Ultra Long Fuji X-E1 Exposure Tutorial

Slower can be better…

Pawleys Per, Fuji X-E1, 480 seconds, f/22, 6 stop ND

Pawleys Pier at night, Fuji X-E1, 480 seconds, f/22, 6 stop ND

Ultra long exposure photography can be a very fulfilling pursuit and generate etherial images that draw your viewer into them leaving them week in the knees! As a photography master generalist I can tell you that there are a few speciality areas that can really excite me and force my juices to flow!  Specifically they are:

  • Ultra High Speed photography: Water Drop Collision Photography, Daytime Lightning Photography & Hummingbird Photography
  • Infrared Photography
  • Grist Mill Photography
  • Ultra Long Exposure Photography.

This post is a tutorial on Ultra Long Exposure photography using the Fuji X-E1 camera with its 18-55mm lens, a 6 stop B+W ND filter and a Sekonic L758DR spot meter.

Fuji X-E1 with its 18-55mm lens

Fuji X-E1 with its 18-55mm lens

The Fuji X-E1 is my 3rd in the Fuji line. I started with the X100 and moved to the X Pro 1 in order to have interchangeable lenses, then to the X-E1 to take advantage of its Electronic Shutter Release. I have always been a Canon shooter with closets full of L lenses.  But due to a spinal operation that went dreadfully wrong I lost 80% use of both hands and arms.  No longer able to hold heavy camera equipment I started on a long journey searching for high quality camera system that was small and light weight and produce world class images.  A long story shortened, I settled on the Fuji X lineup and their fine quality lenses along with a few CV and Leica M mount lenses.

Now, the Fuji X-E1 with its electronic shutter allows me to hook it up to my water drop machine, Lightning Trigger and Hummingbird control system!  The only lacking item is its short lens lineup.  With the introduction of the new 55-210mm lens this spring even that will no longer be a problem for me!

Long exposure has several issues that you must overcome to successfully create the etherial, emotionally charged image.

  • Long Shutter Speed: Even in low light you will find it difficult to get a shutter speed at f/8 (sharpest).
  • Difficulty Focusing:  Darkness you know…
  • Unreliable Metering: Especially with an installed ND filter.
  • Camera Shake:  Requires a STURDY tripod and REMOTE SHUTTER RELEASE.

The Long shutter speeds generally can range from 15 seconds to 20 minutes. These are difficult to reach unless you shoot at night with light from the moon.  What I find that I do is shoot at dusk on or just before sunrise to overcome this issue.  Usually I will add a Neutral Density Filter (ND) to reduce the total amount of light reaching the image sensor. This will allow you to shoot with more ambient light and generally make this style of photography easier!

Heliopan Variable ND Filter

Heliopan Variable ND Filter

Shutter Speeds in Full Stops

Shutter Speeds in Full Stops

I like the B+W line of ND filters and keep 3 on hand for each of my lenses I use:  3 Stop, 6 Stop and 10 Stop.  There are also some really good variable ND filters as well.  But be warned: You get what you pay for with these!  If you get one of the Fader filters on Ebay for $30 then you are sure  to be disappointed.  But on the other hand if you get the Singh Ray Vari ND (~$450) or the Heliopan Digital Vari ND (~$350). The trouble with the variable ND filters is that they are generally limited to 6 stops before they start to generate artifacts into your images.

If you take a look at your standard 1 stop shutter speeds you can see what adding 6 stops of ND filter will do… If you have a metered exposure say, f/8 at 1 second, adding a 6 stop ND filter will give you a 1 minute exposure!

Aperture in Full Stops

Aperture in Full Stops

If you desire a longer shutter speed you can also increase your aperture value up to a higher number forcing the shutter speed down to allow more light to strike the sensor.

We started at f/8, but by moving it 3 full stops to f/22 (see chart on the right) we can then move our shutter speed 3 more stops slower to 8 minutes!

You can move the aperture and shutter speeds up and down to get the balance you need for your artistic interpretation you desire for your image.  Remember though, the sharpest that most lenses are capable of is at f/8!

Ok, lets talk about the issues in focusing!

It is dark out, you can see very little detail in your viewfinder!  How can we accurately focus?  Here are some ideas for you to consider!

Use a Light as a focus point

Use a Light as a focus point

  • If shooting a subject like a pier or a lighthouse, set your camera on manual focus and adjust the focus to create a sharp round ball of one of the pier lights. These lights are a great focus point. You can also look between pilings for areas of dark/light.


