Before going further, let me talk a bit about camera setting for long exposure photography. If you’re already familiar with so-called “exposure triangle” (how aperture [a.k.a. f-stop], shutter speed and ISO work together), feel free to skip. As my website is solely dedicated to cityscape photography at twilight and dusk (a.k.a. blue hour), I’ll talk about camera setting specifically required for that purpose, though.
Exposure triangle. To shoot long exposure photography at blue hour, we should use a bigger f-stop number (e.g. f/11-f/13), slow shutter speed (anything from a few seconds to a few minutes) and low ISO (i.e. 100).
Mode: Aperture Priority or Manual Mode
I shoot everything with Aperture Priority mode by default, but switch to Manual mode when shooting long exposure photography that goes beyond 30 secs of exposure. This is because only Manual mode can handle shutter speed that exceeds 30 secs. FYI, most of my dusk photos on Gallery Page were shot with Manual mode, exposing well over 30 secs (mostly 2-4 minutes).
Aperture (f-stop): f/13 or f/11 (My Usual Choice)
Aperture controls depth of field and light. A bigger f-stop number like f/13 captures greater depth of field, allowing more of the scene to be in focus (which suits cityscape photography) and also lets in less light to reach the sensor. This helps slow down shutter speed and is a perfect recipe for long exposure photography. On the other hand, a smaller f-stop number like f/2.8 is used to purposefully throw the background out of focus (check my rare portrait shots on Tumblr ). It’s something you’ll never need as long as your interest doesn’t go beyond cityscape photography.
Shutter Speed: Anything from a Few Seconds to a Few Minutes (Depends How Much Light Is Left in the Sky)
Shutter speed controls how long the shutter remains open. When using Aperture Priority mode, it’s not you but your camera that decides shutter speed (and that’s perfectly fine!). Only when shutter speed goes over 30 secs, you’ll need to switch from Aperture Priority mode to Manual mode and take the full control by yourself. More on this in Chapter 6: Create Silky Smooth Water Effect with Neutral Density Filters.
ISO controls your digital camera’s sensitivity to light. The lower the ISO, the cleaner your photos become (i.e. less noisy, sharper with more details recorded). I always keep ISO as 100 (lowest) and never even touch unless I need to shoot something “handheld” in low light (e.g. using ISO 3200 to shoot a soccer match at night).
This Marina Bay (Singapore) photo was shot using the following setting. Mode: Manual mode; Aperture (f-stop): f/11; Shutter Speed: 194 secs; ISO: 100.
Hope all this info gives a bit of insight into the making of long exposure photography. Feel free to Contact Me or leave your message on my Guestbook if you have any feedback. Thank you!