Mountain Landscape Photography Tips

There is something innate about mountains that draws people to the hills. They are harsh and unforgiving. A hostile environment. For centuries humans have looked upwards in wonder. Can this face be climbed? Can I stand atop that peak? The mountains don’t care for the plight of humans. They’re a frontier that we can only conquer momentarily; we may win the battle, but never the war. There’s just something about big rocks… 

Undoubtedly you have felt this draw, and as a photographer have desired to capture this ambiguous feeling through your lens. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you are sent home with your tail between your legs. Fortunately for you, someone else (me!) has got out there and learned the hard lessons so you don’t have to. Here are my 13 tips for improving your mountain landscape photography…

1. Live in the Mountains

My number one tip for improving your mountain landscape photography may seem daft, but there’s more to it. 

Every day I look at the mountains. I’m looking at the mountains right now as I write this. By spending so much time marvelling at lofty peaks in my backyard I begin to notice the intricacies in the steep faces, and patchwork of snow and rock.

When you live in the mountains you get to learn their flow. You learn how the light hits the slopes and lights up ravines and rock faces at certain times of the day. You see the rock stand still but the weather, the snowpack, the springtime growth change around it.

By spending more time in the mountains, just observing them, you will improve as a landscape photographer.

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2. Research and your intended location

Locations planning is key to successful mountain landscape photography. Sometimes magic just happens by chance, but it helps to account for least some of the variables.

Most importantly, when considering a location don’t forget to factor in the direction of light. What time will light hit this face/ridge/canyon wall? Will it be best to shoot at sunset or sunrise? Will the scene be shadowed by neighboring mountains?

Think bigger picture as well as daily. Consider when the best time of year is to visit a particular location. We all love vacationing in summer, but winter can make unique photographs of popular locations.

Plan ahead and you’ll be more successful more often. Pro tip: wear a watch.

3. Search For and Photograph Unique Natural Features

Many National Parks and protected lands possess great natural landscapes that are signposted, and pointed on maps. But don’t be fooled into thinking these are the only places to find great landscapes.

The first thing I do when researching an area to explore is open up Google Maps. I flick between views, and click around, hoping for something to catch my eye. Recently I came across a mountain valley that appears dead straight and perfectly U-shaped, carved by a long gone glacier. I tried to make it back but the snow became too deep and the trail impassable (the snow is melting fast, so I’ll try again in a few weeks!).

Start exploring dusty dirt roads and places people don’t go and you’ll start finding unique landscapes. Some of the most impressive landscapes I have come across have happened by chance while exploring BLM lands. It helps to be in the middle of nowhere.

4. Compose Your Photograph with Complimentary and Interesting Layers  

Generally speaking, adding layers to an image makes it more interesting. Think of your classic mountain scene – Wild flowers in the foreground, an alpine lake in the middle, and in the background a snow capped ridgeline. Adding elements to the fore, middle, and background give the image a sense of expanse. It draws the viewer in. They can smell the flowers as they stand by the lake, the peaks towering above them. In a single image you have created a better sense of the location.

Be thoughtful when composing your image. Choose elements that are complementary, or interesting. Choose elements that express your experience with the natural world at that moment. Once you have decided what you want in the photograph, compose your elements in a visually pleasing way. Explore reflections, symmetry, and framing, and you’ll be soon shooting unique mountain landscapes.

5. Have A Subject

An easy way to really boost a mountain landscape photo is to include a manmade or natural subject. An eagle soaring above a peak is more interesting than the peak by itself; a mountain valley in spring is more interesting when you dot in an old miners cabin by the river. These elements evoke a story. On their own, the mountains are just big lumps of rock. But, by adding a subject, you can bring your scene to life.

Unfortunately this isn’t a Bob Ross tutorial, and it’s pretty hard to drop in a happy little elk drinking from the stream. But, it’s not hard to find these elements. A Google search can yield results for nearby human relics, abandoned places, and prime wildlife viewing locations. I spend a lot of time exploring the mountains and I find myself stumbling on these scenes frequently. The more you get out there, the more conscious you become to the wildlife, plantlife and oddities you can find deep in the mountains.

6. Focus Stacking

This is a technique used to get your entire photography – fore, middle and background – in focus. This is done by taking multiple photographs, focusing your lens on different areas of the background, then compiling the focused part of each photograph into one fully focused image.

This yields sharper results than shooting a single photograph at f/22+. A lens typically has a sweet spot for sharpness (somewhere between f/8-11), and by focus stacking, the entire image will have maximum sharpness.

First, set up your camera on a tripod, making sure your settings are on manual. Set your aperture between f/8-11, and adjust your shutter and ISO for an appropriate exposure. Focus your camera on the farthest element. Shift your focus closer and closer, taking a photo with each adjustment.

Three to five photographs should be enough to create one fully focused image. Use Photoshop, or other similar programs to merge the files into a single image.

7. A Mountain Landscape Doesn’t Have To Be Wide

So often the object of shooting mountain landscapes is to capture a large scene in a single photograph. The genre typically favors vast, sprawling and layered landscapes.

But, it’s hard to stand out in a genre of similar looking photos with only a wide angle lens. I like to take a 75-300mm lens with me when I head for the hills. I can easily pick out interesting natural features and shoot grand images of far away peaks with that amount of zoom.

Sometimes when I want to take a wider angle shot, I’ll take a series of shots in panorama and stitch them together in Lightroom.

8. Explore Change

Compared to human life, mountains are at a stand still. But really, they are alive with change… you just need to slow it down. Seasons and daily weather impart massive differences in the mountains.

One way I like to capture this change is by repeating the same shot over a period of time, kind of like a photo timelapse. By doing this you can create a series of photographs that brings the mountains to life. All of a sudden they don’t feel so static anymore.

Showing change has always been a popular photographic objective. In landscape photography change is less explored. It’s less obvious to us.

Every day things change in the mountains – snow melts, snow builds, leaves fall, trees grow. Slow time down a little, and give yourself a new perspective on change in the mountains.

9. Love Bad Weather

We all love a bluebird day in the mountains, but unfortunately it does nothing for your photography. Weather gives life to an otherwise still mountain scene.

Add morning clouds pouring through a mountain pass, or snow blasting off an ice-encrusted peak and you’ve instantly got yourself a more engaging scene. Weather adds a sense of feeling to a picture. Because we all experience weather, we can all relate to it in some way.

In the mountains the weather is always dramatic and photographing the weather is crucial to creating a feeling in your images.

On a more simple level, clouds and weather add unique visual layers to landscapes. Mountain landscapes are permanent, but the weather is ever-changing. A common landscape scene can suddenly appear alien with a good dusting of snow or a blanket of low lying clouds.

I think unusual weather events are always worth setting up the camera for. I like to use clouds to focus attention towards a certain aspect of an image. I’ll shoot the ridgeline once the clouds have filled the valley, leaving only the jagged peaks exposed, to draw attention to the mountain’s harshness.

Great mountain landscapes photographs do come at a cost… the cost usually being getting wet and cold. You need to learn to love the bad weather. Stormy, rainy days mean great photographs. You know for sure the sky is going to light up with pinks, purples and yellows as the sun sets in the evening, but you need to get to the shoot before the weather breaks.

I like to live by the old adage “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.” If you are prepared, then it’s like any other day in the mountains –  a good day!

10. Change Your Point Of View

When travelling to popular mountain landscapes you’re going to come across many popular photography spots – kind of like photo ‘must haves’. Drive through the Wawona Tunnel and try not to stop at the iconic viewpoint of Yosemite Valley – El Capitan, Clouds Rest, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Falls… I swear it’s impossible, my car just pulls hard to the left.

Stopping at these iconic spots is part of the fun of photography. But don’t forget to explore the landscape with your lens from different angles and different places. A successful landscape photograph is a unique one. A faraway location maybe. Or a different point of view of a classic scene.

So typically are mountain landscapes shot at eye height, at obvious locations while walking along the trail. Get high, shoot from above. Show how the canyon cuts a scar across the desert; show the lineup of snow capped peaks stretching to the horizon. Getting above the landscape makes huge features feel small, and brings a sense of massiveness to a location. Try heading to highpoints for unique viewpoints, or sending the drone up more often.

If climbing big hills ain’t your thing you could get low… not in the club, but with your camera. Head to the base of the ridgeline and shoot right up the face, or venture below the rim into the canyons below.

When you want your mountain features to appear grander, and give viewers a sense of encapsulation, then get low and shoot upwards.

11. Explore The Same Area Again and Again

This one’s simple. You just gotta keep exploring. By returning to the same area you begin to develop an intimate knowledge of the best viewpoints, sun angles, shooting times, and unique natural features. You’ll start to see what those passing through don’t,Your new found knowledge will be reflected in the quality of your photography.

As you learn more about a location, each repeated visit will become more focused. I think the first trip somewhere is like a reconnaissance mission.

I find out what the sunlight shines, where the best spots are and scout out features that may be worth exploring. On successive trips I’ll aim for locations at certain times and keep a closer eye on my watch. The result is better photographs (and more good photographs) every trip.

12. Get Lucky

Sometimes you just get lucky. You stumble across a beautiful location, perfectly timed, take one photograph – the best one you’ve ever taken – and call it a day. But, it’s hard to get lucky from your couch. The easiest way to improve your chances is to get out there!

Go off the map, get away from the masses. Climb mountains, hike obscure trails and go to unfrequented lands. Photography is the best excuse I’ve ever had to go outside every day. The more often you go out and explore, the more often you get lucky.

I love unplanned spontaneous adventures. I think the solitude of the mountains influences and enhances my photography. I’m almost always surprised with some stunning vista, or unique landscape I never knew existed. The more I get out, the luckier I get, then the more I want to get out… It’s a vicious cycle.