Surefire E2D

Surefire E2D

  • If there are no lights to focus on then you can use a high power flashlight to high light the part of the scene you wish to focus on. There are several high power LED tactical lights that you can get and are a good idea to have in your case.  Look at the Surefire E2D LED light.
  • Get someone to go stand at your selected focus point if possible with a light, then focus on the light!
  • You can manually set your focus distance to the hyper focal value if you have previously determined it for your camera/lens combination.
  • Remember, manual focus is the best and easiest way to get the focus that you desire.

Unreliable Metering…

Ok, this is a biggie.  You will find that when using a 10 stop ND and on some cameras, the 6 stop ND that the in camera metering system does not work reliably.  Plus to make this even more interesting consider a very long exposure, say 10 min where the light is changing and getting a stop or 2 darker during the exposure!  These are not small matters to overcome. There are several work arounds for this from a simple pain in the but to advanced hand held meters!

Here is a list of suggestions for you to consider..

  • Try shooting in Aperture mode:  Allow the camera to attempt to set the shutter speed.  If shooting at dusk or in the dark with a ND filter installed you have about a 50/50 chance on getting the correct exposure.  But… this is DIGITAL, and you will have a histogram with your exposure which will give you a baseline on which to adjust the exposure up or down! This is a good low cost way to get it spot on for the 2nd shot.  There is a down side to this though, if the shutter speed is long, then you have to wait the same amount of time after the exposure for the in camera noise reduction software to run.  This means that a 8 min shot becomes a 16 min wait!  Workable but time consuming.
  • Leave your ND filter OFF the camera, in manual exposure mode: Compose, focus and meter, then screw in the ND filter and adjust the exposure manually to account for the addition of the ND filter.  You must be careful to  NOT change the focus by screwing on the filter. The exposure adjustment must of course be correct.  Leave the aperture sat at a standard value like f/8 and do your adjustment via the shutter speed.  So for a exposure of f/8 at 15 seconds with no ND, the addition of  a 6 stop ND will change the exposure to f/8 at 15 minutes!  you need to be able to do this in your head.
  • Use a hand held meter like the Sekonic L758DR spot meter.  This meter allows you to set in a filter based exposure compensation of +/- 10 stops.  You decide upon the ND filter you wish to use, dial in the exposure compensation into the 758 and meter on a spot in the scene that you desire to be 18% gray and the meter will give you the proper exposure settings!

Using the Sekonic L758DR Spot Meter with the Fuji X-E1 Camera system for Long Exposures…

Now, it is time to go through exactly how I created these images using the spot meter and the Fuji!

The scene as seen...

The scene as seen from my eyes at the time I was setting up…

Above is how the scene looked like at 7:30 pm (dark) when the image was taken.  As you can see it was so dark that the only way to focus was to use the bright spots of light on the pier  to manually focus, then pot meter on the sky with the L758DR meter.  This gave an initial meter reading of f/22 @ 2 seconds thus making the sky 18% gray (too dark for me) with ZERO exposure compensation dialed into the meter (not yet adjusting for the 6 stop ND)!  Now, adjusting the meter for the 6 stop ND filter by entering 6 stops of exposure compensation, the reading became f/22 @ 2 minutes but with the sky still at 18% gray.  My imagined, finished image was one with the sky 2 stops brighter, or moving the spot metered point from Zone 5 to Zone 7 which is 2 stops!  So I simply added 2 more stops and moved the shutter speed to 8 minutes (2 stops brighter) and shot the image.

Normally, I would have the 6 stops of compensation dialed into the meter ahead of time and make this a 1 step process.

So here is the resulting image…

f/22 @ 8 minutes with a 6 stop ND and moved to Zone 7

f/22 @ 8 minutes with a 6 stop ND and moved to Zone 7

I am showing you the images in B&W so that you can better visualize the shades of gray to see the 18% moved from Zone 5 to Zone 7!  The Sekonic is very easy to use and is a true 1degree spot meter.  To dial in the 6 stops of exposure compensation I held down the  ISO1 and ISO2 buttons and turned the control dial.  The meter reading adjusted for the ND filter and gave a perfect exposure the first time!


Sekonic L758DR Spot Meter

The exposure compensation shows up on  the LCD screen so that you know what you are actually measuring.  You could have easily set it to 4 instead of 6 and that would have taken the move from zone 5 to zone 7 for you but I prefer to do that adjustment in my head!


Simply stated the Zone System (Ansel Adams), assigned a series of stepped gray changes, 1 stop apart and across a valued scale of 10 stops with Zone 5 being 18% gray which is where ALL camera and handheld meters place the exposure.  By looking at the chart below you can see the change between Zone 5 & 7 (2 stops) and what difference it will make on the brightness of the sky!  I use the Zone System in ALL of my exposure calculations and it is how I see contrast changes across my image!

