Daytime long exposure: photography tips for smoothing water and blurring skies

Daytime long exposure: photography tips for smoothing water and blurring skies

Calming the waters

Calming the waters

The ultra-slow shutter speeds made possible by strong ND filters can make the wildest windswept water look as calm as a millpond, and it’s for this reason that they’re especially effective when used at the coast, adding a mysterious quality to pictures taken even in the middle of the day – look for rocks, piers or jetties to contrast with a smooth sea or sky.

When you’re shooting long-exposure images you need a solid support to keep the camera steady, and this is particularly true when shooting seascapes.

It can be very windy in exposed coastal locations, and you’ll need a sturdy tripod in order to keep your pictures sharp.

You may even need to add further stability by hanging a heavy bag or rock on the hook at the end of the centre column, if your tripod has one.

Once you’ve attached an ND filter to your lens you may be surprised at how dark the image appears in the viewfinder.

This is the time to use Live View. Prior to the arrival of Live View you’d need to compose the picture and focus the lens before adding a strong ND filter – it would be almost impossible to make out the image through the viewfinder with the filter in place, and having to remove it to make adjustments to the framing and then reapplying it would quickly become tiresome.

Live View removes this irritation. The bright image on the rear screen means that you can essentially ‘see in the dark’.

It might be a noisy picture – like viewing the scene on a badly tuned TV – but it enables you to make changes to the composition with the filter still in place.

Live View’s magnification feature enables you to manually focus with precision, too.

The only drawback is that the combination of using Live View and the long exposure times can be a significant drain on the camera’s battery, so if you’re planning a long-exposure shoot be sure to take a fully-charged spare with you.

One final piece of advice: be sure to clean your kit thoroughly after you’ve been shooting near the sea to remove salt spray and sand.

PAGE 1: Using ND filters for daytime long exposures
PAGE 2: How slow can you go in your daytime long exposure?
PAGE 3: Calming the waters
PAGE 4: The best way to set up your camera for daytime long exposures


Camera Shake: the ultimate cheat sheet for using tripods, monopods and shooting handheld
Water Photography: take stunning pictures of water in any environment
10 tips for better coastal landscapes
7 cheap photo accessories every photographer must own