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Long Exposure Guide

Winter is coming, the days are getting shorter and darker and the opportunities for taking pictures during the day are getting worse... So what can we do in this dreary time of the year? Long exposure Photography!

We would like to give you a short introduction to creating stunning long exposure pictures on film.

What are long exposures?

If your shutter speed times are longer than a second, we talk about long exposure photography. You will need a tripod to sharply capture an image with such long exposure times with the effects, that static objects will look sharp, all moving elements in the frame will be blurred. That is the charm and look of long exposures - you can make the passing of time visible. You can either do it at daytime with ND filters or at nighttime. At nighttime you will also get crazy lightning and shadows depending on your light source (moon, street lamp, car headlights, other artificial light).

--> Surreal lighting and shadows, blurred smoke - long exposures have a certain charm!

(Ilford Fp4 120 in ars-imago FE, printed on Ilford Deluxe Paper with ars-imago PE)

What do you need to make long exposure pictures?


You will need a camera that has a manual bulb mode (B on the shutter wheel) to be able to leave the shutter open for any desired amount of time. It is also better to have a mechanical shutter, otherwise your battery will drain very fast... Autofocus can work in the dark, manual focusing will definitely be easier to work with.


A sturdy tripod is the most useful tool for this technique. In addition, a cable release will come in handy, too.

Very low light / ND filters:

In order to achieve long exposure times, there has to be very little light hitting the film, like at nighttime. You can also create long exposure pictures in the daytime too, but you'll have to use ND Filters in Front of the lens.

Choose a film stock:

You can shoot both, color or black and white, whatever you prefer. For color inspiration, just look at the work of Todd Hido or Peter Bialobrzeski, for black and white check out Hiroshi Sugimotos pictures of cinemas or a lot of Michael Kennas work, like "Barge Passing" in Paris.

--> Star trails during 15min Exposure (Acros 120 in Rodinal, Scan)

Knowledge about your film stock (reciprocity failure):

This is probably the most important part of successfully taking well exposed pictures with very long exposure times. The problem is, that if film is exposed to very little light for a longer amount of time, it looses its sensitivity (ISO-Speed). This varies between different film stocks and can have a fundamental influence on correct exposure. This is called reciprocity failure (or Schwarzschildeffekt in german). Most film manufacturers state the exposure corrections on their data sheet. Ilford for example has a very easy way to calculate correct exposure: Each of their films have a individual factors, by which the measured exposure times have to be calculated the formula below:

When we measure Hp5+ at 10 Seconds, we would have to make an exposure for double the time, as you can see in the example:

Not all film stocks are this easy and well documented. If you don't find a conclusive data sheet from your favourite Film, there is a lot of information online in different photography blogs and forums - or just ask us, we are always glad to help!

Light meter:

You do not necessarily need a professional light meter. Use the light meter in your Camera or an app on your smartphone.

--> Velvia 100 120, F8 for 30 seconds

Creative ideas around long exposures

- Use a flash to light up your scene in the night, check out Nick Carver doing this at 12:30 here.

- Use a flashlight, or any other portable light source to paint with it, like we did in our darkroom (on Polaroid film):

Additional links


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