Long Exposure Light Leaks

In GEAR, The Craft, Travel, Tutorials &Technique by David46 Comments

I shot the image above in Patagonia this year, my first real work with the new Nikon D800, which always makes me nervous. So when I saw the weird banding you can see in the frame on the left, I got a little freaked out.

In 25 years of photography, I’d seen some weird things, but never this. I was also shooting with new filters and a new filter holder. So I sat on the beach freezing my fingers while I tried every combination of ND filter, holders, hoods, and polarizers, and finally none of the above. In the end I had the good sense to flip the little eyepiece shutter closed, and the bands went away, apparently a product of light leak. In Antarctica I had the same repeated problem (because I suffer from Terminal Photographic Moronitude and didn’t learn the first time, apparently). I don’t know if this is an issue unique to the D800, but I’ve never had to deal with it.

I know the conventional wisdom is always to cover the eyepiece during long exposures, but pragmatically I’ve never had a reason to do so. Until now. I believe most, if not all, Nikons, have a built in eyepiece shutter with a little switch to the side of the prism. Very handy. All my Canons, I think, came with a weird rubber piece attached to the strap that would have been helpful had I kept any of those straps or ever faced this problem before. So, just a heads-up. Weird banding or unexplainable specters in your long exposures? Try covering the eyepiece. It’ll save you an hour of screwing around with filters and resisting the urge to toss your camera into a deep scenic lake.

I leave the house in a couple hours and head to Kenya for the month. Be good while I’m gone. Try not to burn the place down.



  1. Oh my god! I have been having that same issue with the banding on the D800! I thought at first it was my filter which had a pinhole scratch on it. I bought a new filter, got the same thing. Thought OK, maybe it’s the lens. Nope. Not the lens. Why didn’t I consider a light leak?? That makes so much sense! I’m so glad you have this post still up. Sorry for the comment on a 3 year post, but wanted you to know that it’s still useful to someone out there!

  2. Pingback: Tips for Creating Long Exposures in Daylight | Not Always Black and White

  3. LOL! Love your sense of humor. Had read about this issue, and also seen refutes of it (is that a word?). Good to know its absolutely true, and we aren’t crazy! Glad you kept the camera above water too, so we can look forward to more great pics from you!

  4. I sporadically had the same issue with my Canon 5DII while shooting the Salton Sea several weeks ago. Unfortunately the answer didn’t come to me while at the location. Thanks for the post.

  5. Moose Peterson also reported the same issue… I am someone who always wears a baseball hat… it does a nice job of covering the top of the camera where I forget to close the door, or don’t have that option… and unlike a thumb, I don’t have to actually touch the camera and induce any vibration…

  6. I recently upgraded my camera to the D800 as well, and I am loving it. I do like the viewfinder curtain. I have been shooting with D80 since it came out and finally thought its time to step it up a notch. So here I am with the D800, I know this is a bit more than a notch but I am loving avery minute of it.
    Its only been a few days since I have gotten my hands on it, but the experience so far has been great.
    I also have just gotten your new book “Print and the Process.” I had read “Vision Mongers” and I thought I should get this one. I know you say its not the gear its the vision, but it sure does help when you “have it under the hood” to get the job finished. But like you and Jarvis say, its just a tool like a hammer.

    Thanks for sharing everything you do, and keep keepn’ on.

  7. Hi David, I think in some cases the bandig looks fine, maybe it is possible to reproduce it with a flashlight or off-camera-flash???
    Another cerative technique….
    BTW: worn slider-seals on Hasselblad magazines had drive me crazy fifteen years ago… :-)))

  8. I use the cover whenever the camera isn’t against my face. Next time you set up a shot, watch your meter change when you open and close the the eyepiece. Those things are indispensable, specially for IR work. My own example of Moronititude comes not from forgetting to use the eye-piece cover, but trying to re-compose a star photo and struggling to see through the viewfinder.
    Safe travels, and remember “wheels up” is better than “tits up”!

  9. I had this one rammed into my head shooting long exposures on film. I diligently covered the eyepiece when I got my d50, but on both that camera and the d90 I almost never had a problem. I just hovered my hand over the back of the viewfinder and it was fine.

    BTW, the light leak does ruin your landscape shot, but I’d all over that effect for certain kinds of urban images.

