Shooting Long Exposures

By Shawn Hoke

Shooting Long Exposures

long exposure film photography brooklyn bridge


I shoot long exposures using medium and large format film. I do this at night, because A) I’m too cheap to buy ND filters and B) I don’t have to worry about a blue sky appearing white on black and white film. Which I guess goes back to the filters doesn’t it?


I know people like to publish long-winded and detailed guides covering everything under the sun in photography, but there’s nothing challenging about long exposures, or photography for that matter. It’s really no more difficult than setting your camera on a sturdy tripod, taking a meter reading, selecting your proper aperture/shutter speed, and then waiting.


There are special considerations such as reciprocity failure, wind, and if you live in a busy city like me, people walking in front of your camera. But again it’s a simple process that anyone with patience can master.


My preferred film for B&W long exposures is Fuji Neopan Acros 100; for color I usually reach for Fuji Provia 100. Both films behave in an excellent manner and don’t need to be corrected if your exposure is two minutes or under. That’s one less thing I have to think about when shooting.


I’ve shot most of my long exposures using a Hasselblad 501cm or a Toyo 45A 4x5 camera. I’ve also used a 35mm SLR and a Leica M6 rangefinder, but personally prefer using a heavier, more substantial camera.


General tips:

  1. Cars - learn to love them. Those streaking head and tail lights will make almost any shot better.
  2. People - don’t try to control them. If they walk in front of your camera, don’t freak out. If your exposure is longer than a minute, they won’t show up. If it’s shorter than a minute, they will show up as ghosts. That’s a bonus.
  3. I listed the films I prefer above, but you almost any film will do. Just make sure that you check its reciprocity failure online.  Use the Google.
  4. Embrace a sturdy tripod and the heavier your camera is the better. It gets windy out there.
  5. If you are using sheet film, do not forget to pull out the dark slide. I’ve taken more than one 2-minute exposure in freezing weather only to realize that the dark slide was still in the film holder. You will do this at least once.
  6. The most important tip of all?  Use a cable release. And have a back up cable release. Or two. You won’t regret it.