I have always liked taking long exposure shots and thought I'd put together a tips post for taking these kind of photos. I went out to the Albert Dock in Liverpool a few days ago and managed to get a variety of photo including a blurry effect of The Big Wheel which I was really happy with, so read on to find out how I got these shots.

Equipment

I was using my Fuji S100FS camera which has a number of different settings to help tweak the camera to enable me to get these photos. For all of the photos in this post I had the camera on the Manual setting. It isn't essential to use the manual mode, but it will be more likely to produce the best output. Your camera will have to have the ability to alter the shutter speed and aperture in order to get a long exposure shot. I've included the values I used for each photo so you can get an idea what you might need to set your camera on for a similar type of photo.

An essential piece of kit is a tripod. You need to have the camera set in the same position without moving at all for the duration of the shot, or you will have a very blurry image. I was using my trusty Joby Gorillapod SLR-Zoom which let me wrap it around the railing posts as you can see above. Don't worry, you don't need a fancy tripod and you can get them a lot cheaper than you probably think, such as my full sized tripod, the Hama Tripod

iPhone Photo

Capturing Movement in a Long Exposure

To get these two photos below, I set a slower shutter speed, which also meant I needed to narrow the aperture (increase the f number) so there wasn't too much light getting to the sensor which would result in the image being far too bright. In general, if you are going to have a slower shutter speed, you will need to narrow the aperture, and vice versa. Sometimes you will need to just experiment with the values until you get a photo you are happy with.

Shutter Speed: 10 sec, Aperture: f/10, ISO: 100
Shutter Speed: 30 sec, Aperture: f/11, ISO: 100

Capturing the Wheel Still

If you don't want to capture a moving subject at night, you still need to alter the settings to allow enough light in to the sensor. For this photo below, I took it while the wheel had stopped moving, so I could still use a fairly slow shutter speed so the photo wasn't too dark. As I was using a slower shutter speed, I had to compensate by narrowing the aperture (to a higher f. number).

Shutter Speed: 5 sec, Aperture: f/8, ISO: 100
The photo below required changing the settings again as it was taken while the wheel was moving. As I didn't want a blur of the wheel this time, I needed to use a quick shutter speed as you can see below the image. As there would not be as much time to let the light in, I needed to widen the aperture so it came out okay. 

Shutter Speed: 1/2 sec, Aperture: f/5.6, ISO: 200

Other Photo Types

These three photos below demonstrate the need to change the settings depending on what kind of scene you are shooting. Although the photo below seems to have lots of light in it, most of it was quite a distance away, which meant I needed to use a slower shutter speed to give enough time for the light to enter the camera, as it would have been far too dark otherwise. To balance this out I narrowed the aperture to prevent it being too bright.

Shutter Speed: 10 sec, Aperture: f/11, ISO: 200
For both of the photos below, I used the same settings as they both were a similar kind of scene with lights down one side and a dark area in the other part of the shot. It took a bit of trial and error to achieve the photo I wanted to balance out the lighting conditions so you could still see the detail in the dark areas while representing what the lights were actually like. 

Shutter Speed: 2 sec, Aperture: f/5.6, ISO: 200
Shutter Speed: 2 sec, Aperture: f/5.6, ISO: 200

For all of the photos I took, I used quite a low ISO value for how dark the scene was. Another method you can use to improve your photos at night is to increase the ISO. The higher the value, the more sensitive the camera is to light. This does come with a downside as you can often get an increase in 'noise' in the photo, which is when the image looks grainy and not quite as sharp. For that reason I tried to keep the ISO as low as possible to get the best overall photo quality.

I hope this quick guide gave you an idea of how you achieve good photos at night, including capturing movement and getting the blurry effect. The best advice I can give is to learn how to alter the settings on your camera, and then just go out and practice, as this seems to be the best way to improve your ability. 

If you liked this post, you might find my Photography Tips for Beginners post useful.