781.826.6792 345 Washington St. #4
Pembroke, MA 02359

Experimental: Long Exposure Street Photography

Experiment with Variable Neutral Density Filters for Long Exposure effects

Experience level: Intermediate/Advanced
upcoming offerings

No offerings are currently scheduled.

Create a firefly53 account to be notified when new offerings are scheduled, or Like us on Facebook to get updates.


This workshop is intended for photographers who would like to combine several aspects of photography into one experimental outing.

Using a tripod and a variable neutral density filter, in an urban environment, we'll photograph long exposures of street scenes, capturing movement, creating interesting, ghost-like images of people moving through Plymouth.

We'll meet at the Plymouth Rock monument, and move around the historical site, and up the hill, into "town" to find interesting compositions where we can incorporate the movement of people going through the scenes we chose.

Variable Neutral Density (or variable ND filters), allow us to regulate the amount of light falling on the sensor, allowing for long exposures in daylight. Combining that effect while on a tripod will virtually guarantee that non-moving parts of our scene with remain crisp and sharp, to allow for an anchor for anything moving in the scene.

Required items include a camera, a tripod, a lens capable of wide angle field of view (something with a short focal length between 8mm and 24mm. If you have a zoom, the longer focal length doesn't matter, for example, an 18-300mm telephoto would be fine, because we'll use the wider field of view, or shorter end of the focal length, for the shots), and a variable neutral density filter that can be affixed to the lens you're using.

A remote cable release, wired or wireless, is useful, as well, so that you don't have to actually touch your camera's shutter button to start the shot, reducing the chance that you'll move the camera during the long exposure.

Variable ND filters come in varying qualities, and the most important quality is that the filter itself be as "neutral" as possible. The "neutral" aspect of any ND filter describes its ability to create no "color-cast", remaining completely neutral in its effect on color. In general, very "neutral" ND filters are pricey, but you can purchase an inexpensive one as a "starter", just to see if your interesting in this type of photography warrants buying a more expensive, and potentially more neutral, ND filter.

Variable ND filters differ from standard ND filters in that they allow you to adjust the light-blocking properties by twisting the outer bezel, much like how a polarizing filter allows you to change the strength of the polarization. With standard ND filters, each filter blocks a specific amount of light, and you would stack one or more filters to add to the light-blocking properties. Typically, prior to the availability of variable ND filters, you would own a few standard ND filters, with varying degrees of light-blocking capability, and stack them to block a particular number of stops of light. Many common variable ND filters block between 1 and 8-2/3 stops of light (ND2 - ND400).

Here is a list of inexpensive Neewer brand variable ND filters on Amazon for most lenses you might own. Be sure to by the appropriate diameter for your wide angle lens!

You can find the filter diameter of your wide angle lens by looking for a number followed by the "Ø", for example, a lens with a 77mm filter diameter would have "77Ø" stamped on the lens somewhere, usually near or on the front of the lens.

Feel free to contact me before purchasing a variable ND filter, or if you have other questions.

What makes Variable ND filters so useful?
Long-exposures are a really fun and creative way to make interesting photos, but they require long shutter speeds. When shooting in daylight, the problem you have is that longer shutter speeds overexpose your photos, even with your lowest ISO and largest f/stop!

The Variable ND filter is designed to block light, so that you can drastically reduce the amount of light on the camera's image sensor, allowing you shutter speeds of several seconds.

In the image below, by Johnny Silvercloud, on flickr, you can see the effect of having a shutter speed of 1.3 seconds, in broad daylight. The vehicles and people in the scene are moving, while the fixed objects remain crisp and unmoving. Neutral Density filters can be used in countless ways, and we'll try them out in an urban environment, and learn how to control light for long exposures!


A camera, charged batteries, empty memory card, a suitable tripod, a wide angle lens (telephoto or prime), and a Variable Neutral Density filter with the same filter diameter as the lens you're going to use.

site designed and powered by firefly53.com