The aspect of photography that I enjoy the most, is the challenge of a technical shot. Being able to replicate the results received, takes patience and practice. Long exposure photography requires both patience as well as practice to achieve consistent results. One of my most memorable moments in photography have resulted in the image seen above of the iconic LAX sign on Century Boulevard in Los Angeles. Not only because I like how the picture looks and revenue that I have received from sales, but also the story behind the capture of this exposure. While on a project in the area, I had carefully planned the composure in which I wanted to capture this image for weeks. I figured standing on the side of the street would yield a mediocre frame, so I decided to take a more radical angle – in the middle of the Century Boulevard (which splits into a freeway).

Century Boulevard sidewalk

I headed out at sunset to set up my barrage of equipment on the median of the Boulevard. When out shooting, I always try to dress as comfortable as possible, so in this case; black workout clothes – and it did not occur to me that a bearded man dressed all in black pointing a giant barrel on a tripod at Los Angeles International Airport would look terribly suspicious. One-way ticket to Guantanamo.

Regardless my suspiciously swarthy appearance, I hid in the bushes, set up for my long exposure, and shot until I was content with the results. I packed up my gear and waited for a safe break and traffic, and dashed across the Boulevard to the sidewalk. I looked back at the LAX sign and noticed that some beautiful fluffy clouds had appeared in the sky that would make my shot much more interesting. I decided to go take another long exposure with the clouds in frame. Just as I set up my equipment, a police car pulled up about 100 feet from me, and blared its sirens. Remembering my sketchy appearance, I made a dash for it; ran across the the freeway, over the sidewalk, into a hotel, bolted through alleys and found my car. I was laughing fearfully all the way.I got the shot, but without the fluffy clouds. If I didn’t bolt for it, I feel that the story would have turned out a little more “water-boardy”.


The rest of this post is a basic “how-to” on how to take long exposure shots on your Nikon DSLR. I am sure it will also apply to a Canon, Olympus, Sony, Fuji etc., but I’ll be referring to the Nikon system in which I am invested.

Long exposure shots are great for capturing star trails, streaming traffic (as seen in featured picture), fireworks, light-painting, and many other creative photos.

For a long exposure, you are going to want to leave the shutter open for a long period of time. To have full control over ISO, f-stop and time, you want to set your camera on manual. You want the lowest ISO setting to reduce noise, and highest f-stop (close up the aperture so there is less light into the lense). In addition to this, your camera should be in “Bulb Mode” (B). In “Bulb Mode”, the shutter remains open as long as the shutter-release button is held down.


ISO100 • Bulb Mode • Manual Settings (make sure to close up your aperture – highest f-stop)

Tip: *To prevent blur, use a tripod or an optional wireless remote controller or remote cord.

Start the long exposure by using the shutter-release button on the camera or on an optional remote cord, or wireless remote controller/shutter control. On Nikon, the shutter remains open for thirty minutes or until the button is pressed a second time.

Nikon dF with mechanical shutter release
I use a mechanical shutter release (keeps a vintage look)

Before proceeding, mount the camera on a tripod or place it on a stable, level surface. While shooting very long exposures such as star-maps, in order to prevent loss of power before the exposure is complete, use a fully charged battery or an optional AC adapter and power connector. I have never had an issue while shooting 1-10 minute exposures.

Tip: *An external shutter control controller will help eliminate blur caused by the camera shaking when pressing the shutter button. 

Tip: *”Noise” (bright spots, randomly-spaced bright pixels, or fog) may be present in long exposures; before shooting, choose On for Long exposure NR in the shooting menu.

Some photographers are adamant about little things, like preventing light entering via the viewfinder. If you are a concerned photo-nerd, simply cover the viewfinder with the supplied eyepiece cap or peice of foil/paper. I don’t do this, and have never had a problem with over-exposure or stray light.

My long exposure featured in LA Magazine was taken with the settings: ISO100, f25, @ 30 seconds

Set your ISO as low as possible to reduce noise, set your aperture as high as possible to let in less light and time your shots accordingly.

I’d love to see your results, so don’t hesitate to share

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