13. Break The Rules 

My final tip for better improving your mountain landscape photography, is to disregard everything I’ve said and listen to your heart. I’m a firm believer in breaking all the rules. Photography is becoming increasingly popular. Everyone has a camera in their pocket, and the realm of landscape photography is certainly more inundated than other niche photographic styles. To stand out you have to be different. To stand out you have to break the rules.

I think photography is an outlet for things my eyes really like. I see it, I like it, I photograph it. And that happens a lot when you live out here in the Rocky Mountains. I try not to get bogged down making a shot perfect, I just let the clicks flow and keep exploring.

Break the rules, explore the hills with the camera at your eye. Remember photography should always be enjoyable, and your camera is the perfect excuse to have fun!

Long Exposure Photography (Step-by-step Tutorial)

What Is Long Exposure Photography?

Long exposure photography is a type of photography where a long shutter speed is used to create a blurring effect for objects that are moving in the frame. The shutter speed can be as short as a second or as long as multiple minutes.

Long exposure images allow a photographer to capture movement in a scene even though it is a still image. It also allows you to smooth out movement in the frame such as ripples in a lake or use long exposures of waves in an ocean to change the look of a photo altogether.

You can also use a long exposure for creative purposes like creating light trail photos or cool effects like light painting with sparklers.

So here are the steps for long exposure photography that I use all the time.

What You’ll Need

Camera & Lens

Just about any camera will work as long as it has the ability to attach a tripod mount. A DSLR or mirrorless interchangeable lens camera is the ideal option as they typically have all the functionality you’ll need for long exposures, always have a tripod mount, and the ability to switch lenses gives you the versatility to get creative with your compositions.

While you can create amazing long exposure images using any focal length, if you are looking to capture motion blur across a large area, then a wide-angle lens usually works best. Capturing a wide field of view makes it a lot easier to get more motion into the frame.

But don’t disregard longer focal lengths for long exposures. While you won’t be able to capture those large sweeping vistas or clouds streaking across the sky, a longer focal length will let you focus on a single subject and use the long shutter length to blur the background to further isolate the subject.

Check out our guide to the Best Lens For Seascapes.

So the bottom line here is to be open minded about your approach and experiment. Don’t limit yourself to one approach.

Tripod

The key element of long exposure photography is capturing the frame over the course of time to create motion blur.

So you need to ensure that the camera stays steady during that time so a solid tripod is necessary.

ND Filter

A neutral density (“ND”) filter cuts down on the amount of light entering your lens.

This is an essential piece of gear for shooting long exposures. It can be very difficult to get a good exposure at longer shutter speeds without an ND filter.

ND filters come in varying degrees of strength denoted by the amount of stops of light that they cut out. A 6-stop and 10-stop ND filter are among the most commonly used for long exposure shots, but you can find them as high as 15-stop too.

It’s a good idea to invest in a quality ND filter because the cheap ones can cause a loss of sharpness and add a color cast to your image that can be difficult to fix in post-processing.

I use ND filters from Breakthrough Photography because they are among the sharpest out there and don’t shift the colors in the image. For more detail on choosing one, check out our guide to the best lens filters.

Remote Shutter Release

If you want to shoot longer than 30 seconds on most modern cameras, then you will need a remote shutter release. This is a device that you attach to the camera that lets you trigger the shutter remotely.

To shoot with shutter speeds longer than 30 seconds, you can set the camera on “Bulb Mode” and press the shutter release once to start the exposure and again to end the exposure. Some will let you set a timer in the device itself and others require you to time it yourself.

Recommended Course For Learning More…

Mastering Long Exposure Photography Mastering Long Exposure Photography

This course from Creative Live covers all the basics of long exposure photography as well as some creative uses of it and advanced techniques.

Photography Goals is reader-supported. When you buy products through the links on our site, we may earn a commission.

Finding The Right Location

Getting a good landscape photo means finding the right spot, and long exposure photography is no different. In fact, finding the location and planning the shot is even more important.

Looking For Movement

Using movement in the frame effectively is really the key to good long exposure photography.

To create a good long exposure image you need some kind of movement in the frame. Even the longest exposure just looks like a normal snapshot if nothing in the frame is moving.

But you can’t just have any movement. Things like people or animals moving in the frame during a long exposure just look like a blurry mess.

The type of movement that works best is when you have consistent movement along a certain path. Things like clouds or water are great examples. But you can also use stars to create star trails or car lights moving along a street for light trail photography.

This first image was shot at 1/25 of a second. At that shutter speed, you can see the structure and detail in the waves even though we know they are moving.

Nikon D750 | 1/25 sec. | 23mm | f/11 | ISO 100

Now, compare this image below that was shot with a shutter speed of 30 seconds. This was shot at the exact same location just two minutes after the shot above. I used a 10-stop ND filter to get the 30-second exposure.

Nikon D750 | 30 sec. | 23mm | f/11 | ISO 100

You can see the dramatic effect that the longer exposure had on both the water and the clouds above. The waves have blurred into an almost glassy appearing sheet while much of the detail in the clouds have disappeared.

You also see that the reflection of the sun on the water has softened considerably. This can often be a helpful technique for softening or eliminating overexposed reflections on water, especially when combined with a polarizing filter.

Interestingly, the people fishing were staying remarkably still and are still relatively sharp!

Composition For Long Exposure Photography

Just like any type of photography, good composition is critical to creating a compelling image.

The same composition techniques that you would use for any other type of photography still work great for long exposures but there i san additional element that you need to take into consideration…

The path and direction of the movement in your image is often the most critical compositional element in a long exposure.

Because you can’t always visualize this before taking the photo, you may need a few tries to get it just right. Be sure to look at each image after you take it and adjust your composition if necessary.

You’ll also notice that when you are dealing with movement in nature such as clouds or water, every image will be a little bit different. So don’t stop after one shot. The next one may be even better.

As you shoot more long exposures, you’ll get better and better at being able to visualize how the photo will look before you actually take it. Like anything…keep practicing.

Setting Up For The Shot

One common mistake made by photographers shooting any kind of landscape photography is setting up in the first spot they find and never trying new locations.

To avoid this, I like to walk around a place and take some photos with the camera still in my hand. You can even use your phone for this. It will help you visualize all the different compositions available.

Once you have your shot and composition chosen, the first thing you want to do is make sure your tripod is solid and stable.

In most cases, this will be as simple as opening the tripod.

A few things to keep in mind though:

  • If your tripod has a center column, don’t extend it. Keeping it lowered will give the camera more stability.
  • Extend the thickest sections of the legs first. Avoid using the skinny bottom sections if you don’t need the height.
  • If you are shooting on softer ground like sand, dig the legs into the sand. If your tripod has spikes, this is the time to use them.
  • Hang your camera bag or something else heavy on the center of the tripod if it has a hook to let you do so.

Now that your tripod is nice and steady, you’re ready to figure out the camera settings…

Make sure you secure the tripod for a long exposure photo, especially on unstable ground.

Camera Settings For Long Exposure Photography

There are no right settings for long exposure photography, but there are some things to keep in mind when you are setting up for the shot.

Aperture

There’s nothing unique about shooting long exposures when it comes to aperture. You should use an aperture of at least f/8 or higher to ensure that as much of the scene is in focus as possible.

Using a higher f-stop (which means a smaller aperture) also helps you use longer shutter speeds without needing as strong of an ND filter. In lower light environments, you may even be able to avoid using one altogether.

However, make sure you avoid going to the extreme here. Using the smallest apertures your lens is capable of will introduce something called diffraction. This causes a loss of sharpness in the image even when it is in focus.

ISO

You should almost always be able to use the base ISO for your camera when using long shutter speeds. That will ensure you have the cleanest and sharpest images possible. With longer shutter speeds, not having enough light shouldn’t really be an issue, so being able to use the cleanest ISO shouldn’t be a problem.

Very long shutter speeds can introduce noise into the image (similar to what you might get at higher ISO settings) so keeping the ISO low will give you the best chance to minimize that.

The one time when you might end up increasing the ISO is when you don’t have quite the right strength ND filter and need to add a little more brightness to the exposure but don’t want to change the shutter speed or aperture. In that situation, just increase it ever so slightly to get the proper exposure.

Shutter Speed

So the whole point of long exposure photogrpahy is to use long shutter speeds, right?

But exactly how long is a long exposure?

There are no hard and fast rules as to how long the exposure needs to be. You can create a “long exposure” with a shutter speed anywhere from 1/2 a second to an hour or more.

It really depends on what you’re shooting, how fast the movement is, and what effect you are going for.

The best way to explain what settings to use for your long exposure image is with some examples below…

Long Exposure Examples

The best way to get comfortable with long exposure photography is by trying it out. Here are some examples of long exposures I have taken over the years. I’ve included the settings with each image. Keep in mind that for most of these, I also used an ND filter to be able to shoot at these settings and still get a proper exposure.

Waterfalls and Rivers

When you are shooting something moving rather quickly, you don’t need an extremely long shutter speed to show the movement and create motion blur. Flowing water such as waterfalls and rivers moves rather fast.

In the image below, I used a 1.3 second exposure to smooth out the flowing water.

Nikon D5100 | 1.3 sec. | 20mm | f/8 | ISO 100

A much longer exposure for shots like this can blur the water so much that you can lose all sense of movement and dimension in the flowing water. It can still be a nice effect for certain situations, though. So experiment and see what works best.

Waves On The Sand

Waves at the beach are another example of fast-moving water. You can see in the image below that a 3-second exposure was plenty long enough to create motion blur for the waves.

For this kind of image, you don’t want to go too long (like the 30-second exposure above) because you tend to lose all the definition and motion in the waves. Here, you can still see some structure of the waves in the form of white streaks from the foam. These highlights in the wave are what really capture the viewer’s eye and can be used as leading lines.