The Zones...

The Zones…

There are plenty of great books out there that will teach you the Zone System of exposure control and adjustments! Here are 2 on Amazon:

Here is how you would apply actual Zone values to an image.  Then you can shift the exposure to move the metered Zone up or down to adjust the overall brightness of the image!

Using Zones to understand what your meter sees...

Using Zones to understand what your meter sees…

Now given the meter reading for Zone 5 you can change the exposure up or down to brighten/darken the overall image!  Combine Zone Exposure techniques with Long Exposure photography then  you can see how easy it is to control your final image.  Plus if you use a handheld spot meter that allows for +/- 10 stops of compensation  then you can see how easy it becomes to get a good exposure that is measured in seconds  or minutes!

Here is a simple explanation of what each Zone looks like:

The Zone System explained.

The Zone System explained.

Here are a few more images taken this night on the beach!  I hope you enjoyed both the article as well as the images!  Please let me know!

250 second exposure, Fuji X-E1

250 second exposure, Fuji X-E1

30 second exposure just before sunset

30 second exposure just before sunset, Fuji X-E1 shifted to zone 7

59 comments on “Ultra Long Fuji X-E1 Exposure Tutorial

  1. Pingback: Ultra Long Fuji X-E1 Exposure Tutorial | Mark Hilliard | MyScoop.it photo: Compact expert | Scoop.it

  2. Superb! Teaching from a master – what more can one ask? All the ND stuff I’ve seen so far has been for nice water effects; you’ve just blown the lid off that mental limitation for me here 🙂

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  5. Mark
    First… So glad you have found a system allowing your passion of photography to continent!!
    I picked up the 18-55 the other day for use on my pro, really enjoying it.
    You keep putting that light meter in these articles… Oh we’ll I give…. Ok I’m in it looks like something I need!
    These articles are great as always… Thank you so much as u seem to concentrate on areas I really want to pursue.

    • John, thanks for the kind comments! I do so enjoy all of this! I also have a pro 1 but for now it is sitting in the closet till I get it converted to Infrared! As far as the meter goes, every serious photographer needs one in their kit!

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  8. Hola Mark,
    I’m not a pro, but a very passionate photografer. I read a lot of articles and tutorial every night , after my work.
    I found your tutorial one of the best I’ve read.
    I will try this with my fuji xe1, nex 7, and oly omd5.
    Best regards from Spain

  9. Hi,

    I love long exosures as well and use the B+W 10 stop filter. I’ve been using the 5D Markll but have recently bought a X-E1 because I’m getting too old and creaky to carry the weight! I’m very impressed with your metering skill and need to learn this. I set the camera on B and with the Canon used a wireless remote that you click to open/click to close shutter. I guess Fuji doesn’t yet have this? Anyway, I do much the same as you except I take much longer because I guess the exposure and adjust by trial and error! I use my iPhone as a timer and start with what might be a good time for the aperture and ISO set and adjust from there. Still works but not as well as your method. I do have a cheap Sekonic L-308S but I have no idea if this would work. Will have to see if it can do compensation for a 10X filter?

    I’ve spent far too much time freezing my nuxx waiting for the camera to process my 4 minute exposure to see what the histogram looks like!

    Cheers, John

    P.S. My Benro tripod is 3.6 lbs and very good; do you think I can get away with a lighter one for the Fuji?

    • John, thanks for the comments!

      The X-E1 has a better bulb function plus a time function. In the TIME mode you use the left/right button on the back to change the exposure time, press the shutter and away it goes. The Bulb function is very advanced! You set it to B then with a remote shutter cable (2 kinds, the Canon Rebel type, I believe the 60 model or the fuji USB model) push the cable release button and slide the lock up that surrounds it. The shutter opens and THE CAMERA STARTS A TIMER on the LCD screen. When you reach the exposure time you desire simply slide the lock button back on the remote shutter and it will stop! You can also use a mechanical shutter release with this camera as well and they also come with mechanical locks! Now there is also a iphone app called trigger trap that will do all of this for you as well. You have to purchese the interface cable for the Iphone plus the adapter cable for the camera which for the Iphone MUST be the Canon RS60 type for the Canon Rebel. THis adapter plugs into the microphone jack on the X-E1 (as well as the other one listed above) and gives you a GREAT tool for controlling your camera!

      You my man are a prime candidate for the Sekonic L508 spot meter (~ $350 on Ebay or Amazon) or the newer and better Sekonic L758DR which is in the $600 range on Amazon. It allows you to enter an exposure compensation into it to handle the ND filter up to 10 stops and generates a dead on exposure the first time.

