Tips on Long-exposure Travel Photography (Part 1)

Posted June 6, 2013 by Paul Xymon García in Photography

Long-exposure photography is a type of photography which involves setting the shutter speed very low, thereby sharply capturing stationary elements and blurring moving elements within the frame. This is a type of photography, which I found myself drawn to again and again. It requires a bit of problem solving and some planning for you to be able to create one single good image. The thing is, when you do long-exposure photography right, the image you create is a really great image.

This type of photography lends itself well to travel photography. You encounter different landscapes and scenery in different parts of the world which can be perfect subjects for long-exposure photography. But how do you execute long-exposure photography well? Let me impart a few tips.

1. Find subjects for great long-exposure photography.

Pudong Skyline, Shanghai

The iconic Pudong Skyline of Shanghai, China.

There are so many great subjects for long-exposure photography which you encounter whenever you travel. The trick is to keep your eyes peeled for them. Going to some sort of festival or celebration? There will probably be fireworks there. Fireworks make for great long-exposure photography. You get streaks of colorful light emanating from a single point. That’s magical. Heading to waterfront cities? They are especially scenic at night. With long-exposure photography, you can temper the sea or river and really light up the city’s skyline. Other great long-exposure photography subjects include temples and churches, night life on the streets, waterfalls, caves, and unpolluted, cloudless skies.

2. Stake out a great vantage point.

Hanoi Night Lights, Vietnam

Hanoi’s Old Quarter becomes especially lively at night.

Once you find a subject for great long-exposure photography, you need to find out the best angle to shoot it from. In Shanghai, you can head to the Bund to photograph the city’s iconic skyline. In Hanoi, I noticed that a restaurant’s balcony overlooks a busy city roundabout. Thus, we had dinner in this restaurant and while having dinner, I set up my camera and took a few shots of Hanoi. These vantage points are great because they offer unobstructed views of your subject and you have ample space to set up your shot. This is what you need to look for.

3. Compose accordingly.

Malacca, Malacca

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Malacca Old Town, Malaysia.

One of the advantages you have with long-exposure photography is that you can actually take your time to compose your shot. Figure out which stationary elements you want in the shot. Anticipate which elements will be blurry, how they will blur, and what kind of light they will leave. Ask yourself if those elements would go well together in the shot. Account for other movements. Would people walking be a hindrance at any point? These are some of the things you need to consider when composing a shot for long-exposure photography.

4. Use filters if necessary.

Capture the Colour: Green at the Sticky Waterfall, Thailand

Chiang Mai’s Sticky Waterfall. Minerals in the water have caused the rocks to gain a bit of traction.

Long-exposure photography is fairly easy to do at night when you only have limited artificial light to work with. What if you want to shoot in the daytime? Such is the dilemma for nature photographers, who love taking photos of waterfalls, rivers, clouds, etc. This is where filters come in. You can get yourself Neutral Density Filters to put in front of your camera thereby reducing the light that goes into your lens. Your objective is to reduce light to be able to bring your shutter speed down.

These are just some of the tips for long-exposure photography you can use. Watch out for the other set of tips in the part 2 next week!

About the Author

Paul Xymon García

Paul Xymon Garcia is a Filipino, born and bred in Manila. He studied journalism and is now pursuing a career in travel writing and photography. His stories and photos have been published in several Philippine-based publications such as CebuPacific Smile Magazine, Meg Lifestyle Magazine, and Travel Magazine. He has contributed to a photography exhibition organized by the United Nations Population Fund. He blogs at

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