Nikon D5100 | 3 sec. | 20mm | f/8 | ISO 100

You can also see in this image that the shape and definition in the clouds is still visible. So let’s talk about clouds…

Clouds

Clouds move slower than waves, at least from our perspective down here on the ground. So to show the movement in clouds, you’ll typically need a much longer shutter speed.

This image below was shot with a 270 second shutter speed (that’s 4.5 minutes!).

Nikon D5100 | 270 sec. | 24mm | f/9 | ISO 100

Another thing to keep in mind when shooting clouds is that the clouds at the top of the frame (which are the closest to you) will blur more than the ones farther out on the horizon. Even though all the clouds in the sky are moving at roughly the same speed in the sky, the ones closer to you will travel farther within the frame due to the perspective, especially with a wide-angle lens.

Lakes and Still Water

Not all long exposure photos need to be about movement. Sometimes you can use a long exposure to change the appearance of certain things in your image. For example, a lake that is relatively still but still has ripples in the water can be made to look glassy smooth.

The image below was taken at a large reservoir lake. There was just a very light breeze that day but I wanted to smooth out even the slightest of ripples in the water. So a 15 second exposure took care of that. The clouds weren’t moving too fast so that shutter speed allowed me to retain the detail in the clouds too.

Nikon D5100 | 15 sec. | 18mm | f/16 | ISO 100

When you are shooting any image with water, it is always a good idea to experiment with different shutter speeds (including some long exposures). I didn’t go into the image above planning a long exposure, but after the first few shots, I wanted to simplify the composition and remove the distraction of water ripples.

So I put on an ND filter and was able to get the shot I wanted.

Car Lights

Light trail photography is a lot of fun and a unique way to use long exposures.

The shutter speed to use for this type of shot depends on the speed of the vehicles and the length that you want the light trail to be.

In the image below, it took each vehicle about 2-3 seconds to pass the portion of the road that is in the frame. So I started with a 2.5 second shutter speed and then adjusted the aperture to make sure the image was properly exposed.

Nikon D5100 | 2.5 sec. | 17mm | f/14 | ISO 100

The image above is actually multiple images layered on top of one another in Photoshop. I took a single frame for each vehicle that went by and then combined them to include all the trails in one frame. The ones higher up in the air were from a bus that went by. Sometimes a little luck can help your image.

Common Questions About Long Exposure Photography

When should you do long exposure photography?

The best time (and easiest) is when you in a low light environment. Before sunrise or after sunset are great. But you can shoot long exposures anytime with a strong enough ND filter. You should use long exposures to blur motion in the image, either to show movement or to change the appearance of an element in the frame.

How long is a long exposure?

A long exposure can be anywhere from a few seconds to minutes or even hours. There is no real rule to what is considered a long exposure. Any time you are lengthening the shutter speed to create motion blur on purpose in your image, it can be considered a long exposure.

Is long exposure the same as slow shutter speed?

Yes, long exposure is essentially the same as slow shutter speed. Long exposure is generally used to refer to the effect or type of photography while slow shutter speed is the way you can achieve a long exposure image. Sometimes you will use a slow shutter speed when there is no movement in the frame just because there is very little light. That typically wouldn’t be referred to as long exposure photography…just a slow shutter speed.

Why do photographers use long exposure?

Photographers use long exposure to use the effect of motion blur in their images for creative purposes. That can be to add the feeling of movement in a still image, smooth out certain elements of the frame, or to create special effects like light trails or star trails.

Long Exposure Ocean Photography (Capturing The Waves)

Long exposure ocean photography is one of the most popular types of long exposure photography.

Capturing those silky smooth ocean waves and smoothed out skies makes for stunning images. Every time I shoot at the beach, I’ll end up shooting at least one series of long exposure images.

But if you’ve never tried shooting long exposure of the waves, then it can be intimidating. So here are 4 steps you can follow to start creating epic long exposures at the ocean.

1. Planning The Shoot

Creating great landscape photos starts before you ever get to the location. Planning out the shot is even more important when it comes to shooting long exposures at the ocean.

Check The Tides

Any time you plan to photograph at or near the ocean, you need to be aware of the tides.

Not only do the tides change the appearance of the landscape, they can also put you in unexpectedly dangerous conditions. This is especially true if you are shooting on or near ocean-side rock formations or caves. The changing tide can easily trap you in a position and cause your gear to be submerged or, in the worst case scenario, pull you out to sea.

So be aware when the tide will be coming in and out, so you know if the spot you are shooting from will become covered in water eventually.

It’s usually a good idea to shoot when the tide is going out. That means get there at or just after high tide and shoot as the tide goes out. There are a couple reasons for this.

First, it lets you see where the ocean level is at its highest so you can plan accordingly and be safe.

Second, long exposures tend to just look better when the tide is receding. You’ll get better surf trails and less crashing waves that make the long exposure look messy. But more about that later.

Overall, just remember that the ocean is unpredictable, so know when the tides change, be aware of your surroundings and plan accordingly.

Know Where The Light Will Be

Now as far as the aesthetic of the image goes, knowing where the light will be is absolutely critical.

Just like most other types of landscape photography, the best times to shoot long exposure ocean photos are around sunrise and sunset.

For the more blue calm serene look, try to shoot in the hour or so before sunrise or after sunset. This will make it easier to get really long exposures and turn the moving ocean into a smooth looking sheet.

If you want a long exposure that shows the waves and their path you will want to shoot when the sun is above the horizon. That more direct light will be picked up by the white surf and really accentuate the lines it creates.

For planning the times and direction of light, I use an app called Photo Pills. It basically has everything you could possibly need to plan a photoshoot.

2. Setting Up

Get a solid base

Other than a camera, the most essential piece of gear to shoot long exposures is a tripod.

Since you’ll be shooting exposures of 1 second or longer at least, your camera needs to be locked in place. You really can’t get a good long exposure image handheld.

If you’re shooting from the sand, you’ll need a good set of legs that will be stable as waves hit it. Of course, even if you are shooting from solid ground like rocks, having a solid, well-made tripod is critical.

If you are relatively new to photography or using a tripod, beware because there are a lot of absolute garbage tripods out there…especially in the consumer electronics stores. Also, you want to avoid any tripod that connects the legs to a center column. Those aren’t too useful for landscape shooting because you’ll rarely find yourself on flat solid ground.

You can spend over $1000 if you want the best of the best when it comes to tripods, but if you are looking for a great value try checking out this Benro Tripod on Amazon, or for the really budget-conscious buyer, this K&F Concepts Tripod does a good job for a really affordable price (though it won’t last as long as some of the better options).

A solid tripod is an essential piece of gear for long exposure ocean photography.

An ND Filter Makes Things Easier

You can shoot long exposures without an ND filter but you would be limited to the times before sunrise or after sunset, and even then, you couldn’t get real long exposures. So while it’s not a necessity, having a good ND filter does let you shoot long exposures a lot more often.

An ND filter is like sunglasses for your lens. It cuts down the amount of light going into the lens without changing the appearance of the image. Good ND filters will have very little to no effect on the colors in an image while cheaper ND filters can create a color cast that would have to be fixed with photo editing software.

For most long exposure photos, you’ll need at least a 6-stop ND filter (that means it lowers the exposure by 6-stops). I keep a 6-stop and a 10-stop in my bag for these kind of photos.

The filters I use are from a company called Breakthrough Photography. They have just about zero color cast on the images and are very sturdy and well built. I like to get 82mm filters and use step-up rings on any lenses that are smaller than that so I don’t need to spend money on filters in every size.

You can CLICK HERE to check them out on Amazon.

3. Finding A Composition For Long Exposure

Find The Movement

Long exposure photos are all about capturing movement. After all, a 3 minute long exposure of something stationary is the same as a 1/250 second exposure.

That is why long exposure ocean photos are so much fun. There’s movement all over the place. The waves are moving as well as the clouds in the sky.

So pay attention to the direction and the speed of that movement. Faster moving parts of the image (like waves) will blur more than slower moving parts (like clouds).

Contrast With Stationary Objects

So now that you have identified the areas of movement, you want to find elements of the scene that don’t move.

Things like rocks, driftwood, or even your own feet (if you keep very still) are some examples of things that will remain sharp in a long exposure.

These stationary objects create a contrast with the moving blurry parts of the image. This contrast usually makes the image more compelling and also helps add to the feel of motion in the blurry parts. I think on a subconscious level having points of stationary sharp elements in an image tells the viewer that the blurry parts are movement rather than an out of focus lens.

Using stationary objects like this rock allow you to create a more interesting flow of the water and more compelling images (18mm, 0.6 sec, f/10).

Follow The Path Of The Water

Another very useful benefit of including stationary objects in the image is that they can control the flow of water.

For example, look at the image above. The waves receding create straight diagonal lines in the flat area behind the rock. This is good and alone would be somewhat dynamic. But the rock in the foreground causes the waves to curve around it forming somewhat of an ellipsis shape framing the rock.

This helps keep the viewer’s eye from drifting off the frame. As an added bonus the rock itself points up to the seaside town in the background drawing the viewer in even more.

This is just one example of using the flow of the water to create the composition you want.

Recommended Course For Learning More…

Mastering Long Exposure Photography Mastering Long Exposure Photography

This course from Creative Live covers all the basics of long exposure photography as well as some creative uses of it and advanced techniques.

Photography Goals is reader-supported. When you buy products through the links on our site, we may earn a commission.

4. Long Exposure Ocean Settings

For the most part, your long exposure ocean settings will change based on the scene, available light, amount of movement you want, and whether you’re using an ND filter. But here are some basics to get you started.

Aperture

There’s nothing special about the aperture settings for long exposure compared to your typical landscape image. Something in the 8-16 range will get you a decent depth of field to capture most or all of the scene in focus.

You may want to tend towards the higher end (smaller apertures) if you want to extend the exposure as long as possible.

