Hand-Held Long Exposure Photography

Mountain Stream Long Exposure. Shot in Munnar, Kerala, India.

Long exposure is a technique in photography where the camera’s shutter is kept open for an extended period of time. Also known as slow shutter photography, this approach is used to blur moving objects in the frame. (It is explained in this video). Such images depict the passage of time, imparting an abstract, almost ethereal quality to the shot. It enables us to perceive the prolonged flow of time, a phenomenon we otherwise can’t grasp. 

But this style of photography comes with its challenges. Slowing the shutter speed to extremely low levels induces two problems:-

  1. Unwanted motion blur
  2. Excess light, resulting in blown-out highlights.

Photographers use accessories like tripods and Neutral density filters(ND filters) to combat these. Tripods keep the camera stationary while ND filters cut out excess light, allowing for a properly ‘exposed’ image. (explained in this video)

There are, however, instances where you don’t need such equipment to take long exposure images.

These images of forest streams were taken hand-held because the situation was just right.

Long exposure of a forest stream from Munnar, Kerala, India.
Silky Streams

Both shots were taken right before sunset. The light was fading, so I did not require an ND filter. I set the smallest aperture (largest f-number) on my camera while reducing the ISO as much as possible. This gave me a slow enough shutter speed, close to one second. Often, this is sufficiently slow to depict motion blur. 

Such images depict the passage of time, imparting an abstract, almost ethereal quality to the shot. It enables us to perceive the prolonged flow of time, a phenomenon we otherwise can’t grasp

At such slow shutter speeds, I had to stay extremely still(especially since handholding); the slightest movements can induce a camera shake, resulting in a distorted image. I made sure to have image stabilisation on while I took the shot. It takes some trial and error, but with enough practice, you can nail the shot.

Such scenarios are rare to come by. I was fortunate to grab it in time.

(Typical long exposure technique is explained in this video here)

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Published by Ishan Shanavas

I am a young adult, interested in nature, photography, art and culture. An aspiring polymath, I share my learnings through my blog. I also include insights from my favourite books.

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