How to create surreal high-key landscape images using a neutral density filter and very long exposures


posted Wednesday, February 17, 2016 at 8:09 AM EDT

French photographer Serge Ramelli has enlisted the help of his friend Alex Meidany for a tutorial video on how to capture long exposure images.

Meidany specializes in long exposure photography and his average exposure time for an image ranges from 200 to 400 seconds. To shoot with shutter speeds this long during the day, you must use a neutral density filter. Your typical three or five-stop neutral density filter will generally not be enough filter-power for this type setting.

So what sort of neutral density filter will you need? Something like the LEE Big Stopper or this Formatt Hitech 77mm Firecrest ND 4.8 Filter will do the trick, although there are many other similar products on the market.

When shooting at exposures longer than thirty seconds, many cameras will require the use of "bulb" mode, which means that you'll want to use some sort of remote release, such as a wired cable release. In the scene in Venice, Italy where Ramelli and Meidany are working during the video Meidany says that very long exposures are necessary to get truly flat water. Thirty seconds would not be enough to give the water the snow or ice-like appearance that they're looking for.

The high-key landscape process discussed in the video is very "organic" according to Ramelli, so you should feel free to experiment with exposure times and aperture settings as there are not any hard and fast rules when shooting long exposures. With that said, you will want to use the lowest ISO setting that you can and you should manually focus your lens because the camera will not be able to autofocus through the very dark neutral density filter. Meidany typically uses his own lenses around f/16 and when shooting an image with a foreground element often focuses his lens to around four meters. An additional tip from my own experiences with long exposure photography is to cover your viewfinder if you're using a DSLR to prevent any issues with light coming through the viewfinder and affecting your image. This is typically not an issue, but it can be when capturing very long exposures.


A photo posted by @meidany_photography on

To see Ramelli's short and simple processing technique for this image, make sure to watch the video above. And to see more of Alex Meidany's work, visit his 500px page and website. For more from Serge Ramelli, visit his website and see his YouTube channel for additional tutorials.

(Seen via ISO 1200)