Try to avoid the highest apertures of your lens as this will cause some image softness because of something called diffraction.

I generally start around f/12 on most scenes and adjust from there.

Choose the right shutter speed

Shutter speed for long exposures of the ocean are where the creativity really kicks into high gear.

You can change the look and feel of an image considerably by simply changing the shutter speed.

A shorter shutter speed (1/2 to 2 seconds) is great for retaining the structure and highlights in a wave as it moves down the shore or flows around the rocks of a jetty. This is a useful technique when there isn’t any compelling objects in the foreground. A wave will create its own leading lines to add to the composition.

Here I chose a shutter speed of 1 second so that the texture and shape of the waves were still visible but blurred enough to show motion (18mm, 1 sec., f/13).

Another approach is the very long exposure. By using a shutter speed of 30 seconds or more, you can flatten out all the waves of the ocean and create a smooth surface. As compared to the energetic action you’ll capture in a 1-2 second exposure, the ultra long exposure gives you a peaceful and tranquil feel to the image.

One of my favorite ways to use the approach is by capturing waves hitting an uneven rocky shoreline. The combination of the water splashing up on the rocks and a 30+ second exposure will create a mist effect.

In reality there were waves crashing up on these rocks but the long exposure gave it this ethereal mist look (50mm, 60 sec, f/14).

Like anything else in photography, there is no one right or wrong way to do it. So get out there and try different approaches and shutter speeds. Keep practicing and learning new techniques.

The beach is one of my favorite places to be (whether I’m shooting or not) and it is long exposure ocean photography is a fun creative way to enjoy the beach.

11 Winter Photography Tips

Winter is often a time when photographers stay inside.

This is a big mistake.

Winter can give you some of the most unique and beautiful settings for your photography. Even places you have shot before can be transformed into something completely new in the winter.

But before you head out there, be sure to pay attention to these winter photography tips to protect yourself and get the best photos possible…

Dress In Layers

You can’t create beautiful photos if you get hypothermia.

The best way to stay warm on your winter photo excursions is to dress in layers.

Layers are especially important if you’ll be outside for a long time. The temperature can change while you’re out there and you’ll need to adjust accordingly. If you’re dressed in layers, you can remove or add layers as the temperature changes.

Let Your Camera Acclimate To The Cold (and warm) Slowly

Sudden temperature changes can cause condensation to form on your lens. This can affect image quality and can even hurt your lens if you let the condensation form on the inside.

The best way to combat this is to let your gear change temperatures slowly.

Bring a sealable plastic bag with you and put all your gear in the bag before you go back into the warmth. Just remember to take your battery and memory card out first so you can recharge the battery and start viewing your photos.

Then put the plastic bag with your camera gear in your camera bag.

The extra insulation of the bag will slow down the temperature change for the camera gear and the plastic bag will keep out the extra moisture in the warm air that adds to the condensation.

Bring Gloves That Will Let You Operate The Camera

Click Image For More Details

Ever try to change your camera settings with gloves on?

Doesn’t always work that well, does it?

And if you have a Mirrorless camera with a touch screen, it can be even more difficult to get the shots you want with gloves on.

So you need gloves that are designed to keep you warm AND give you the dexterity to operate the small buttons and dials on a camera.

A great way to do this is to grab a pair of gloves that let you flip open the thumb and forefinger. You can flip them open when you need to operate the camera and then close them again to stay warm. This also lets you use the touch screen effectively as well.

If you are looking for great photography gloves that let you control your camera and still stay warm, check out these gloves on Amazon.

Don’t Trust Auto Modes In The Snow

Auto modes can be useful in some situations, but the snow is not one of them.

Your camera wants to have a balanced exposure. However, if your frame is filled with white snow, the camera will interpret that as overexposed and adjust accordingly. The result is gray, underexposed snow.

There are two options for this. The first is to keep the camera on your favorite auto mode (aperture or shutter priority) and then use exposure compensation to increase the exposure. However, the downside to that is the variance in exposures you’ll get depending on how much snow is in the frame from shot to shot.

Instead, this is the time to figure out manual mode.

If you’re new to manual mode, then check out what settings look decent in auto mode and use them as your starting point in manual.

Editing Your Winter Photos

Just like shooting, winter photos often need to be edited a little differently than your average shots. Especially if there is snow in the shots.

Most photographers, tend to err on the side of warming up the white balance of their outdoor photos. There’s two downfalls to this approach with outdoor winter photos.

First, if you have snow in the picture…you’ll probably want it to be white, not yellow.

Second, outdoor winter photos should have a cooler white balance to them in general. Most people expect this and unless there is an obvious sunset adding warmer tones, you should adjust your images to be a little cooler than normal.

If you’re looking for a great starting point for editing your winter photos, check out our Winter Lightroom Presets.

Cooler color tones go with cooler temperatures.

Bring Extra Batteries

Batteries get used up faster in the cold. So bring extras.

This is especially important if you use a mirrorless camera. They tend to use batteries quicker than a DSLR.

You should also keep your batteries in your pocket. Preferably keep them in a pocket that is on an inner layer of clothing so that they stay warm.

If you leave your batteries in your camera bag in the cold, you might be surprised that they are somewhat depleted even without using them.

Invest In A Quality Tripod

Winter shooting means difficult conditions…so you need a good tripod to handle those conditions.

The ground tends to hold more moisture in the winter because it’s not warm enough to evaporate and you’ll also encounter snow on the ground. In addition, icy conditions make it even harder to keep a tripod steady.

All this means that a cheap tripod probably won’t serve you well and may not even make it through the winter without locking up the legs, rusting, or suffering from some other calamity.

Bring A Water Resistant Camera Bag

In case you haven’t noticed, a lot of these tips for winter photography are related to moisture (a.k.a. the mortal enemy of camera gear).

So it should go without saying that a good waterproof camera bag will be a huge benefit for winter photography.

Especially if you are out in the snow, you don’t realize that your gear is getting wet because you can just brush the snow off your bag. But lesser quality bags are not as well sealed and that snow can get in there, melt, and cause some serious damage.

Use A Polarizing Filter

Snow, ice, and any other moisture you encounter during the winter can add a lot of reflective light to your photos.

Sometimes, this can be a problem.

Click Image For More Details

So you should also have a polarizing filter on hand when you are shooting in the winter.

A polarizing filter will help cut down on the light reflecting off those shiny surfaces and give you deeper and richer colors for your photos.

I use this polarizing filter all the time. After testing a lot of different brands, I found it to be the best out there in terms of sharpness and color accuracy.

If you want to shoot portraits outdoors in the winter, check out our guide to Using A Polarizing Filter For Portraits.

Use Shutter Speed To Control The Snow

Snow can be especially tricky for photography.

You have to decide how you want it to look in the final images.

A fast shutter speed will freeze the snow. This can give your image a more calm or pleasant feel to it. It will look great for portraits or more relaxed scenes.

But if you use a slower shutter speed, you’ll blur the falling snow which can add a sense of movement to the photo. This also gives the appearance of harsh conditions. It will give you a feeling of intensity or discomfort.

A good approach is to try shooting both and see which look works better for your purposes.

Keep Your Subject’s Nose Warm

If you are photographing people, you need to worry about them too!

One of the most common problems you’ll run into is red noses from the cold. This can be unflattering and often difficult to fix after the fact.

So be sure to tell your subjects to bring something to cover their faces when they aren’t in front of the camera. A simple scarf can go a long way towards helping them look their best.

How To Photograph Light Trails (A Light Trail Photography Tutorial)

What Are Light Trails In Photography?

Light trails in photogrpahy are when you use a longer shutter speed to capture moving lights. Because the shutter is opened for a few seconds (or even more) the light creates a trail across the image showing the path that it took.

It is one of the fun and creative ways you can use long exposure photography.

There are a lot of creative ways to use light trails. Cityscapes, landscapes, and even portraits can make great use of light trails to create a sense of energy and motion in the image and add color to an otherwise dreary scene.

Contents

Using Light Trails Creatively

Before we get into the details about how to take compelling light trail images, let’s talk about some ways to use light trails creatively to enhance your images.

Show Speed and Create Energy

Light trails create a sense of speed and energy in the image. A viewer inherently knows that the light trail was created by a moving object so they perceive it as action in the image.

You can manipulate this effect and use it to your advantage. For example, the viewer can’t really tell how fast a bus was traveling down the street. As long as it doesn’t stop, you can just lengthen your shutter speed to capture a lot of movement in even a slow moving vehicle.

But in the final image, the car light streaks makes it look as if it were speeding by!

You can use this technique to create energy and excitement in your image even on an otherwise quiet city street. All you need is one or two vehicles going by and it looks like rush hour!

Contrast With A Quiet Landscape

The thing about landscapes is that they don’t move. This is great if you want a quiet peaceful image, but even in the most beautiful settings, this can get old after a while.

But like we just talked about, light trails create energy in the image.

Of course you can’t just add light trails to just any landscape. But you can seek out scenes that use light trails more effectively.

A classic example of this would be the rolling countryside hills with a single road winding through it. During the day this may be a nice scene, but if you go there at night and wait for a car to travel that winding road, you can create a bright leading line that makes the image all the more compelling.

You can also use this in cities to show the path of twisting highway exchanges or even to simplify the composition in an otherwise cluttered or busy city street.

Add Color

If you’re shooting at night then your image will have a lot of dark areas and blue tones. If this is all that’s in the scene, you can end up with a dull image. But add light trails (from a vehicle driving or even a person walking by) and your image instantly has different color tones that create contrast and interest.

Add Special Effects To A Portrait

Most people think landscape or cityscape images when they think about light trails, but you can employ the same techniques in portrait images too. Give your subject a light source. It can be anything from a flashlight to a sparkler. Then have them make designs in the air as you leave the shutter open.

