How to digitally produce a long exposure picture without a tripod or ND filters

Published on

August 29, 2016

Lets say you hiking in the Canadian wilderness and come across a fantastic waterfall. Of course you don’t have a tripod with you because they are big, heavy and generally a drag. Long exposure shots of waterfalls are fantastic, while regular shots are mostly boring. What to do? Here is the solution.

Step 1 – Shooting

Set your camera to manual exposure time, aperture and white balance. Select a shooting mode that will allow you to take many sequential pictures. Frame your shot, and take 20 to 30 pictures. The more the better, but no need to go crazy. You can do this freehand. No need for a tripod, a big rock or anything else. Here are six sample pictures, you’ll need more.

IMG_9985 (Custom) (Custom)

Step 2 – Layering

Fire up Photoshop, and load all the pictures into a single image with lots of layers. You can do this manually, or using the File > Scripts > Load files into a Stack option.

Select all the layers by clicking on them, or Select > Select all layers, or Ctrl-Alt-A

Go to Edit > Auto Align Layers and Choose Auto as the alignment mode.

Step 3 – Stacking

Make sure all the layers are still selected. Go to Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object

Now do Layer > Smart Objects > Stack Mode > Mean and you’ll get something like this:

IMG_9984 (Custom).jpg

That’s it! This also works for simulating very long night exposures and star trails, and much more. Have fun.