May 14

Long Daytime Exposures

There are many ways to add a creative element to your images, and one thing that you may wish to explore is adding time as an element in your photos.   You may know about taking long exposures in dim light or at night to get low noise high quality images in dark situations, but longer exposures can also be used in many other situations.

Sometimes I’ll do longer indoor exposures of a person to allow movement to be captured, or I’ll take a longer exposure and intentionally move the camera to get colorful impressionistic blurs.  However, you can also use long exposures to add an element of drama or show the passage of time in an otherwise still scene, even when it’s not dark outside.  To do this, you simply need some rather strong neutral density (ND) filters.  ND filters are one of the more useful filters around.  Along with polarizers, they are the among only filters that really still make a tremendous amount of sense for digital photography, as the results can’t be easily replicated in post processing.

For the two shots below, which were taken in mid-afternoon sunlight, I used my ultra-dense 10-stop ND filter (in my case, the Hoya ProND1000), and then added my 3 stop ND filter on top of it.  I usually use the 3-stop filter to allow for shooting my fast lenses in bright sunlight at wide apertures, but I noticed that stacking these two ND filters actually doesn’t cause any real image degradation, and both are pretty good filters, so there’s no obvious color cast.  When shooting these shots, however, I knew I was going to be processing in black and white, and wanted some nice rich contrasts to photograph.

The river was high on this day, and the clouds were large and puffy, and moving moderately quickly across the sky.  With the two stacked ND filters, I set my camera to Bulb mode and attached my remote release.  I was able to achieve multi-minute exposures despite the bright sunshine due to the 13 stop reduction in light (that’s an exposure 8000x longer than without the filters). The result: images that have a surreal element of movement in them, to contrast with the solid, immobile stone bridge and buildings.  As a side note, I was pleasantly surprised to see that even with both filters stacked, my Fuji X-E2 was still able to achieve accurate autofocus with the filters attached.

Click to enlarge an image

Broad Street Bridge, Columbus, OH - Fujifilm X-E2 with Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 @ f/22, 3 minutes 30 seconds

Broad Street Bridge, Columbus, OH – Fujifilm X-E2 with Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 with ND1000+ND8 @ f/22, 3 minutes 30 seconds

Columbus, OH - Fujifilm X-E2 with Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8, ND1000+ND8 @ f/16, 2 minutes 5 seconds

Columbus, OH – Fujifilm X-E2 with Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8, ND1000+ND8 @ f/16, 2 minutes 5 seconds

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad


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  1. Stephen Almond

    Great pictures!
    How did you determine the exposure? Trial and error?

    1. Jordan Steele

      Math. The 10 stop is easy: multiply by 1000. I took a reading at the working aperture with the filters off, which at the time registered at about 1/50 second at f/22 (the first). Multiply by 1000 to get to 20 seconds, then multiply that by 8 (for the 3 stop) = 160. So, 2 min 40 seconds at f/22. I did a shot at that exposure, and saw I had a little more lattitude in the highlights to push a bit further, and so I pushed it to 3.5 minutes for the top. I did have to pull that back a bit in post, but considering there’s about a stop of highlight room, going from 2:40 to 3:30 was only bumping exposure up a little more than 1/3 stop. (fun how that works).

      I still had a little left, so when I went to f/16, I simply pulled back 2/3 stop on the timing and went for a 2 minute exposure. The handful of seconds here and there are more or less down to fumbling for the remote release lock, but a second or even 10 makes very little difference when the exposures are minutes long.

      1. Stephen Almond


      2. cn

        how do you do the math with a 16-stop filter?

        1. Nick

          To calculate this you need to understand that each ‘stop’ represents a doubling (or halving) of light.

          So a 1 stop ND halves the amount of light entering the camera. Simple, just double the shutter speed.

          For a 16 stop filter, it will be halving the light 16 times. 2^16=65536, so you need to multiply the original (bare) metered shutter speed by 65536.

          So if the bare metered shutter speed was 1/500, you would times this (.002) by 65536 which is 131 seconds.

          1. cn

            thank you, nick!

  2. Alpha Whiskey Photography

    Great shots. Will have to try this.

  3. Maciek Brynski

    Have you tried long exposure by stacking ?

    You don’t need ND filters. Just software that average many frames.


    1. Jordan Steele

      This is a late reply, but there are advantages and disadvantages to stacking. For night exposures, I find stacking significantly better for very long exposures (especially if you have a foreground light source that is bright, but want to capture star trails or something along those lines.) You have to make sure the delay between exposures is extremely small, though. For stacking 30 second exposures at night, even a 1 second delay between exposures will lead to gaps in star trails. For something like daylight, it is very impractical to stack exposures for a few reasons. First, no camera can capture, say, 250 frames per second one after another (if the daytime exposure is 1/250s, you’d need 250 frames at that speed to capture the full continuum of motion).

      If you decided simply to say, take 1 exposure per second: With these short exposures, you’d have a ‘stuttered’ effect which is not smooth at all like the above examples (but can be cool, but it’s not the same shot…it’s very ‘energetic’ rather than calming and smooth).

      Second, Even if somehow you had a camera that could do 250 frames per second at 1/250s, for a 2.5 minute exposure, you’d have to stack 37,500 exposures… Not exactly practical. Let’s say it was 1/20s without the filters and you managed 20fps continuous for 2.5 minutes (again, no camera can do this right now)…it’s still 3,000 exposures to stack. That would fill up 3 of my 32GB cards for one shot, not to mention the huge processing requirement.

      Even the 1 shot per second would require you to stack 150 frames, which takes a fair bit of space and processing time, and still wouldn’t yield an image even close to the shots above.

      No, for daylight long exposures, ND filters are the way to go.

  4. Geoff Howard

    Hi Jordan,
    Just read this revue and found it very interesting as a lover of ‘Moving Water Images’. As a fellow Fuji user (X-E1 & 2) also Olympus u43 equipment. What I’d like to know having just read some revues of various 10 stop ND’s I note one revue critises the Hoya for bad ghosting or double imaging results, have you found any such issues with the X-E2 or do you think it might be an issue for the Canon equipment used in said test revue. Also the 3 stop you doubled up with, was that the Hoya 8X filter?

    1. Jordan Steele

      I haven’t had any issues. My 10-stop is the Hoya ProND 1000, while my 3 stop (and my 72mm 4-stop) are Hoya HMC ND filters, which are slightly lower grade than the ProND. I’ve had great luck with minimal color cast with all of them, and no reflections that I’ve noticed.

      1. Geoff Howard

        Thanks for quick response Jordan, I guess it could be more to do with other equipment then. Thanks for comment on second filter also.

  5. francesco ganzetti

    Bottom F16 picture looks much sharper then upper f22 one; i think F16 is the usable limit before diffraction take son and degradate picture

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