How To Set Up Light Trail Photography

Just like any other image you want to take, planning it out ahead of time can be very important and that is even more important when it comes to shooting light trails. Here are some suggestions for choosing a composition and location…

High Vantage Points

If you are shooting roads and cityscapes, then getting a high vantage point can help you create some spectacular images.

Getting up high can let you see more of the roads and even begin to see shapes and patterns in the roadways. This lets you use those paths to you advantage when composing your image.

You can often accomplish this by finding a nearby building to shoot from (just make sure you have permission to be there) or take the easy route and pick up a drone like this one that does an amazing job and can actually stabilize itself in the air long enough to shoot a light trail image.

I took this from the top floor and incorporated light trails into a larger cityscape of Las Vegas at night.

Curves

Straight light trails are good, but winding curves in the image are often more dynamic and can lead the viewer through the image.

But remember not to just shoot curvy light trails for the sake of shooting curves. Do so with purpose and attention to where the curves are leading. You want to keep the viewers eyes in the image and pointing to a focal point.

Don’t just let the light trails fly off the side of the image. A good approach is to compose your image so that they lead off to the horizon rather than out of the frame.

Light Trail Photography Camera Settings

Of course every scene will require different camera settings, but here are some things to keep in mind when you are setting up your camera.

When it comes to light trails, you’re going to need some practice. Start by just going out to a local road that is busy and finding a safe spot to shoot from at dusk. That will help you get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. Then when you find yourself in an ideal situation for shooting light trails, you’ll be ready.

Shutter Speed

This is the part that most people get wrong. There is no “correct” shutter speed for light trails.

You need to figure out where you want the light trail to start and stop and then estimate how long it will take the moving object (car, person, llama with a head lamp, etc.) to get from point A to point B. That will be your shutter speed. Set that first.

Then you need to determine whether that shutter speed creates a good exposure. From there you can use your aperture and ISO settings to dial in your exposure while leaving the shutter speed alone.

Try to avoid going with too high of an ISO as that will degrade the quality of your image. “Too high” is different on every camera when it comes to ISO. Try taking images at home at different ISO values and see where you think the image starts to degrade to a point that makes you unhappy with it.

Also be careful with your aperture. Too wide of an aperture and you may end up with a lot of the scene out of focus. This can be especially problematic if you are shooting light trails in a scene with objects in the near foreground that you want in focus.

Sometimes, even when shooting at night, the shutter speed you need will result in an over exposed image and ISO and aperture aren’t enough to get that under control. In that case, you need an ND filter to cut out some of the light hitting your sensor. I use these filters for all my work. They are the best I’ve found out there after trying a lot of different brands.

This is a beautiful example of combining light trails with stars. Image by Evgeni Tcherkasski.

Manual Focus

Using manual focus is almost essential with light trail photography.

Because you’re shooting in low light, the camera may try hunting for focus every time you hit the shutter button, delaying the release and causing you to miss the timing. Even if you time it right, you can’t guarantee the camera get’s it right.

Instead, get your focus set ahead of time. You can use auto focus for this if you want. You can also use the LCD screen and zoom in real close to use manual focus to be extremely accurate (my favorite method).

Once you get the focus you want, switch it to manual focus and don’t touch the focus ring on the lens. You’re all set and not you don’t have to worry about timing the focus or getting it wrong.

You may also want to learn about using back button focus. I tried it years ago and never switched back.

Take Multiple Images

This image is a combination of about 5 frames. I waited for a bus to come by to get the trails that re higher up.

Ever nail the perfect image on the first shot?

Yeah, me either.

But with light trails, taking multiple images is about more than just getting a good one. You can actually use multiple images to create one that is better than all of them.

You can accomplish this through exposure stacking in Photoshop. That can be a whole tutorial on it’s own, but the idea is that you bring all the separate images into Photoshop as layers and use masks to combine the light trails from various images to create more of them in a single frame.

This can be a helpful tenchnique when you can’t shoot a long enough shutter speed and still get a good exposure.

What Gear Do You Need For Light Trail Photography?

Camera

This should go without saying (but if I leave it out someome will let me know!). Light trail photography usually requires low light shooting. But it also requires longer shutter speeds so you don’t necessarily have to have a camera that does well in low light…though it sometimes helps to being out a little more detail in the shadow areas.

Ultimately, as long as your camera has manual settings, then you can use it for light trail photography.

Tripod

A tripod is a necessity for any type of photography with longer shutter speeds, and that includes shooting light trails. You’ll need to stabilize your camera so that the long exposure doesn’t create blur in the image.

If you listened to my advice above and want to shoot multiple images, then

(Optional) Remote Release

A remote release can be helpful when shooting with longer shutter speeds. They let you lock the camera down on a tripod and not have to touch it to trigger the shutter.

If you don’t have one, try using your camera with a short delay (1-2 seconds) so that any vibrations from you hitting the button will have dissipated by the time the shutter is released. The delayed shutter method makes it harder to time, but can be handy if you don’t have a remote trigger.

Common Mistakes When Shooting Light Trails

Here are some of the more common mistakes I’ve seen photographers make when attempting to shoot light trail photography.

Not Enough Contrast

The light trails should stand out in your image. So you need some kind of contrast between them and the rest of the scene. This can be luminosity (brightness) contrast or even color contrast (or a combination of both).

But just don’t let the light trails blend into the rest of your image, then you lose most of the creative benefits of shooting light trails.

Bad Exposure

Don’t forget to get a correct exposure on the whole image. You can have the coolest light trails ever, but if the rest of the scene is overly dark and has no detail, then the image more often than not will fall short.

You can avoid this by shooting shortly after sunset rather than later in the night when it gets darker. This is often called “blue hour.” There is still a bit of ambient light in the sky so it is easier to balance the exposure with the brighter light trails.

Light Trails That Are Too Short

You need to carefully plan out the length of your light trails. If they abruptly end in the middle of the frame then the photo will look incomplete. There are always exceptions and you may want to do that for artistic reasons, but most of the time (especially when you’re just getting started), longer light trails generally look more appealing.

Awkward Direction

The direction of the light trails are an important component of your composition. Give some thought as to how the trail will flow through the frame and what you are leading the viewer to focus on.

How To Take A Backlit Photo (5 Easy Techniques)

Backlit photos can be absolutely stunning no matter what you are photographing. But learning how to take a backlit photo and getting comfortable with those skills can be challenging for some.

Depending on what you are trying to do, though, a backlit photo can be very simple to pull off. The primary thing you need to worry about is balancing the exposure. When your image is backlit, you run the risk of having the background too bright and the foreground (or subject) too dark.

Here are 5 easy techniques to help you balance the exposure when you are shooting backlit photos.

1. Keep The Sun (or other light source) Out Of Frame

Having a bright light source in the frame of a photo can cause all kinds of problems if you’re not taking other precautions.

It’s a good idea to get at least some “safe” shots without the light source directly in the frame of the shot.

Also keep in mind that even when the light is out of the visible part of the frame, some direct light may still be hitting the outer glass element of the lens. This can cause light flares.

When used artistically, a light flare can be a great effect.

By keeping the sun just out of frame, I avoided a lot of the problems caused by direct light into the lens.

2. Use Something To Block The Sun

What if you can’t or don’t want to put the light source completely out of frame?

You can still minimize the negative effects by partially or completely blocking it from directly hitting the lens. Things like trees, buildings, mountains, or even the subject of the photo.

By placing something between you and the light source, you significantly cut down on the amount of light reaching the camera which makes it easier to create a balanced exposure.

But you also create something called rim light. The object between you and the light will take on an almost glowing appearance. This works exceptionally well when shooting people. It will create a glowing atmosphere around the subject.

I use this technique often when I want that briht and airy soft glow look (particularly with women).

3. Find The Good Angles

When you are using backlight in a photo, simply moving a few feet to the left or right can make a massive difference in the image.

It can help to hide the light behind your subject or some other object. It can create ot eliminate lens flare in the image.

The most important thing to keep in mind when positioning yourself when shooting a backlit image is to pay attention to the subject and how the light is affecting them. If you move too far, you’ll change the light from a backlight to a side light. That can introduce all kinds of shadows and creates an entirely differnent feel for the image.

You also can’t forget the basics like paying attention to your background (other than the light source). By repositioning yourself, you may be changing the background as well.

4. Make Sure Your Subject Has Enough Light

You might be focused on the backlight, but don’t forget about your subject. The goal is still to get a good exposure on your subject.

When you first attempt to shoot backlit images, you may find yourself so focused on the background that you end up with a sillouette of your subject. There’s nothing wrong with a silouette shot, but if you are reading this far, then you probably want to know how to create a more balanced exposure for a backlit shot.

Your approach may be different whether you are shooting a person or a landscape.

Backlit People

The easiest approach is to simply expose correctly for the subject and let the background be overexposed. This is where you should start. Get comfortable dealing with light behind your subject.

You can also use a reflector to bounce some of the light behind your subject back into their face.

The last and most effective way to get light on your subject in a backlit shot is to use off camera flash. The advantages to using flash are that you can control the power, you can use gels to get the right color, and you can make the light as hard or soft as you want. If you have a flash powerful enough, you can crank it up and underexpose the background a little for a really cool look.

Backlit Landscapes

Landscapes require a different approach. Chances are you can’t get a reflector or flash large enough to balance the light on an entire landscape.

You can let the background (typically the sky) be overexposed and concentrate on exposing the ground, but that’s generally not desireable for a landscape image. Occasionally, you can find spots where there is light being reflected onto the foreground. One example would be perhaps shooting a cityscape with a large building at your back. That would reflect some light onto the foreground. But that is rarely enough and you kind of have to be luck to find it.

The best way to balance the exposure for a backlit landscape is to either (1) use a graduated ND filter or (2) bracket your shots.

