks to several hundred depending on the brand and quality. I am an ambassador for Nisi Filters so I personally recommend them. They are very high quality and they do not create any color casts to my images. Many of the brands in the market you will find that the ND filters add a blue or pink hue to your image. Whichever route you go be sure to check reviews to make sure you get a quality product.
The last item I recomend is a smart phone. I have a long exposure calculator app on my phone. I will talk about this in a bit.
Mode: I use Manual and Aperture priority. I will explain below
RAW: I recommend always shooting in RAW so that you have more flexibility in post processing. This will be very handy if you need to correct color cast from your filter.
Manual Focus: I set my camera to manual focus because most of the long exposures I take are in the dark or using a very dark filter. Your camera's auto focus most likely won't focus or it will miss the spot.
Aperture: I like to shoot between F8 and F11 for sharp pictures with a lot of depth of field. However you will find a lot of different preferences in regard to this so it's up to you on how you prefer to shoot.
ISO: I always want very little noise and the goal is to increase your exposure time so I always set my ISO at the lowest setting my camera will allow. My Olympus is 200 but it also has a low ISO option which is equivalent to ISO 100. Most camera's start at 100 or 200 depending on the brand.
Compose: The first thing I do is compose my shot. I usually look for a stationary object for my foreground to anchor the shot. I don't want something that will be moving in the wind because it will end up blurry in the image. Large rocks, piers, or large trees are usually good. Then I look to see which direction the clouds or water are moving to determine my angle. Make sure your tripod is setup sturdy!
Taking the shot: This is when I set up my camera to the predetermined settings from earlier and connect my cable release. At this point I will manually focus on my foreground object. I will put my camera in aperture priority to see what my shutter speed would be if I were taking a regular shot and this is where the app comes in. Open the app and plug in your shutter speed and the ND filter that you are going to use . Then it will tell you what your shutter speed will need to be with the filter attached. Now set your camera on manual mode and change your shutter speed to the speed given by the app. After that you can attach your filter and you're ready to take the shot.
Things to think about: When shooting daytime long exposures I still prefer to shoot the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset. It's always the best light to shoot in and you will get much more dramatic shots! Think about your goals and choose conditions that will best suit them. If you want to capture the clouds streaking across the sky you will need a partly cloudy day with a decent amount of wind. If you are looking to capture the milky/smokey water you only need an exposure of a sec to get the movement. If you want to really smooth the water try for an exposure a bit longer. The overall look is purely preference so be creative and play around with exposures of different lengths to see what you get! If you have any questions or comments be sure to leave them below and I will get back to you soon!