How To Do Long Exposure Photography In Daylight

Though long exposure photography is often used in the evening, or even after dark, it can be used in daylight as well. This can happen when the sun is in the wrong place or when you want to capture a scene that includes running water. Other factors may play into this as well.

How to Do Long Exposure Photography in Daylight

While it isn’t difficult, taking long exposure photography in daylight can cause you some problems when you first set out. However, if you learn to watch the light, check on the exposure readings, and keep track of where you set your camera, you should get some good shots.

The Basics

To get your shot set up, you need to have some things ready to go before you try to take a picture. The first thing you’ll want to do is to test your photo and make sure that what you see is actually what you want. Take some time with this and make sure that it’s right before you move on to the next step.

Once you’re sure that you’ve defined the photo, take a shot without using anything else. That will define your photo and make sure that you have it set up just right. Once that has been done you can add your ND filters, your shutter release, and anything else you want to add before taking your final shot.


One of the first things to watch out for when you prepare to do a long daylight photoshoot is the light. This is probably the most important aspect of your camera setup and one you can’t overlook. If you don’t watch the light, nothing else is going to work and your picture will fail.

Too much light will make for an overexposed image. Too little light will make it underexposed. Your goal is to make it just right.

Shutter Speed

To work with light, the first thing you’ve got to understand is the shutter speed. This is how long the shutter lens is open. If you do it very fast, such as for a race car, the speed will be very short. If you choose something else to photograph, such as a waterfall, you will want to slow down the shutter speed to get a perfect long exposure photograph.

Think of it as a way of looking at the landscape. If you are facing it and you pop your eyes open and then closed again right away, you’ll get a view of the landscape that is desirable but has a limited number of views. If you pop your eyes open and turn your head while you look, you’ll have more of a view but everything will be blurry and out of focus.

What you want for these photos is to open your eyes long enough to actually see the landscape and take it in while still keeping it in focus.


The ISO represents how well your camera takes a photograph of something without a lot of extra noise. The “native” ISO is usually 100 or so, but it might go up to 200, depending on your film. Whatever your ISO is, go ahead and use that rather than messing around with it. You’ll get a nice, smooth photo if you do, though it may take some time to get there.

If you want to drop the ISO to the camera’s lowest number, such as 32 or maybe 50, you’ll need to be certain that the camera is held in place with a tripod. Without it, your camera will have a very unfocused and wobbly-looking photo. Likely you won’t even be able to tell what it is.


That brings us to the tripod, a very useful and important tool for taking long exposure photography in daylight. Without having your camera connected to one of these it’s likely that your photograph will never work out. It may, if you’re lucky, but chances are it isn’t going to. You need a good tripod and a safe place to put it.

A safe place to put your tripod means that you’re going to place it somewhere it isn’t going to tip over and it can’t fall into the water or otherwise damage your camera. Look for a sturdy place along the shoreline or other location where your camera isn’t going to drop in if you leave it for a few minutes.

Double-check and make certain that your camera isn’t going to tip over before you walk away.

Cable Release

Something that often accompanies your tripod is a cable release. This attaches to your shutter release and allows you to push the cable without actually touching the camera. While this is not an absolute requirement, it makes a long exposure daylight photo much easier to get.

If you don’t want to use a cable release you can instead set your camera up to take a photo as though you were going to be in it. Just pick a short release time, maybe 10 seconds, and push the button.

When the camera takes a photo, it will hold the camera steady and do a good job of substituting for the cable release button.

Neutral Density Filters

An ND filter, short for neutral density, is a filter that allows you to turn the lens and block all or just some of the light out of the frame. This is an essential aid in producing many of the daylight long exposure photos you see.

Without it, you may find that your photos are overexposed. This type of filter usually screws on to the front of the lens and will provide you with a lot more choice. Since you can typically find them in a range of color blocking, get several and experiment with them.

You will be amazed at the effects you can produce with one of these filters.

Taking the Photo

To take a long exposure photo in daylight, follow these steps:

1. Pick a place. While this may seem easy, not everybody has a waterway or a view of the ocean. You may be forced to focus on a building or similar structure because of that.

2. Set up your camera. While this may come off easily for you, it also may not. Find a place at the base of a waterfall, overlooking the ocean, or at another place where you can focus your camera.

3. Attach the shutter release. Doing this now will help you to make sure that you don’t move your camera.

4. Set your camera’s focus. Do this before you add any ND filters so that you’re taking a straight shot from the camera to the feature you want to take a picture of.

5. Put on the ND filter. This is done after you’ve set the focus, not before. Be sure that you don’t bump the camera or otherwise move it during this step.

6. Take your picture. This is what you’ve been waiting for. Don’t move your camera at this step or you’ll need to go back to step 3 and try again.

7. Check it out. Did the picture come across clean and clear, or is it messed up? You should be able to look at it and get some idea. If necessary, you can take the picture again. Keep going until you get the picture you want.

Waterfall - How To Do Long Exposure Photography In Daylight
A Waterfall – Long Exposure Photograph Taken During the Day.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most important long exposure photography tip for taking photos in daylight?

The main tip for taking a long exposure in daylight is to be sure your light is good. If you have too much light you’ll end up with an overexposed piece of film. You’ll end up with an underexposed one if you don’t get enough light.

You want to get a shot that has just the right amount of light for it to look good, so it needs to fall in between those two.

What is my most important feature?

Your most important feature for taking long exposure photos in the daylight is a tripod. This will ensure that you get shots that show off the terrain or other subject while holding still enough to allow you to capture the main part of your photos, such as the river or sea.

Bear in mind that I have done this journey in the past and have not had a tripod with me. Instead, I used the roof of my car to hold the camera. I have also used other things. And guess what? I got some very good photos out of this.

Do I need an ND filter?

In most cases, you’ll need to have at least one of these, possibly several, to get the right shot. Otherwise, you’re likely to run the risk of having your photos overexposed.

Do I need a cable release?

You can do this without owning a cable release, as detailed above. Simply set your camera to release the lens after 10 seconds and you should have an excellent photo. However, the cost of a shutter release is pretty small, so if you’re going to be taking lots of photos I would go ahead and get one unless you just don’t want it.

Should I take an online beginner photography course?

The best way to learn photography is by doing. That’s a given. But, we also highly recommend taking a good photography for beginners course to learn the basics. It will remove many of the headaches that you might experience and will accelerate the learning time it takes to get a really nice shot

Final Thoughts

As you can see, it is important to have everything laid out and thought through before you embark on your long exposure daylight photography. If you do that, you’ll find that you have everything you need to take a good photo. Just remember to take the time to line up your photo and focus it first, then add the filter, and you’re ready to go.

All you need beyond these things is the inclusion of a shutter release button if you want one. If not, you can set the camera’s time to release on its own and take a picture for you. Either way, if you’ve followed these tips, you’ll end up with a photo that you can be proud of.

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