A graduated ND filter will darken a portion of the image while leaving another portion alone. This is how we did it before digital photography and Photoshop and it still works today. However, it really works best when the horizon between the land and sky is a straight line (such as when you’re shooting out towards a large body of water. Otherwise, it’s not very accurate.

A better approach is to bracket your shots and blend them later in Lightroom or Photoshop. That’s a whole other tutorial that we’ll eventually cover on here, but it’s too much to get into now. I will say that the “Photomerge” to “HDR” function in Lightroom is a great place to start. It’s not perfect, but it does as good a job as any automated process.

A more advanced technique requires a more manual approach called luminosity masking in Photoshop. That let’s you control every aspect of the blending and often creates much more natural looking and higher quality results.

You can click on the images above to zoom in.

5. Lens Quality Matters

Shooting into a light source can create a flare in your image and/or cause you to lose contrast in the image making it appear soft. Those are not always bad things and can be used creatively, but you need to be aware that it can happen and make sure to either avoid it or use it effectively.

The methods above can cut down on these effects.

Another expensive, but effective, way to avoid excessive lens flare and contrast loss is to simply use a better quality lens. This is especially true when it comes to retaining contrast in the image when shooting towards a light source.

Better made (which usually means more expensive) lenses tend to do a much better job of controlling these effects.

That being said, I never advocate for a photogrpaher to simply go out and buy a new lens just to solve a problem like this.

For one, no lens will eliminate these effects altogether. Plus there are four other excellent techniques that work significantly better than simply switching lenses. So try these techniques with whatever lens you have and make the best image possible.

If you still find yourself unable to create the images you want, then consider upgradings.

Shooting Long Exposure Photography In Daylight

If you’ve heard of long exposure photography and know what it is, then you probably associate long exposure photos with shooting at night. However, long exposure photography in daylight can still allow you to create amazing images.

And you don’t have to stay out late.

Taking long exposure images in the daylight can be tricky though and you may need some extra gear to make it work.

Here’s how to make it happen…

The Essential Gear

When it comes to long exposure images, the gear does matter. There are some ways to work around a lack of gear (and we discuss some of them below), but ultimately, to do this well, there are some pieces of kit that are essential.

Tripod

If you want sharp long exposure images (in daylight or anytime for that matter) then you need to stabilize the camera. Even with the stabilization found in many modern cameras, a tripod is still an essential piece of gear for the landscape photographer. This is even more true if you want to shoot long exposure images.

Neutral Density Filter

This is going to be the most important part of shooting a long exposure image. An ND filter is like sunglasses for your camera. It will cut out a specific amount of light (measured in stops) so that you can use a slower shutter speed in brighter conditions.

ND filters come in various strengths. I like to keep a 3-stop, a 6-stop, 10-stop, and even a 15-stop in the camera bag for various purposes.

For daytime long exposure shooting, you’ll probably end up using the 10 stop more often than the others. For long exposure in general, I’d recommend starting with a 6 and 10 stop filter. I use these filters. They are among the sharpest on the market and add very little color case compared to other options out there.

There are also “variable ND” filters that let you adjust the strength of the filter by rotating it. In general, these are more often used for video shooting than landscape photography because they tend to cause a more noticeable loss of sharpness compared to filters that are non-adjustable.

The Setup

The most important part of shooing a long exposure image (in daylight or otherwise) is the setup. Thinking about your shot beforehand, choosing the right composition, and figuring out what you want to show in the scene is essential to creating a compelling final image.

Choose The Right Scene

Some scenes just don’t work with long exposures. Part of the skill of shooting compelling long exposure photos is being able to recognize when and when not to use it.

Identifying scenes that work well is something that comes with experience, but there are some general things you want to look for.

Most importantly, you need something moving in the scene. The primary effect of a long exposure is to blur any motion in the image. Some common things that work well are clouds, flowing water, moving cars, and even crowds of moving people.

Use Movement Effectively

The contrast between the water and the stationary colorful leaves made this a good composition for a long exposure.

Now that you have a scene that has some movement to blur, you need to use tht effectively.

One tactic that often works well is to choose a composition that shows the movement past or around some stationary object. That contrast between blurred movement and a sharp stationary object is very often very attention grabbing.

You should also look to create direction or a path of movement. Simply blurring movement that is not flowing in a constant direction can just look blurry. But when you have movement in the image flowing in a constant path or direction, it creates energy and flow in the image.

You can use that flow of movement to guide the viewer’s eye around the image. When you can combine good composition practices with using movement in the image, then you are well on your way to creating compelling and professional looking long exposure images.

Long Exposure Photography In Daylight Settings

The settings you use will depend on a number of different factors.

The overall brightness of your scene will have the largest impact. Ultimately, you need to get a properly exposed image. So a daylight long exposure images shot at noon on a clear day will require significantly different settings than one shot at 6pm on a cloudy day.

The best way to look at it is to go through a step by step process each time you set up to shoot a long exposure image. Here’s the process I use…

Shutter Speed

Most of the time, shutter speed is one of the last settings you set in landscape photography because it often doesn’t matter. But if you want a long exposure image then you need a slower shutter speed. So you want to set shutter speed first for a long exposure image and make the rest of the settings work.

Depending on the movement that you want to capture the shutter speed may vary. If you want to blur cloud movement, for example, you may need a shutter speed as long as 20-30 seconds. But if you want to blur the water in a fast moving river, just a 2-3 second exposure may do the trick.

A common mistake many photographers make when attempting long exposure is to make the exposure too long. Sometimes a very long exposure can create a beautiful image, but other times it removes all sense of energy in the image. You’ll have to decide for yourself which effect works best for your image. Try varying shutter speeds and see what looks the best.

Aperture

More often than not, you will want a smaller aperture (which means a larger number). This is not dissimilar to a normal landscape shot where you want to maximize the depth of field by using a smaller aperture.

But be careful of going too far here. Many lenses will go up to f/22 or even f/30. But apertures that small will cause something called diffraction. That results in some loss of sharpness in the image.

Most lenses are at their sharpest right in the middle of their aperture range. But going to f/16 is often relatively safe from diffraction.

This was shot with a 90 second shutter speed and a 10 stop ND filter during the day.

ISO

If you are shooting long exposure photography in daylight then you want to use the base ISO of your camera. Some camera’s even have “Low” ISO settings below the base ISO. I try to avoid these Low ISO settings if I can cut the light using more effective methods such as an ND filter.

Use An ND Filter

The easiest way to use an ND filter is to get your entire shot set up, including composition and focus. Then place the filter and adjust the shutter speed to get a correct exposure with the filter on. If the shutter speed isn’t slow enough, then you may need a stronger filter.

Recommended Course For Learning More…

Mastering Long Exposure Photography Mastering Long Exposure Photography

This course from Creative Live covers all the basics of long exposure photography as well as some creative uses of it and advanced techniques.

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Long Exposure In Daylight Without A Filter

If you don’t have a filter, shooting long exposure photography in daylight can be difficult or even impossible if the conditions are especially bright.

But there are a few things you can try.

Use the smalllest aperture your lens will allow. I know I said earlier that very small apertures can cause diffraction. But if that is the only way to cut down on the light coming into the camera, then the diffraction is just something that you’ll have to live with.

Use the lowest ISO available on your camera. Generally, you’ll get the best image quality if you use the base ISO of the camera. This is ISO 100 on a lot of cameras. But some cameras also have “Low” ISO settings that are below the base ISO. Using them can have a slight negative effect on the image quality, but often it is negligible. So take advantage of your lowest possible ISO.

I didn’t need a very long shutter speed (1 second) for the desired effect here and it was late in the day, so I stopped down to f/16 and was ale to do this without a filter.

Test to see what the fastest shutter speed is that still gives you the “long exposure” effect that you are looking for. This is going to be a trial and error exercise. Start with the slowest shutter speed that you can still get a decent exposure with and then try faster shutter speeds from there.

Blend images in Photoshop. If you don’t have an ND filter, this may be your only way to get the blur effect that you want. Start by using the first three methods to get as slow a shutter speed as you can in the camera. Then take multiple images. You can either use an intervalometer or just click the shutter button multiple times. Check your camera’s manual to see if it has built in functionality that can make this easier.

To decide how many images to take, you need to figure out the shutter speed that you want the final image to look like and then divide that by the actual shutter speed you are using. For example, if you want to simulate a 20 second exposure but the best you can do in camera is a 1 second exposure, then take 20 shots.

You can then blend them together by adding all the shots to Photoshop as separate layers and using the “Mean” blending mode. You can get there by going to Layer → Smart Objects → Stack Mode → Mean.

Putting It All Together

Long exposure images are a lot of fun to shoot and doing them in the daytime can seem like a magic to non-photographers.

So get out there and try some of these techniques. Try them right in your backyard by shooting clouds with your home in the background. Practice the techniques. See what works and what doesn’t.

Over time, you’ll be able to create these kind of images without having to think about it that much. So when you find yourself in a beautiful location, you’ll recognize the potential for an amazing long exposure image and be able to make it happen.

Do you have any tips I missed for shooting long exposure photography in daylight? Let us know in the comments below…

Best Lens For Seascape Photography

Photo of the coastline to demonstrate using the best lens for seascape photography

Seascape photography is one of my favorite types of photography.

First, you get to spend some time at the beach (and who doesn’t love the beach). Even more importantly, the landscape itself is dynamic and constantly changing as a result of the weather, tides, time of day, and light. So it can be both calming and exciting to be out there shooting seascapes.

If you’re in a hurry and you just need an answer…overall, my choice of the best lens for seascape photography is the Tamron 17-35mm f/2.8-4 Di OSD. You can CLICK HERE to check out the price on Amazon.

Keep reading to find out why and see some of the alternatives that may be better suited for your specific needs.