      THe 308 will not work as it is not a spot meter. You need the 508 or 758DR. They are WELL WORTH the investment!

      The Fuji is indeed light. But I tend to use a big Gitzo carbon fibre tripod with a RRS large ball head. I also have a smaller travel carbon fibre from gitzo but with its smaller feet I have to be careful that while in the sand the water doesn’t reach it as they tend to sink a little and change the scene!

      Read my new blog entry in which I talk about all of the problems I had last night with my own setup and blew the entire night!

    • John, this is exactly what I am doing. I had a major neck operation that caused the loss of 80% use of both hands and arms. I can no longer hold the heavy canon stuff. I have sold off everything except for 5 of the 580EX2 flashes that I am keeping for hummingbird photograph and water drop collisions and a body and perhaps 3 lenses which are also going to go! I have a new OMD and a bunch of lenses for that, a GH2 Infrared and the Fuji X Pro 1 and X-E1. The X Pro 1 is going to be 830nm IR soon! What I am really waiting for is the new Fuji 55-210mm lens then the canon body and lens are going to visit Ebay.

      • You’ve got some great gear! I’m going to get the 14mm first then the long zoom after that. I’d like to get a 1:1 macro too but we’ll have to see if one shows up.

        Sorry to hear about your loss of movement. Great to see that you still have positive attitude going forward…


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  12. Hello Mark, Very good to go on! I’ve just the same, Nikon for more than 40 years, last D3s, also lots of lenses (the old ones which are very heavy) also spinal operations (stenose and hernia). Now (1 week) the Fuji X-E1, great pictures, fine camera, but changing everything in the workflow, Nikon Capture no RAF files. Even Nikon View out. Just began with Lightroom4 so now I’m beginning in the digitale worflow again. So lots of work, but I’m retired and lucky plenty of time.

    Regards, Peter and hope to learn a lot from you.

    • Peter, yep it is tough. But overall I am better off with the smaller camera system. For high speed stuff I also have the new OMD which is touted at being the fastest auto focus system in the world (currently!)

      But I DO shoot in RAW. I use Capture One V7 for all of my conversions and have for years. You should check it out. I have sold off my canon stuff over the past 4 years till I have very little left at this point, a 7D, 70-300L, 24-105L and some accessories. I will likely sell all of it soon as well. It is just too heavy now with the loss of use in arms and hands!

      I HATE LIGHTROOM, I am using Capture One V7, CS6/bridge for everything (Nik also).

      • Hello Mark, I’ve worked with Nikon Capture NX2 as long as it exists. Also before that NX1. So I’m a little yellow inside and that also because I’ve worked for Kodak for about 10 years, but that was a long tome ago.
        Lightroom works fine for me now because everything is new and much simpeler than Nikon CNX2. But I’m going to look for Capture One. I’ve seen that it is only in English and that’s for me very difficult. I’m Dutch. But I’ll try. Thanks
        Regards, peter

      • Mark, I’ve worked as a Microfilm technician in the field and sometimes help to the X-ray and graphic department. I’ve never been in Rochester, but 3 or 4 times in HemelHampstead above Londen for technical trainings. Having a very nice time there.
        Regards Peter

      • Hello Mark again,
        Still the same story here and a couple of months further. Again a good article, but, I make many times long exposures. mostly from 3 to 5 min with the BULB. A 10 B&W and a fader from Genustech Eclipse (8 stops) f – 8 and indeed wait for the time with the great USB timer on the screen.
        But, waiting 4 minutes with the exposure for the first one, immediately after closing the shutter the image is on the screen. After that for the second, third and go on like that, I have to wait another 3, 4 or 5 minutes before the image is on the screen.
        Some people try to explain that is normal, but the result is about 4 pictures in 1 hour.
        So sorry for my brutality, but would you please be so kind to tell me how your settings are in the camera?
        Noisereduction you can choose +2, +1, standard, -1 and -2. My setting is 0!

        Than, Long exposure Noise Reduction setings on or off, my is off.

        I do this because I will work in RAW, but maybe I do it wrong.

        Mark, hope you will understand this and maybe you can help me with this. Normally I have to try it out fo myself, but this time my legs (because of a new hernia) are not cooperated with the rest of my life.

        Regards and sorry for my English, I am a foreigner

      • Peter. On my X-E1 I shoot in RAW and the firmware is 1.04. In the menu under the Red #2 menu the LAST item is calle LONG EXPOSURE NR. If you set this to OFF then the camera, say a 2 min exposure will write to the memory card instantly. If this is on then you have to wait an additional 2 min while it does noise reduction. The menu item above called NOISE REDUCTION I have set to standard but this has NO EFFECT if you shoot raw. Make SURE that you are NOT runing any art filters, have film simulation set to STD and DR to 100.

