Lightroom Tips

Behind the Scenes: New York City Long Exposure

I’m in New York this week for the annual PDN PhotoPlus Conference and brought my camera along in case I got the chance to shoot. Well, if you didn’t know already, I’m a sucker for a good long exposure scene. For me, anything with a strong (and not moving) foreground and a cool background, along with some moving water, makes a great long exposure photo.

Finding a Location
After doing some research on, I stumbled across a location at the Brooklyn Bridge Park. Not really knowing much about it, I hopped on the subway to the High St. stop, and figured I’d see what I could find.

The Setup
After walking along the waterside about 30 minutes before sunset, I found these pilings that I’d seen in some other photos on 500px. I set up my tripod, my D800, and my 18-35mm lens. The first photos were kinda blah. For starters, if you’re shooting a skyline you really need to wait until well after sunset so you can see all of the lights on. And hopefully it’s a weekday, because you don’t tend to have as many lights on during the weekends. Oh, and sunset is best because you typically have more people that work late, rather than having a lot of lights on at sunrise when most people aren’t in the office yet.

Long Exposure
I used a Tiffen 3-stop ND filter to slow the shutter speed and really smooth out the water. I originally tried a 30 second exposure, with no ND filter once it got dark, but the water still wasn’t smooth enough. So I put the 3-stop ND filter on and ended up with a 90 second exposure. Oh, and I used the ND Timer app to help out with shutter speed times and it worked perfectly.

Once it got dark, it was hard to focus, so I used Live View, zoomed in on the skyline since it’s the most critical to the photo, and manually focussed.

(click to see the photo larger)

Post Processing
The post-work was pretty simple. I used Lightroom to adjust the overall exposure and tone (shadows, highlights, whites, blacks). I also used the Radial filter on the buildings (with negative exposure), so that they appear brighter and everything else is darker. From there, used onOne’s Perfect Effects 8 beta and the Dynamic Contrast settings to get that detailed/sharpened look to the photo.

That’s about it. If you’re at PhotoPlus make sure you check out my Photoshop Compositing Secrets class from 4pm-6pm today. And I’ll be speaking at the Sony booth on a panel from 11-12pm tomorrow (Friday). Have a good one!



  1. Sabrena 5 November, 2013 at 14:18 Reply

    Hi Matt, very nice exposure. I am wondering how you got the nice purple-orange-brownish colour in the sky, post processing or just the natural light? Thank!

    • Matt K 6 November, 2013 at 07:26 Reply

      Thanks! 🙂
      It was just after sunset so the sky had a blue-ish/purple color to it. I usually adjust the white balance sliders to enhance it as well.

  2. Tim 31 October, 2013 at 22:50 Reply

    Fantastic shot and some great tips. I especially like your idea of using the zoom in Live View to focus – that’s a tip that I hope to try out soon.

  3. Jack Viere 29 October, 2013 at 20:24 Reply

    I just tried some long exposure shots in Philadelphia last weekend. I don’t have any ND filters, nor do I have a shutter-release trigger. So I ended up shooting for the 30 seconds that I could. Is there any other way that I can utilize the 2 second timer (standing in for remote trigger) any better? In other words, how else can I juice the most out of a camera before purchasing an ND filter and a remote shutter release?

    I think your work is great! I’m looking forwards to following you on Twitter-love your posts.

    • Matt K 31 October, 2013 at 07:31 Reply

      Thanks Jack! You’re pretty much doing it Jack. 30 seconds is the max on shutter speed. If your photo is overexposed and you’re shooting at f/8 or f/11, you can also try to increase your Aperture (to f/16 or f/22) to force the shutter speed to go longer. I also have a Long Exposure class coming up on Kelby Training soon, so keep an out. Good luck!

  4. Peter Gamba 24 October, 2013 at 05:35 Reply

    Love the idea for doing this type of long exposure. It seems to me that most of the filters are in the hundreds of dollar range. Seems a bit steep if one doesn’t use it a heck of a lot

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