Contents

What To Look For In A Lens For Seascape Photography

Before we dive into the choices, let’s look at some factors that are more specific to seascape photography. Of course, you always want to consider things like sharpness and price, but here are some things you may not think about when choosing a lens for shooting seascapes.

Best Focal Length For Seascape Photography

Like anything in photography, there really are no rules here. You can make compelling seascape images with a variety of focal lengths.

If you already shoot often, a great way to decide on a focal length is to look back at your old images and see what you use most often. You can do this in the Library module of Lightroom by sorting your images according to focal length. That way, when it is time to upgrade, you can make sure you are upgrading the focal length that will be most useful to you and your style.

That being said, if you are getting started with seascape photography, a great lens to start with would be a wide angle zoom lens. So a zoom lens in the neighborhood of 15-30mm (or close to that) is an ideal range to look for.

Consider The Availability Of Filters

Filters are almost a necessity when shooting seascapes.

If I’m pointing my camera at an ocean, it has either an ND filter or a polarizing filter on it about 95% of the time (and for those windy days, even a UV filter can come in handy to keep sand and salt water off the front of your lens).

When you are shooting water, shutter speed is very important. The best way to have complete control over your shutter speed is to have a few ND filters handy. That ensures that even on bright days, you can slow down the shutter speed and create some blur in the water.

A polarizing filter comes in handy when shooting rocks or other similar objects in your seascape images. When things get wet, they reflect light which can be very distracting in your images, especially when you don’t want those objects to be the focal point of the image.

Being able to use filters easily is a big factor for me when choosing a lens to use for shooting seascapes (and any landscape shot for that matter). Frankly, I am willing to give up a tiny bit of sharpness and focal range to be able to use a simple filter system.

Many of the high end super-wide lenses have a front element that is large and protrudes out from the front of the barrel of the lens. This makes it necessary to have a specialized filter system just for that lens.

The inconvenience of this is magnified when you are dealing with crashing waves, salt water mist, and blowing sand.

Weather Sealing

Along the same lines as filters, the conditions you’ll face when shooting seascapes also mean that the weather sealing on your lens becomes more important.

Sand and salt water are really bad for cameras and lenses. Add wind to that equation and your gear is in danger every time you take it out to the coast.

A weather sealed lens generally means that it uses rubber gaskets on all the areas that have openings. Primarily this means the mount, buttons, and any rotatable rings or points where the barrel extends.

NOTE: Weather sealing does NOT mean that a camera is waterproof. To make your camera 100% waterproof, you need a waterproof housing. Weather sealing just means that precautions have been taken to keep water and dust out as much as possible without affecting the usability of the lens.

This means that sand, mist, or even light rain is probably ok. But it’s no guarantee. To be sure, you can use a plastic rain hood.

It is also a good idea to avoid changing lenses while you’re on the sand (especially if it’s windy).

You should also wipe down your camera and lens with a lightly damp cloth (using regular water…not salt water) after EVERY time you take it out to the beach or shore area.

Best Lens For Seascape Photography

Choosing a lens is a choice that is very specific to the photographer and depends on what system they shoot with and their style of shooting. For this breakdown, I’ll assume you’re taking my advice on the ideal focal length.

I can’t possibly cover every option for every camera system, so I’ll focus on the three most popular (Canon, Nikon, and Sony). If you aren’t using one of the systems represented here, then hopefully this list will at least give you some guidance as to the kind of things you should be looking for.

Best Overall

Tamron 17-25mm f2.8-4 Di OSD

You might be surprised at this pick because I didn’t go with the biggest, baddest, most expensive wide angle lenses on the market…

As long as you don’t NEED a 2.8 aperture when shooting zoomed in past 18mm, then this lens is an incredible combination of sharpness, low distortion, and low light ability (at 17mm). All these factors, plus the very reasonable price, are why I

Full disclosure, this lens is my wide angle workhorse. I’ll occasionally rent some of the more expensive options for specialty work (like night photography). But for 98% of seascape photography, this Tamron gets the job done with great results.

One reason I would say that it beats out even the much acclaimed Tamron 15-30 for seascapes is the ability to put a regular filter on the front.

When shooting seascapes you’ll often find yourself wanting to use ND and polarizing filters and the big mattebox systems are unweildy. This is especially important if you are setting up in the surft or climbing up on some shore rock formations.

In addition, it is relatively light and compact compared to it’s more expensive counterparts at this focal length.

There are some downsides though.

If you zoom past 18mm then you lose the 2.8 aperture. If you shoot a lot of astrophotography, this might be a dealbreaker.

Although it is very sharp, it does fall slightly short of the revered Tamron 15-30 or Nikon 14-24 (both of which also have a constant 2.8 max aperture).

Budget Friendly Options

Before we start making some picks, let’s talk about kit lenses. You may have gotten one with your camera. It might have been a 24-105mm (full frame) or 18-50mm (crop sensors). If you have a kit lens that goes wide (24mm or lower) then you should probably just start with that.

Kit lenses in today’s cameras are pretty good and if you are just getting started, you should be out shooting and learning your camera, not upgrading your lens.

That being said, let’s take a look at some of the best budget friendly lenses for seascape photography..

Samyang/Rokinon 14mm Ultra Wide-Angle f/2.8 IF ED UMC Manual Focus Lens

This is a very inexpenseive lense that is quite popular among landscape photographers, especially those that shoot at night.

CLICK HERE to check out this lens on Amazon.

If you are looking for a low cost entry into wide angle seascape photography, then this might be perfect for you. It can be found for under $400.

Despite the price, this lens boasts exceptional sharpness and handles coma around the edges quite well for such a wide angle of view.

That being said, there are a few downsides.

It is a manual focus lens. Although most landscape photographers tend to use manual focus anyway, shooting seascapes is a little different. With waves moving and crashing at different locations as the tide shifts, you may find yourself grabbing the camera off the tripod and running to capture a shot. Auto focus can really come in handy for those moment.

Another downside is the lack of a filter slot. Like some of the high end ultra wide lenses, this lens has a bulbous front element which prevents you from using standard lense filters. So if filters are a necessity (which they often are when shooting seascapes) then you may end up spending all that money you saved when buying this lens to get one of those large matte box filter systems.

Tokina AT-X 116 Pro DX II

Tokina is well known for making decent lenses in the budget price range. At just a little bit more than the Rokinon lens, this is the perfect budget option for those of you with crop sensor camera.

CLICK HERE to check out this lens on Amazon.

This lens is available in Canon EF, Sony A, Nikon F(DX) mounts.

This lens delivers image quality that is impressive given the price point. I don’t think it can compete with the other lenses on this list as far as pure image quality (sharpness, contrast, etc.) but dollar for dollar is a tremendous value. If the others on this list are out of your budget and you have a crop sensor camera, then try this one out.

The advantages it has over the Rokinon is the zoom range (11-16mm) as well as the ability to use regular 77mm filters.

High End Lenses (Best of the Best)

Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 G2

Whether you’re shooting on a full frame or crop sensor, this lens is a beast!

If you don’t care about price, using regular filters, or adding extra weight to your bag and just want the best possible image quality…this is the lens to go for.

It is a full frame lens and is available in Canon EF and Nikon F mounts.

CLICK HERE to check out this lens on Amazon.

Although it is the most expensive lens on this list, it is actually priced considerably lower priced than its Canon and Nikon competitors.

Despite the lower cost, it is as good or better than those name brand lenses on image quality. It also includes vibration control. Which may not be a huge deal when shooting stills on a tripod, but comes in handy for low light hand held shooting or even video.

The focus ring and zoom ring are improved in the G2 version to be smoother that it’s predecessor. But I will say that if you are used to the high end Nikon and Canon lenses, it does feel a little tighter. But you will quickly get used to that.

Be aware though that you’ll need a specialized filter system to use filters with this lens. It does contain a slot in the rear to add an internal filter. I don’t really count this as an alternative to an outer lens. You’ll have to take the lens off the mount in order to change the filter. If you are changing filters often, which usually happens, then that can put your lens and camera at serious risk if you are shooting at the coast. For seascapes, I would consider the rear filter slot unusable.

In addition, there are very limited options for high quality internal filters. Tamrom doesn’t produce their own so you’ll need to find them elsewhere. Overall, it’s really not a viable solution.

That all being said, if top notch image quality is your number one concern, then this is the lens for you.

How To Photograph Waterfalls And Streams

Carefully Choose Your Shutter Speed

When it comes to moving water…shutter speed is everything. But there is no right shutter speed.

The best approach is to experiment with a range of shutter speeds and see what you like the best.

Freezing The Water

One approach is to shoot at a high shutter speed to freeze the movement of the water.

This can be effective for waterfalls with a lot of water or even rough rapids. Freezing the action will define individual drops of water. This works great when water is splashing off of rocks or coming over the edge of the waterfall.

The downside to freezing the action is that it tends to look a little unnatural and doesn’t do a great job of conveying the energy of the scene unless there is a big splash

Showing Motion

If you want to show the motion of the water, use a slower shutter speed to blur the motion of the water.

There are two approaches you can use here depending on what kind of look and feel you are going for.

Conveying Energy

In order to convey the energy of movement in a waterfall or stream, you need a shutter speed that blurs the movement of water but still shows some detail in the water.

You can see a great example of this in the image at the top of this article.

Conveying Calmness

To convey calmness, use an even slower shutter speed to blur out almost all of the detail in the moving water.

This will give it a silky or glassy look to it. This creates a peaceful calm feeling in the image. When you blur out all the detail, it still conveys movement of the water but in a much smoother way.

PRO TIP: Try shooting with both approaches and then use Photoshop to blend them together later. You can layer the longer exposure on top of the other and then use masking to “paint in” the detail from the shorter shutter speed image.

This was taken with a much slower shutter speed and it still shows movement but with less energy.

