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Long exposure tips and locations, Wellington, New Zealand.

Updated: May 6

One of the most satisfying and easy genres of photography is Long Exposure. Long Exposure can create dramatic skies, allow you to capture the Milky Way, magically make people disappear from a busy scene and create silky/swirling waterfalls and rivers. Long Exposure also helps you draw out the colour in a scene, naturally enhancing the contrast and colours as the shutter remains open longer than the human eye possibly can.

In this blog post I am going to teach you how to take long exposure of wharfs, waterfalls and rivers in the Wellington area as well as locations you can visit.

Below is an image of an Oil Tanker at Seaview Wharf on a summers evening. Twenty second exposure with a grad nd filter for the sky only.

Oil Tanker and Seaview Wharf

Camera setup and settings for Long Exposure photography

  1. Use a good sturdy tripod: A stable base is important to keep your camera steady during the long exposure. Depending on the image I want composition wise, I may use a travel tripod as these allow me to get lower to the ground.

  2. Set your camera to manual mode: This will give you full control over the settings and allow you to achieve the desired effect.

  3. Use a low ISO: A low ISO will prevent noise from appearing in your photo. I normally start with ISO 100 and then go up from there.

  4. When photographing waterfalls I recommend using a slow shutter speed of around 1/4 or 1/2 second and adjust from there. If you want a nice twirl almost misty effect, I keep my shutter speed around 1/1.3 to 1/1.6 as I find any longer and the water becomes more smooth.

  5. When photographing wharfs I aim for a minimum of 10 seconds and go anywhere up to 10 minutes if the light is right and I have the appropriate ND filter! The longer the exposure, the more silky smooth the ocean becomes and the more movement I get in the clouds. It can create some amazing images.

  6. Use a neutral density filter: If it's a bright day, you may need to use a neutral density filter to reduce the amount of light that enters the camera and allow for a longer shutter speed. Neutral Density (ND) filter: A Neutral Density filter reduces the amount of light entering the lens, allowing you to use slower shutter speeds without overexposing the image. The longer the exposure, the smoother the water will appear.

  7. Use a cable release or self-timer: To avoid camera shake, use a cable release or self-timer to trigger the shutter without physically touching the camera.

  8. Consider the composition: Try different angles and framing to create an interesting composition that emphasizes the flowing water.

  9. Compose your shot: Consider the composition of your image. Try to include interesting foreground elements or framing elements, such as rocks or trees.

  10. Be patient: Experiment with different shutter speeds and settings until you achieve the desired effect. It may take a few tries to get the perfect shot, but the results can be worth the effort. Experiment with different settings.

  11. Don't be afraid to experiment with different settings, including aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, to achieve the desired effect. I will normally shoot my long exposures at F8 to F16 depending on how much light I wish to cut out and how long I may want to prolong my shutter speed.

Below is an image of Days Bay Wharf. The wharf was busy with swimmers and fisherman but as you can see, they all but vanish due to the 7 minute exposure time.

10 minute exposure of Days Bay Wharf

Why you should use ND Filters

ND filters, short for Neutral Density filters, are an essential tool for photographers who want to control the amount of light entering their camera. These filters are made of a material that reduces the amount of light entering the lens, without affecting the color or tone of the image. They are especially useful for outdoor photography in sunlight, where you may need to use a slower shutter speed or wider aperture to achieve the desired exposure or effect.

Some photographers disagree and say that you can create the ND filter effect in editing. In general, ND filters are best used when you want to capture a specific look or effect in-camera. Post-production editing is best used for fine-tuning and correcting images after they have been captured.

However, it's worth noting that using ND filters can save time and effort in post-production, as you'll have fewer adjustments to make to the image.

ND filters are typically rated by the number of stops of light reduction they provide, with common values including 1-stop, 2-stop, 3-stop, and 10-stop filters. The higher the stop value, the more light is blocked, allowing you to use longer shutter speeds or wider apertures without overexposing the image. Some common uses for ND filters include:

  1. Capturing motion blur: By using a slower shutter speed, you can create motion blur in moving subjects such as waterfalls, streams, or traffic. However, in bright sunlight, this may lead to overexposed images. ND filters allow you to use longer shutter speeds without overexposing the image.

  2. Shallow depth of field: Wide apertures such as f/1.4 or f/2.8 create a shallow depth of field, which can blur out the background and create a more pleasing bokeh effect. However, in bright sunlight, this may lead to overexposure. ND filters allow you to use wider apertures in bright light conditions.

  3. You can also use ND Filters when shooting F8 and above for a better depth of feild commonly used in landscape photography. I start at F8 and go to around F14 to F16 so I have a nice deep sharp image. Using F8 and above also allows you to create long exposures in excess of 30 seconds or more and you can even possibly stretch up top ten minutes!

  4. Balancing exposure: Sometimes, you may want to balance the exposure between the sky and the foreground in landscape photography. ND filters can help reduce the amount of light entering the lens, allowing you to capture a well-exposed image. In this instance you would use a Grad ND Filter for the sky and a full ND.

ND filters come in different shapes and sizes to fit different lenses, and can be screwed on to the front of the lens or attached to a filter holder. When choosing an ND filter, consider the strength of the filter, the type of photography you will be doing, and the size of your lens.

I recommend ND Filters that can be attached to a filter holder. The problem with ND Filters that screw onto the lense, is that if you decide to change lenses, the filter might not have the correct diameter as other lenses in your kit. Some come with stepping rings but I have found those to create a vignette.

A word of caution: The cheap ND Filters normally have quite a bad magenta or blueish colour cast that can be hard to completely remove in post. Buy once and buy right, save for a good set.

I currently use the Benro series of filters but other brands are available such as NISI, Freewell, PolarPro, Tiffen and Syrp.

Harbour View Road Waterfall - 1.6 second exposure

Remember, safety should always come first when photographing waterfalls. Be aware of your surroundings and any potential hazards like slippery rocks and mud.

Tanes Track Waterfall Upper Hutt

Locations of Interest

Tanes Track Waterfall: Easy access and a ten minute walk from the top car park.

Percys Reserve: 20 minute walk up the waterfall track from the main carpark

Days Bay Wharf Eastbourne: 10 minute drive from Petone and across the road from Days Bay Pavillion.

Petone Beach Wharf: Petone Beach, Lower Hutt.

Dry Creek Waterfall and River Walk: Park at the reserve carpark and its about a 20 minute walk upstream. A great place for river shots as well. Your feet will get wet!


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