Over the last few years, long exposures have become a popular form of photography, and with the right tools along with a proper understanding of the techniques, you can create incredibly surreal and dreamlike portrait and landscape images. These images take time and preparation to capture, and the last thing you want is for something to go wrong that you could have easily avoided. So, with that said, here are some of the most common long exposure photography mistakes and how you can avoid them.
One of the simplest things that often gets overlooked is your tripod or mounting system. When shooting on tripods, typically, we do not think about how stable the legs are or whether we have locked everything tightly down. When it comes to long exposure photography shooting images for several seconds to minutes long, someone simply walking by can be enough to shift the tripod and ruin your image. Make sure you are using a sturdy tripod and ensure that every point of adjustment is locked down as tight as possible to avoid image shake. Some tripods might even come with hooks are a mounting system on their center column which would allow you to attach a sandbag and add some weight and stability to your system.
When dealing with photographs that take 30+ seconds, your viewfinder can be one of the easiest things to forget. Leaving the viewfinder open can lead to light leaks and often leave strange colored blobs in your shot. Make sure to cover your viewfinder to avoid the light leaking in from there. Some cameras will have a switch built in to close it up, but if not, place some black gaff tape or any other handy materials over the camera back.
When you are using a DSLR and looking through a viewfinder, what you are doing is looking into a mirror which is looking into another mirror over your camera’s sensor. So, when you take a picture, the mirror flips up, and shutter activates to take the shot, after which the mirror flips back down. This might not seem like a big deal, but when it comes to shooting long exposures, this can create some shake to the image. So, if you want to avoid this issue, set your camera, assuming it has this feature, to “M-Up” and then get ready for the two-step process for the shot.
Now, once you line up the shot, you can click the shutter release button which will lift the mirror and then you will need to click the button again to activate the shutter to take the shot. Another option is to enable “Live-View” mode if your camera supports it which will shoot your images with the mirror already lifted. For those with a mirrorless camera such as the Sony A7/A9 series of Fuji can ignore this mistake avoidance step.