How to do Long Exposure Photography Without Any Filters (3 Sample Photos)

by Ram Ya April. 07, 2017 2072 views

Yesterday I uploaded some of my long exposure shots using a Lee Big Stopper ND filter. In that post, I promised to share some long exposure photos that were taken without using any ND filters. So here are 3 photos I took without an ND filter. All you need is a basic DSLR camera, basic kit lens, and an understanding of exposure triangle. 

Why an understanding of exposure triangle, you ask? 

Because we are trying to keep the shutter open as long as we need to. That means reducing the exposure/light that reach the sensor. Here are the basic steps for reducing exposure.

  1. Use a lower aperture (aka F-stop, lens opening) like F/16
  2. Use a lower ISO to make the sensor less sensitive to light

Exposure triangle is basically Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO. With above steps, I can control 2 legs of the triangle to change the Shutter Speed. The final result is a shutter speed that is longer. Hence the term, long exposure photography.

f/14 and ISO-100 gave me a 15 second exposure. No ND filters

As you can see, having a small aperture (f/14) blocked a lot of light. Having a less light sensitive ISO speed (ISO 100 in this case) also helped. The result is an exposure time of 15 seconds. It also helped to be in a little darker place to begin with. All those overhead trees were blocking a lot of light. So, whenever you are passing by a creek or a waterfall in low light conditions, you can try this method.

Magnify your long exposure effect in Lightroom

f/22 and ISO 100 gave me a 10 seconds exposure time. Not quite enough

I certainly didn't have a Lee Filter during this climb on the Fushimi Inari Taisha temple. I attempted long exposure because I wanted to smooth the effect of the waterfall to bring that Zen effect. I decreased the aperture even lower to f/22 but the scene was too bright from daylight. So it only gave me 10 seconds exposure this time.

To get the final effect I wanted, I used Lightroom to introduce blur and vignetting.

f/7.1 and ISO-2500 gave me a 1/40 second exposure. Just enough to capture motion blur while still capturing my subjects

Practice is all it takes

When you practice changing elements of the exposure triangle, it becomes second nature. I think this is one of the reasons why professional photographers are able to make good photos with just about any equipment. First, you determine what is the most important setting you want to have, then you change other settings of the exposure triangle to meet your demands.

On the capture above, I wanted to slow the shutter speed to capture motion blur but not too slow to completely fade out the dancers. I knew I had to have a lower ISO and an aperture to get slow shutter. However, in this case, I needed to experiment with about 50 shots to get it right. I kept increasing ISO and aperture until shutter speed was slow but not too slow.

Let's go out and practice!

I hope you grab your camera and head out to participate in this week's theme. It is a lot of fun to create something from that piece of equipment you have! If you are a beginner like me, I would suggest doing this at night first (moving traffic, crowds, light painting...etc). Because you already have low light conditions, to begin with.

Don't forget to bring your tripod!

For more tips please read Helen's article. She has written it so well! She would be happy to answer any questions you may.

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There are 7 comments , add yours!
Giancarlo Fosci 2 years, 5 months ago


2 years, 5 months ago Edited
Carmen Boutot 2 years, 5 months ago

Beautiful Ram! I just recently received a tripod as a present will definitely be trying out long exposure on water falls when the weather warms!

2 years, 5 months ago Edited
Stephanie Hyde 2 years, 5 months ago

Beautiful photos as always!

2 years, 5 months ago Edited
Camellia 2 years, 5 months ago

Loved the photos and a very helpful article :)

2 years, 5 months ago Edited
Barbra 2 years, 5 months ago

Nice article and stunning photos!! Thank you Ram!

2 years, 5 months ago Edited
Jay Boggess 2 years, 5 months ago

WOW! Fabulous shots & valuable info! Thanks, Ram!!!

2 years, 5 months ago Edited
Antonio Gil 2 years, 5 months ago

Very helpful Ram. Thank you so much.

2 years, 5 months ago Edited