Whether it's smooth water or blazing light trails you're aiming for, extending the length of your exposure can give you a great creative buzz. Here's some practical advice on how to control long exposures and set a shutter speed longer than the default maximum of 30 seconds.
One of the most satisfying ways of getting creative with your photography is to extend the shutter speed. When we start out with our EOS camera, it’s easy to play safe with the automated modes like Auto+ and SCN. But this means your camera will be setting handholdable shutter speeds – typically around 1/250th second. That's great for sharp images and for freezing the action, but doesn't lend itself to every subject.
Switch your Mode Dial to Tv (Shutter priority) and you can start taking creative control over your shutter speeds. The beauty of this mode is that you set the shutter speed you want and the camera will set an aperture to work with your chosen shutter speed. You can leave the camera on Auto ISO if you're not sure what you need, and again the camera will adjust the ISO to give a correct value for the light levels, thereby making sure that the exposure stays in range.
Understanding the viewfinder display
When you view the selected shutter speed in the viewfinder you normally see only the denominator of the fraction of a second – this is so as to keep the display uncluttered. For example, a shutter speed of 1/125 second will just be displayed as ‘125’ (below, value on left of viewfinder display). This is the convention down to one quarter of a second which is shown simply as ‘4’.
Once you go slower than this, the display switches to showing seconds, followed by a double quote mark and then tenths of a second. For example, one third of a second is written as 0”3 and two-and-a-half seconds would be displayed as 2”5. This will continue down to thirty seconds (30”). The actual shutter speed sequence you see will depend on whether you choose to see shutter speed in half stop or one third stop intervals. Shown below are the viewfinder representations of the shutter speeds 1, 1.5, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 10, 15, 20 and 30 seconds.
Even longer exposures
If you want the shutter to remain open for even longer than the 30 second limit, there are two ways to do this, depending on the model of your camera. Both methods put the camera into what’s known as the ‘bulb’ setting – a term which, like many others in photography – has its roots in the early days of film, whereby a photographer would squeeze a rubber bulb to actuate the shutter.
How to select Bulb mode
The way you switch your camera into the bulb mode depends on your particular camera model. Some EOS models have a ‘B’ (for bulb mode) position on their mode dial. If you don’t have a dedicated bulb position marked, select ‘M’ for manual and then reduce the shutter speed down to 30 seconds. If you continue to reduce the shutter speed past this point, the camera will switch into bulb mode and the word ‘bulb’ will appear in the viewfinder display as shown below.
Using a Remote Switch
With EOS cameras, long ‘bulb’ exposures are usually triggered using a simple electrical remote switch such as the Canon RS-80N3 or RS-60E3. These devices have a shutter button that can be locked into position to keep the shutter open indefinitely. If you tried to trigger a bulb exposure using just the normal shutter button you would have to hold your finger on the button for the duration of the exposure, which is not very practical.
Using the Remote Controller RC-6
If you have a compatible camera, one of the most convenient ways to control a bulb exposure is to use Canon’s RC-6 remote trigger. Set the camera’s drive mode to self-timer/remote and then press the button on the remote control unit to open the shutter. Press it again to close the shutter. The RC-6 has a range of up to five metres when pointing directly at the sensor on the front of the camera, but it can also be used from behind the camera provided it’s angled towards the front sensor (right). During the exposure a timer counts up the seconds. If you have a camera compatible with the RC-6, using this technique is much easier than attaching a cable to the remote socket.
Bluetooth Remote Controller BR-E1
Recently available is the BR-E1 from Canon – an alternative wireless remote which doesn't require line-of-sight. It's only compatible with a handful of cameras currently, but we expect to see new additions to the EOS range in 2018 onwards which feature Bluetooth, making this little remote an ideal tool for controlling your long exposure shots.
Taken with EOS 7D on Tv mode, 3.2 seconds exposure, ISO 100 at f14.
Taken with EOS 60D on Bulb mode, 77 seconds exposure, ISO 100 at f22.
Taken with EOS-1D Mark III on Tv mode, 8 seconds exposure, ISO 100 at f11.
About this article
This article excerpt has been taken from the April-June 2015 issue of EOS magazine called 'Slow down'. You can get a copy of this issue via EOS shop.
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