  10. Hi David.

    Enjoyed you on Trey Ratcliff’s show. And lord knows you’ve got enough on your plate… but would love to see you take that kind of web cast and bring your sensibilities to it!!

  11. Enough is enough guys. Put your thump or finger over it…

    Mettez votre pouce c’est fini….

  12. I’ve been seeing this problem with a Singh-Ray VariND turned all the way to the darkest setting. Singh-Ray was kind enough to tell me that it *may* be the darkest end of the filter. I haven’t experienced the problem after turning down the VariND a notch. I’ve never had the problem shooting without filter, so I doubt it’s a Nikon (or light leaking) problem.

  13. Until I bought my 800e, I always kept a piece of black tape stuck on my tripod so that whenever I decided to do a long exposure, I was prepared. Of course, half the time I would forget to use it, but that’s another issue.

  14. You absolute legend!
    thanks for this post, ive been tearing my hair out with the new big stopper. Had the gaffers tape and alsorts.
    Its was fine on my D700 but not on the D800.
    The eye piece didnt even cross my mind.

    Thanks for posting this.

  15. Ya- I hate that! Also be advised Tilt-Shift lenses will leak at the tilt hinge so then you gotta cover the viewfinder and cover the lens barrel! Complications all around- success in Kenya!

  16. Although some of my cameras have come with little covers for the eyepiece threaded on the original straps, I have usually just used the camera as a temporary hat rack to block the light. I have wandered off and left tripods and monopods behind, but never my hat, so it’s a great security measure, too!

  17. I luckily got in to the habit of closing the shutter for all my long exposure work with my Nikon F3. When I went digital, D200, There was no eyepiece closure button…and so the good habit faded. My current D3s have the closure..but I am having a hard time getting in to the habit once again.

    This is clearly a reminder to get back to the habit of closing the eyepiece. Seems like an annoying problem that, fingers crossed, never have occured on my D3s

  18. Thanks for the heads up if I ever invest in a D800. Can’t say I’ve ever had this problem on my long exposures with my D3S or D3X, mind you I normally remember to use the eye piece shutter.

  19. Hi David,

    Thanks for this tip & especially for the sample images. I shoot a Nikon D40 and on the very few occasions when i’ve tried shooting long exposures (i.e over 2min) i see this kinda blemish. I thot it was bcos my camera was old and not built to do such, but now i know better.

    Thanks again

  20. Thanks David… I just never experienced such a thing… but good to know how that “bugs” look like and what causes them 🙂 cheers, m.

  21. Hi David, yeah I have the same problem on my d700. I used to get a bit of a leak with my d300 but mostly only when the sun was directly behind me. The d300 also had one of those useless eye piece covers which I lost almost immediately so I always used to use a right angled view finder and angle it a away from the sun – usually downwards and that always worked and they’re bigger so less chance of misplacing it. When I got my d700 instinct told me to do the same but it wasn’t enough even angled away from the sun I was still getting light leaks, luckily the d700 has the eyepiece switch so I use that now – its very annoying when you forget especially on 12 minute exposures. Incidentally for the eye piece switch alone isn’t enough in really bright sun using 16 stops so I have to use right angled view finder and the eye piece switch.

  22. How odd, I’ve never had this happen before. I think all the Canon 1-Series camera have a little switch on the side to close it. I’ve certainly never kept those little rubber things on the straps!

    Incidentally, what filter system did you switch to ? Why the change ?

  23. Hi David,

    I ran into the same problem when I started using the Lee Big Stopper for the first time. I kept wondering what the heck are all those lines?!?! I was quite alarmed. Then like you, I figured out that I needed to block the eye piece shutter. Doh!

  24. I had the same problem recently when review some long exposures from Oregon… there were a couple with the same problem. At first, I freaked out until I realized that a couple of times I must not have closed the the viewfinder with the switch as well.

    My D700 has the same switch and this same problem happened once while photographing lightning at night… I wasn’t sure what had happened until I remembered using flashlight to read a document while standing behind the camera.

  25. Hi David, new to this blog, great education, looking forward to reading on…

  26. Happened to me with my D800 just last week in Banff shooting with the Lee Big Stopper David. We’re just going to have to make flicking that little eyepiece switch part of the workflow. Light like water gets in everywhere. Don’t get me started about water and my D800… that’s another story and not a happy one 😉 NPS thankfully saved the day on a project.

