How to Blur Ocean Waves (Long Exposure Photography): Step-by-Step Tutorial

Blurring water is a cool effect that can be effectively put to use where water is moving. While blurring waterfalls and achieving that silky effect is pretty common, I’ve noticed that not many people use the same concept of a lower shutter speed to blur ocean waves on a beach.

Applying low exposure photography (photography using lower shutter speeds) on seascapes can add to the beauty of a sunset or a sunrise on a beach, like in the shots below:





It’s relatively simple to achieve this too. The main idea is to shoot at a lower shutter speed. Usually, anything over 1 second starts to show the effect. The faster the movement of the waves, the lesser the shutter speed that is required.

The above shots are shot at a shutter speed 120 seconds and 6 seconds respectively.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to blur ocean waves:

Things you would require:


  1. Set up your camera on the tripod and adjust the composition.
  2. Set the aperture to somewhere between f/8 to f/29
  3. Set the ISO to 100
  4. Now keep lowering the shutter speed till the time you see the exposure meter is pointing at the middle.
  5. Now a few things can happen. If you’re shooting at evening time or early morning when the light is less, you’ll require decent amount of shutter speed like 5 seconds or more to get a good exposure. And this is good because we need that low shutter speed to blur the movement of the waves. The longer (lower) the shutter speed, the more the blur.However, if you’re shooting during mid-day or any time when there is too much light, then you’ll find that using a longer shutter speed makes the meter go towards the right or in other words, you’ll get an overexposed shot since the longer the shutter speed, the more the light that reaches the sensor.In that case you’re job is to cut down the amount of light reaching the camera. This can be done by using two methods:

    1. First is to make the aperture more narrow if you can.

    2. If you’re already at the highest f stop number, then you have to use an ND filter, which is a circular filter that attaches in front of the lens to reduce the amount of light coming in the camera. You can imagine it like a pair of shades for the camera.

    Now it becomes possible to use a longer shutter speed. If it’s still not possible, then attach another filter on top of the first one. This is called stacking the filters. The amount of light that is prevented from entering the camera will be determined by the strength of the ND filter being used. For the shots above, I used two ND8 filters stacked on each other.

    A good ND8 filter is this one by Hoya which is for the 18-55mm kit lens.

  6. In case you don’t have an ND filter, it’s advisable to shoot at a time when the light is less. This will allow you to lower your shutter speed more. Also, an added benefit is that you’ll get a beautifully lit sky.
  7. Also, use a shutter release remote because at very low shutter speeds, even the act of pressing the shutter button can result in a shake and render the shot less sharper. A good wireless shutter release for Canon and Nikon respectively is:AmazonBasics Wireless Remote Control for Canon
    Nikon ML-L3 Wireless Shutter Release Remote

If you give this a shot, do post the links to your pictures in the comments. Cheers.

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