What is the best way to achieve very long exposures in very bright, sunlit conditions?

Right now, I have a Hoya ND-400 X filter (9 stops reduction), and even with my camera set to ISO 50, and F22, my exposures are still in the range of 5-30 seconds.

Ideally I want at least 1 minute, 5 would be nice. I've had some great (night) shots that involved 800 second (14 minute) exposures.

I've tried stacking crossed polarizers on top of the ND filter, but I get a LOT of vignetting, and the entire affair is rather unwieldy.

Is there a better way to manage very long exposures during the day?

I'm mostly shooting beach scenes, which are generally very bright white. Wave motion in long exposures produces a beautiful hazy effect, that I really like.

B+H produce a 17 stop ND filter, according to Adorama, but I can't find anyone selling it, or find it on B+H's website, for that matter.

  • 1
    I wonder if you could DIY your own super-ND by spray-painting a UV filter or something. May 6, 2011 at 6:25
  • This one area where I think film photography still has the advantage. Aside from ISO 25 films, you can push/pull B&W with the chemistry in ways that you can't with digital.
    – Peter M
    Sep 6, 2011 at 22:37
  • @Peter M - I think issues with reciprocity failure in film balance out the advantages of low-ISO film stock, rendering it a moot point. Also, many cameras can do ISO 50.
    – Fake Name
    Sep 7, 2011 at 1:58

6 Answers 6


I see two options:

You can stack ND filters. Sounds like you just need to eke out another stop or four, so your second filter doesn't have to be quite as extreme as the 9-stop filter you already have. By only having two filters, rather than 3, you should be able to reduce the vignetting a bit. It would help if your filters were the slim kind designed for wide-angle lenses. You might also consider getting a bigger-diameter filter and a step-up ring, or a square gel-type kit.

The other option, which doesn't require buying any more hardware, is to take multiple long exposures and average them in post-processing. Just take several shots at the exposure level you can achieve, then blend them together. This is a pretty common technique when creating star trails, and you can achieve different looks by using different blending modes (e.g. star trails will appear brighter than they "should" if you use a Maximum blending mode instead of the average.)

  • 3
    I like the blending option - It doesn't involve another $100 filter. I'll give it a shot.
    – Fake Name
    May 6, 2011 at 6:43
  • 1
    @FakeName Multiple exposures is a very good method because it prevents overexposure and the averaging also reduces noise which will be present in the shadows even at ISO100. If you're exposing for tens of seconds then the fraction of a second gap between exposures wont have any noticeable effect.
    – Matt Grum
    Feb 28, 2013 at 9:58
  • Just be sure you can and do disable 'Long exposure Noise Reduction/Dark Frame Subtraction' between every frame.
    – Michael C
    Jun 12, 2017 at 6:19

One option would be to stack multiple ND filters together.

The primary disadvantage to this (other than cost) is that as you stack the filters you'll increase the chance of vignetting.


You may try solar filters. For instance Baader AstroSolar 3.8.

D=3.8 so it's an ND-6310 filter (10^3.8=6310 approx), which is approximately 12.6 stops.

I only used this filter for Sun photography, don't know if it's good for other purposes. It may have strange color artifacts.


Well, the first and most obvious solution is not to shoot such exposures in the middle of the day. If you have to, then try getting another high-stop ND filter and stacking that in front of your existing one.

  • I am looking to specifically take these shots during the day. You can get different/interesting effects that are not achievable at night (And I already do a fair bit of night photography). Think what a crowded beach would look like, with people in varying stated of blurry/ethreality depending on how much they are moving.
    – Fake Name
    Jun 21, 2011 at 10:33
  • Fair enough. 5 minutes will be enough to make most humans totally disappear though, unless they are sunbathing! Jun 21, 2011 at 10:36
  • Exactly! Some people are pretty much motionless (sunbathing), some people may be sitting, but moving (top-half missing?), etc...
    – Fake Name
    Jun 21, 2011 at 11:08
  • 3
    Basically, I'm aiming for a surreal look. Call it ND Escher.
    – Fake Name
    Jun 21, 2011 at 11:13
  • I wish you luck! Jun 21, 2011 at 11:40

A pinhole would give you about 6 stops slower exposure than f/22, and you could attach your ND filter with a carefully placed gaffer tape.

  • Cheap too. There's several DIY projects out there that use a modified body cap. May 6, 2011 at 6:23
  • Pinholes are NOT sharp. This is a significant problem with them for me.
    – Fake Name
    May 8, 2011 at 2:56
  • For a sharper image, you'll need a very thin material having a hole with round edges and size optimal for the distance from sensor. Try searching for "Lenox pinhole" in Flickr and see if the pictures are sharp enough for you.
    – Imre
    May 8, 2011 at 6:48

Add a circular polarizer. By itself a circ. polarizer is very useful, so its always great to have one in your bag. If you stack the circ. polarizer onto the ND, you will get significantly more 'darkness'.

Another option is to get Cokin ND filters, as you can add them over your existing filter, and you can even hand-hold them to the front of your lens. They are very inexpensive.

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