  27. “I leave the house in a couple hours and head to Kenya for the month. Be good while I’m gone. Try not to burn the place down.”

    No doubt Corwin has “the keys to the Kingdom”, so to speak, and since there hasn’t been a Vancouver Gathering scheduled in a while, I was thinkin’ Corwin could organize an ad hoc rave at your loft apartment and invite a bunch of us groupies up for a visit. You know, just to keep an eye on things while you’re gone. He was caught bustin’ some great dance moves in that YouTube BOMA video, so I’m sure he’d be up for it.

    But no worries while you’re off in the bush. We’ve all got your back. ;o)

  28. I’ve never had that problem because when I shoot without my eye at the viewfinder I have always covered the eyepiece, usually with my left thumb. The problem is that light can feedback through the prism into the camera if your face isn’t blocking the eyepiece. I suspect it depends on the ambient light conditions and doesn’t usually present a problem but a “thumb of prevention” is worth an hour of Photoshop cure if I may mangle an old saw. If your camera lacks an “eyepiece shutter” and you don’t want to use your thumb, a short piece of gaffer tape stored on a tripod leg until needed will work.

  29. Not sure if we should wish you the old stage good luck of “Break a Leg” or not, but God speed and have a great time and bring back some great photos of what you describe as a great people.

    Vaya con Dios

  30. David,
    This is *very* common, even in film days. The “Pro” models have the shutter curtain, but the consumer/prosumer models don’t. Always cover your viewfinder when you take your eye away from it, because light can effect the meter as well as the image.
    When I happen to shoot with a camera without the shutter curtain, I will place my hand (glove, black sock, black cloth, etc.) over the viewfinder.
    This is just something you learn through experience.

    – Kelly

    1. Author

      Yeah. I’ve heard this all my life, since I was 14. I just never experienced it. Wonder if some cameras are more prone than others. I suspect black gaffer’s tape would also work – i usually keep some around my lens hoods.

  31. This is not unique to the D800. I had this same problem with the D300 and the D700. It occurs when shooting long exposures in day light. I always close the little eyepiece to avoid this problem, just like you said.

    I don’t know if you have the 24-70mm, if so, be sure to cover the AF scale window when you do long exposure; there can be another light leak.

  32. My Nikon (only the D3100) does have a rubber piece. It’s not attached to anything so I have to keep it separate in my camera bag. Recipe for disaster. It will get lost if it isn’t already.

    I’ve never used it, and until just now forgot that I had it. I wonder where it even is right now.

    And now I see that I’m just repeating what Zachery said so much better. But good to see that my cheap Nikon is less prone to that problem. Thanks for that tip Zachery.

    I think I’m going to look for my piece tonight and maybe try a long exposure shot with it – just to see the difference. I did a bunch of long exposure at Christmas and didn’t even think about light leak.

  33. Of the current Nikon lineup, only the D800, D3X, and D4 have the built-in viewfinder shutter. The rest include the same easily lost piece of plastic that Canon includes to clip over the viewfinder.

    Of course, the lower end Nikons have much darker viewfinders and as such provide less light leaking in, ultimately, anyway.

    1. Author

      Thanks for intel, Zachery. My D3s bodies also have this. As for the little plastic/rubber bit? I’d rather just use a piece of black gaffer tape.

      1. Yep was just going to say gaffa tape, I have a piece stuck to my camera all the time for such occasions.

        Hope you have a good trip David! 🙂

    2. I have the little piece of plastic in my bag at all times, it’s part DK-5 if anyone looses it. Though I have also used the micro fibre cloth I wrap my filter in before, and I suspect any heavy ish bit of cloth will work too.

    3. The D700 has the built in viewfinder shutter as well. I discovered it after running into a similar banding issue with Long Exposures. It took me a few tries before I realized what the banding was. Slow learner that I am. 🙂

  34. Interesting.. I am sitting here now, thinking about my Canon 7D and 5D Mark III.. I don’t recall seeing any rubber thing on the stock straps. I’ll keep an eye on this, especially considering the Mark III had that light leak at the top LCD… Thanks and safe travels.

  35. Hey David,

    I also suffer from light leaks and Moronitude on using my Canon 1Ds MK3. As soon as I get over the 60 sec exposure range it gets very noticeable.

    1. So, is the D800 worth it or not? I also read where it causes moire or something like that. I am considering the D800/e. What is everyones take on that?

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