Use An ND Filter When Necessary

An ND filter will cut down on the amount of light reaching your sensor when taking a photo.

The benefit of this is being able to use slower shutter speeds even in bright settings.

Remember all that stuff we just discussed about shutter speed. If it is a bright day, you will be limited by how show you can make the shutter speed before the image becomes overexposed.

An ND filter solves this problem. By blocking out a specific amount of light, you then are able to use much slower shutter speeds without overexposing the image.

One thing to keep in mind is that many ND filters have a specific color cast to them so you may need to adjust your white balance as compared to shooting the image without a filter.

If you are looking to add an ND filter to your kit, check out these options from a small company called Breakthrough Photography. They are the ones I use and have found them to have the least color cast and exceptional sharpness.

Use A Polarizing Filter (or maybe not)

This was one of my first waterfall images. A polarizer would have helped me control all those highlights on the wet rocks and bring more attention to the water.

A polarizing filter can have a significant effect on water.

It will cut down (or even eliminate) any light reflections off the surface of the water. This will result in you being able to see right through the water and even to the bottom in shallow streams.

To use a polarizing filter, you need to adjust it while looking through the camera’s viewfinder or live vew screen to see the effect.

If the bottom of the stream has some interesting detail, this can make for some great results. So give it a try.

But keep in mind that you shouldn’t always just go right for the polarizer at full strength for every waterfall and stream photo.

Sometimes the light reflections can be a positive thing. If you want to show movement in the water, the highlights that show up without a polarizer will blur with longer shutter speeds giving the viewer a better sense of the movement.

This is especially true with waterfalls where the movement of the water is often the primary focus of the scene.

A polarizer will also eliminate the reflections on wet areas around the stream like rocks and vegetation.

If you want to pick up a great polarizing filter, try these from Breakthrough Photography. They make some very high quality filters.

Try shooting two or more frames without moving the camera on your tripod; one with the polarizer and one without. Then you can choose the best one or even blend them together to take the best parts from each one.

Avoid the Sky (Unless It’s Awesome)

One of the great things about shooting waterfalls and streams is that they are often found in densely wooded areas so you can shoot them at times when you wouldn’t normally shoot other kinds of landscapes (like the middle of the day).

The flip side of that is that there is often a big difference in brightness between the ground and the sky. The easiest and most effective way to deal with this is to avoid having the sky in the photo at all.

One mistake that many photographers make is leaving a small piece of sky in an otherwise low brightness scene. This can be very distracting and draws the viewers attention away from the important part of the scene.

But, like any rule in photography, there is always an exception.

If you’re shooting in an open area then you can’t always avoid including sky in your image. If this is the case, keep in mind some of these basic tips for landscape photography. You’ll have to take into consideration the light and time of day in this circumstance.

Another time when you would include the sky is if the sky makes for a compelling image. Maybe it is sunset or sunrise or perhaps there’s a big storm rolling in. Whatever the cause is, don’t waste a good sky just because you’re shooting a stream or waterfall.

Use A Tripod

So much of the tips mentioned above require a good tripod.

A tripod gives you complete control over your shutter speed as you won’t have to worry about camera shake at slower speeds.

Another benefit is being able to lock down your composition once you find one you like. This allows you to experiment with shutter speeds or shoot multiple exposures at varying speeds to combine later.

Since your camera is on a tripod, the frames will be much easier to blend together after the fact in Photoshop.

Get Close & Shoot Wide

A wide angle lens is typically the go to choice for photographing waterfalls and streams.

Often you might be in a densly wooded area and be unable to back away from the waterfall or stream to shoot, so a wide angle lets you get everything you want into the frame.

While you are looking for a good composition, look for some interesting thingsnear the ground. This can be a moss covered rock or an old log.

Then get your camera right up close to that to make it the focal point of the foreground.

With a wide angle lens, you’ll be able to get the rest of the scene in frame as well. But having a compelling or interesting foreground will help your image. A compelling foreground helps create depth in the image which will draw in the viewer. This approach will also help to distinguish your photograph from others taken at that same location.

Bring Water Protection

Electronics and water usually don’t go well together.

There are two things you need to be aware of then shooting around flowing water.

First, if there is a lot of mist in the air, then the camera itself can be in danger or getting water into the circuits if it isn’t weather sealed well enough.

You can combat this by getting a rain hood for your camera. Here is the rain hood I use. It is inexpensive and durable. You can also pick up this pack of disposable rain hoods.

For light mist situations, you can just lay a microfiber cloth over the camera in between shots.

The next thing you will need to deal with is mist collecting on the front of the lens. There’s no real great way to combat this. A good lens hood can help somewhat, but for a wide angle lens, the hood will be relatively small.

The best approach is to develop your own process of setting up the shot, cleaning the lens, and then taking the shot. I prefer to keep two microfiber cloths in my bag. One to cover the camera in between shots and another to wipe the front of the lens or filter.

If there is not a lot of water on the front of the lens, you can sometimes use an air blower to blow the drops off. Make sure you use a manual blower. Pressurized cans of air can do some serious damage to your lens or filter. DON’T USE THEM.

Now You Try…

There’s no replacement for experience when it comes to photographing waterfalls and streams. These tips and techniques are a great place to start. Use them as guidance and for ideas of things to try. But develop your own style and approach.

Get out there and shoot and have fun!

What are your best waterfall and stream photography tips? Let us know in the comments below.

9 Photography Tips For Beginners

Just getting started with photography?

There are many different genres of photography and it can seem daunting to get started. But it is also can be a really exciting time when you are trying all kinds of new creative pursuits.

These tips for beginners will get you started on the right path…

1. Learn The Camera Modes

Just about every camera have options to shoot in various different modes.

The most common among these are Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Auto.

Auto mode is basically letting the camera do all the work for you. This is the way that most consumer digital cameras take photos. It usually works pretty well for quick snapshots and to make sure you get an image in most situations.

Shutter priority means that you set the shutter speed and let the camera choose the other settings. The is great for situations where it is important to control the shutter speed. For example, you want a fast shutter speed like 1/500 of a second or faster for sports.

Aperture priority means that you set the aperture and let the camera choose the rest of the settings. Controlling the aperture is helpful if you want to blur the background of a portrait by choosing a wide aperture (low number f-stop) like f/1.8.

Manual mode lets you control all the settings. Don’t be afraid of manual mode.

2. Practice With Manual Mode

Anytime you are practicing with your camera, put it in manual mode. Experiment with different settings. Just simply using manual mode as much as possible is a great way to get comfortable using it.

It’s not easy to master shooting in manual. But you can’t do it if you never try. So put your camera in manual and find something to photography.

The best time to try this is when you aren’t taking photos of anything important. Your family vacation or kid’s big game is not the time to try manual mode for the first time.

Mastering manual mode will give you full control over how your images look.

All the buttons and dials can be intimidating, but start with just figuring out how the four main modes work (Auto, Manual, Aperture Prioity, and Shutter Priority).

3. Take A Course (but don’t spend all your time watching others)

As a beginner, you should be investing your photography budget more in education than equipment.

The best camera in the world doesn’t mean much if you don’t have the skills to use it well.

There is a lot of free instructional content out there (you’re reading some now). But the benefit of a course is that they are generally focused on a specific skill and can give you a step by step process to work through learning that skill.

A great approach is to use the free content on the web and places like YouTube to sample different types of photography and help you decide where you want to take a deeper dive. Then seek out a good online course to get started on the path to master that skill.

4. Learn The Exposure Triangle

Part of mastering manual mode is understanding the exposure triangle.

This could be it’s own post by itself.

The exposure triangle is the basic method of understanding how a camera exposes an image. So a basic understanding of that is the first step in getting started with photography.

The exposure triangle consists of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.

Adjusting any one of them will have an effect on the others. Understanding how they all work together and what effect each one will have on your images is really the core of learning photography.

5. Get The Right Camera For You

The most common question I hear is “What camera should I buy?”

There is no good answer to that, but as a beginner, don’t go buying the top of the line model from any manufacturer.

Not only will you be spending way too much money, but those pro-level cameras have a ton of features that you’ll never use or need as a beginner that is just learning. That can actually prevent you from progressing in your knowledge and getting a handle on the basics of photography.

You can always upgrade your camera later when you reach the point where your skill level warrant a pro-level camera. By then there will be a whole new crop of high end cameras out there to choose from and you saved a ton of money that you can use to get one of them!

6. Rent Gear Before Buying It

New gear is expensive, and it can be hard to know if a certain camera or lens is right for you before you actually use it.

The solution…renting gear.

For a tiny fraction of the cost of buying, you can rent a camera or a lens and test it out. Take it on a shoot or shoots and see if it really does what the marketing says it does.

7. Shoot Often

The best way to get better is to practice.

So look for any excuse to take out your camera and shoot.

But be prepared, you’re probably going to make some mistakes. Use those mistakes. That’s great! Yep…I said great.

Mistakes are a great way to learn. Use those mistakes to figure out what you did wrong. Then seek out instruction on how you can improve on that.

8. Experiment

The best part about digital photography is that you can try all kinds of shots and get immediate feedback about how well it worked.

So try new things. Seek out examples of great photography online and see if you can try the same approach.

When you are learning, there is nothing wrong with trying to recreate what you see others doing. That’s how you learn. One of the best ways to do that with photo editing is to grab some professional Lightroom Presets like these and see what settings are used to achieve each of the individual preset looks.

For example, a musician doesn’t start learning music by composing their own songs, they learn to play other people’s music. They start with simple songs and then learn to play the more complex songs.

Take the same approach to your photography. Start simple, then try more difficult images. Before you know it, you’ll find your own style.

9. Have Fun

Almost every pro or well accomplished amateur photographer got started because photography was fun.

For many of them, it continued to be fun. Keeping photography fun is what drives you to learn more and get better.