Expert Critique: Mastering the Long Exposure

Summer Sunrise Over Rangitoto by Roland Askew

Practicing long exposure sunrise photography using a ND64 filter with Rangitoto as a main subject. I enhanced the photo in-post with edge contrast, shadows, and highlights protection with chromatic adjustment to emphasise the oranges and deep blues. I think that perhaps there is too much negative space in the rocks and sky (crop out). I would use a graduated filter next time to prevent highlight blowout in sun and reflections. Canon 550D / Kiss X4, 10-18mm EF-S STM lens @ F22, 10s, ISO400, 18mm First Impressions

The gradient in the sky is very nice and the colours are not too exaggerated and the composition, with the sun and its rays on the water, along with the position of the mountain relative to the sun, is done well.

Now onto some things that could be fixed...

The Dynamic Range

The first thing you notice about this image is that the rocks have no details in them. They are simply black and carry no information. This is a known problem when taking long exposures and the way around it is to take two images, one exposed for the sky and the sea, and the other one exposed for the rocks.

The 2 images can then be combined later in your image editing software. Do this and you keep all the detail which results in a much better image.

The Long Exposure

Taking long exposures can be challenging, especially when using an ND filter. In this example, there’s too much noise and the exposure isn’t long enough to get that smooth water look you were looking for, because of the exposure time, the sea looks a bit choppy.

When taking long exposures it is important to set the ISO value to the lowest value possible so there isn’t as much noise but also, only use the long exposure effect when it makes sense and has a positive impact on the image.

K.I.S.S – Keep It Simple!

Reading your description, the feeling I’m getting here is that you’re too invested in using all sorts of gear like ND and Graduated filters and thus you’re forgetting the simple fixes for the photographic problems.

Rather than enhancing edge contrast and protecting the highlights in-post, try to take multiple photos that are exposed for each subject separately and then layer them together.


A solid photo with a good idea behind it but with some bumps in the final image produced. There’s definitely potential here but also some learning to be done – Don't give up, practice makes perfect!

© Excio