        I just tested this on my Fuji and it works as I have described.

        If this is not how your camera is working then you have a problem. Make sure you firmware is up to date.

    • Hello Mark,

      Thanks a lot for all your advice. RAW always. Filmssimulation STD. DR = 100, NR = 0 and next week I’m going to France on the sea and then I can see the results. Thanks again and you hear from me.

      Regards, Peter

      • You can check now, simply turn off the long exposure noise reduction and put the camera into bulb, press the shutter and hold it for over 2 min. As soon as you let up on the shutter it should write to the memory card immediately! You dont care about the exposure, just test the system…

      • Hello Mark,

        Yes I did it, in my workroom, put the X-E1 on the table, set f on 8 on the 14mm lens. Screwed on 2 filters, 1 B+W 10 stopper and the Genustech Eclipse 2 stripes before max and indeed, after 7 minutes still I have immediately the image on the screen. So this is the beginning of a great adventure with extreme LE, and a greater productivity in time.

        Just great and thanks very very much, You hear from me after my France holliday,

        Regards, Peter

  13. Pingback: Ultra Long Fuji X-E1 Exposure Tutorial | Mark Hilliard | Fujifilm x-e1 | Scoop.it

  14. Hi, I do believe your blog could be having browser compatibility problems.
    Whenever I take a look at your blog in Safari, it looks
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  15. An intriguing discussion is definitely worth comment. I do think that you ought to publish more on this issue, it might not be a taboo subject but usually people do not speak about these issues. To the next! Kind regards!!

  16. Thanks for your great sharing Mark, i have a question on white balance to be used for long exposure. Do you set it auto and correct in software if not right or do you pre-set the white balance value? I have a few shots which i set WB to auto and with ND 110 (Focus before putting on filter), color turned out great to my liking. I have Lee big stopper which i have yet to try it out.

    FYI i’m using X100S, however will be getting XE-1 soon!

    • Subzero, I usually select either auto or cloudy. It is just impossible to set the WB thru a ND filter and most NDs will give a color cast that will throw off the WB. Always shoot in RAW then you can adjust the WB during RAW conversion.

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  23. I have read your long exposure E-X1 post several times. I recently acquired an E-X1 and am anxious to try it. I have done long exposure with Nikon DSLR’s and always found it necessary to close the viewfinder to prevent extra light from striking the sensor. The E-X1 doesn’t have a finder screen. Will this be a problem? How do you viewfinder light off of the sensor when you are doing long exposures? Thanks for nay information.

    • Ron, the rule of blocking the viewfinder does not apply to ANY of the mirror less cameras so you are fine! Once the exposure starts the back of the camera should blank out, perhaps even display a count up for you to control the exposure. The x Pro 1 does this. It has been a long while since I have picked up the XE1 or 2 and I just don’t remember right now! I will try to look at this this weekend for you.

      • Mark-
        Thanks for replying. I thought this might be the answer but due to my relative inexperience with mirror less cameras I wasn’t sure. Thanks again.

    • This photographer tested this theory by blocking the lens and shining a light into the viewfinder and taking a 30 second exposure with absolutely no light reaching the sensor.


      Where it makes a difference is with the camera’s exposure metering. Light coming through the eyepiece adds to light coming through the lens and can alter the reading. Usually your eye is on the eyepiece and it isn’t much of a factor but it can be if the sunlight is coming in from the side. If you have a neutral density filter on your lens then the light coming through the eyepiece could be quite a bit stronger than what comes through your lens anyway. It won’t affect the *image* but it will confuse exposure calculation.

      My Nikon cameras all have a small lever that blocks the eyepiece but it’s more of a gimmick in my opinion. I’ve never used it but I also do not let sunlight in the viewfinder while I’m metering.

      • Thanks Mike for taking the time to comment! Yes you are quite correct in the point of temperature becoming a focal point in the noise game with long exposures. This was especially true (more so) in the day of the CCD type sensor! The link will assist many other readers in the understanding of the heat issue!

      • Good post on the light leak via the viewfinder. I have discovered that on some cameras you can get unexpected light leaks that can only be discovered during long exposures. I have bodies that leak around the lens mount (leica M 240 but with a quick fix with a little black paint) and the Fuji XT 1 which leaks all around the input ports even with the door closed!

  24. Pingback: Ultra Long Fuji X-E1 Exposure Tutorial | Mark Hilliard › Von TOMEN

  25. For tripod sinking in the sand cut slits in tennis balls and shove them on the leg bottoms. This helps with even heavier setups.

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