Let’s go through some simple steps to getting a great long exposure Infrared image.
#1. Get a good tripod.
Over the past few years, the quality of tripods has improved and the prices are reasonable. Carbon fiber tripods are usually best as they are very light and easy to carry. I use a tripod made by Sirui, The Traveler, and it weighs under 2 pounds.
#2 Get good quality, Infrared neutral density filters
If you’ve shot long-exposure images before, you know that not all ND filters are the same. Many will add a color cast to the images that you then have to deal with in post-production. When it comes to Infrared photography, some ND filters have little to no effect or only offer half the number of stops they are marked for when used for natural color photography. Prior to their release, I tested the Life Pixel IR ND filters and I can tell you that they truly offer both 5-stop and 10-stop reduction for both Infrared and natural color images. That’s great because you only need to carry one set of ND filters for all your photography.
The question that often comes up is, “Do I need a 5-stop or 10-stop, or both?” I carry both as it allows me to adapt to every shooting scenario. Depending on shooting conditions and the amount of available light, I’ve even had circumstances where I’ve stacked a 5-stop on a 10-stop because I needed it. On seriously sunny shoots, I will use a 5-stop ND filter and still be able to shoot hand-held to maximize my contrast in the images.
#3 Pick your scene to fit a long exposure.
The idea with a long exposure is to capitalize on the effect of keeping your shutter open longer. There are things that will help make these images look better, and a few things to consider not doing as well. If you are shooting a scene with water, especially running water, a long exposure will blur the water.
This is a Super Color 9-minute exposure with a 10-stop ND at ISO50, f22
Even a pond will take on a different look as the surface will get smooth and mirror-like.
This is a Super Color 4-minute exposure with a 5-stop ND at ISO 50, f22
Now, see what happened to the clouds in this image? Often times I will try long exposures on cloudy days as it adds a little to the images when the clouds show movement.
However, if it’s windy, that can blur your trees, which may or may not be the look you are going for.
#4 Set your camera properly
Make it easier on yourself by setting your camera right. Start with the lowest ISO setting you have available. Many new mirrorless cameras have a “Low” ISO setting which is the equivalent of ISO 50. By setting your ISO you now need more light. Next, take your f-stop to a higher number. The higher numbered f-stop requires more light.
Here’s a little trick; in a pinch when I didn’t have an ND filter I have dropped my ISO to 50, upped my f-stop to f22, and have been able to lengthen my shutter speed sufficiently to capture a long exposure.
#5 Use a remote or delayed shutter
When you are capturing a long exposure, the last thing you want is anything that negatively affects the image. No matter how careful you are, pressing the shutter button can jar the camera slightly, affecting the image. Most cameras allow for some sort of remote shutter activation by a wireless remote or a cellphone app. If you don’t want to do this, instead consider setting your camera for a delay. Then when you press the shutter button you can move your hand away before the shutter actually opens.
#6 Budget more time for long exposures
One thing that always amuses me is how long it takes to capture such a small number of long exposures. I have had a one-hour shoot time generate only 6 or 7 images. Give yourself enough time to try different things and to shoot different exposure times. If possible, try a location at different times of the day for a different look.
#7 (Most Important) Enjoy the process!
I watch some people shoot and they get so serious I wonder if they are actually enjoying themselves? This is your art form, and for many, your hobby…. it should be fun. Enjoy the process! Try different things, different exposure times, camera heights, and camera angles. Don’t stress over the results, focus your energy on enjoying the image capture experience. If the images don’t turn out the way you want, ……… don’t show them to anyone and go back and try again.
Below are a few more examples of Infrared long exposures.
I have a portfolio of IR long exposures you can see here.