Long Exposure Photography Guide: 23 Tips

Long Exposure Photography Guide

Long exposure photography (time exposure or slow shutter photography) is about applying a long-duration shutter speed to sharply photograph the fixed objects while they’re blurring or obscuring the objects that are in motion. (waterfalls, night city life, starry sky, etc.)

Long Exposure Photography Guide: 23 Tips

Read this article if you want to learn how to take good pictures using long exposures from the first try.

1. Understand What Long Exposure Photography Means

what is long exposure

You have to know that in front of the camera’s matrix there is a shutter that doesn’t let the light reach the photosensitive sensor. When the shutter is opened while shooting, the light comes to the sensor and it makes the shutter close again. Long exposure means slow shutter speed and that the shutter is open for a long time.

2. Choose a Place with Constant Movement

place with long exposure

The most important thing in working with longtime exposure is to understand that you should select a location where such a photo can display the effect of the running time. Movement is what gives that special look to such photos.

Regular pictures take fractions of second, long exposure pictures – a minimum of a few minutes. In case the long exposure is short, for instance, 5-10 seconds, you have to adjust the equipment and camera settings.

The simplest way to take long exposure pictures is by working in low light conditions. However, you can do it with bright light too, but with the help of neutral density filters or special cameras.

It doesn’t matter where you decide to shoot – remember that movement has to be present in such a photo.

3. Use a Camera with Bulb Mode Function

camera with bulb mode function

To take long exposure photos, you should use a camera (I recommend Canon EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR Camera that offers a bulb mode. Usually, when you select a shutter speed on the camera, the majority of them provide a shutter speed of no more than 30 seconds.

If you want to use a higher shutter speed, I recommend you to use the bulb mode.

4. Use a Tripod for Sharper Images

If you shoot timed exposures at slow shutter speeds, you have to use a tripod. You won’t be able to take qualitative photos without it if you are using a shutter speed from several seconds to a couple of minutes.

With a Manfrotto Compact Aluminum Travel Tripod, it will be easier for you to achieve a clean image. No matter what tripod brand you choose, but I recommend sticking to an aluminum tripod because it’s smaller and less heavy.

5. Use a Wide Angle Lens

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If you shoot at slow shutter speed, it’s better to use a wide-angle lens. With its help, if you need, you can get a closer view of the object and get a wide angle for taking pictures.

6. Have ND Filters

long exposure using filters

Another essential thing for long-exposure photography is a neutral density filter. It controls the amount of light that enters the camera lens and sensor.

If you take photos in the dark location, you will need it to get a longer exposure. There are 2 variants of ND Filters: screw-on and square ones that fit into the filter holder. They can have different sizes: 2 stops, 6 stops and 10 stops.

The numbers indicate how strong the filters are. They show how much you will be able to increase the shutter speed. The “stop” of this filter reduces the amount of light that enters the camera by 2 times.

7. Use a Shutter Release

shutter release for long exposure photography

If your exposure duration is no more than 30 seconds, you don’t have to release the shutter. However, if you are planning to achieve more unusual photos with long exposures, I recommend you to take the shutter with you. It can be a remote control. However, for professional pictures, you should purchase the shutter with a timer and a lock mode.

8. Always Check the Focus

focusing forlong exposure photography

If you use a 10 stop ND filter, you will see that the photos turn out very dark. It’s quite difficult to see through the filter. Besides, the autofocus of the camera doesn’t work.

Due to this, your photo will be unfocused. If you are taking pictures at sunrises or sunsets, you have to deal with this really fast. Before setting the filter on your camera, you need to adjust focus to manual and use Live View to focus manually.

9. Set Photosensitivity

camera sensitivity settings

In order to adjust the ISO for long exposure photography, you have to set the camera to shooting mode B and the aperture between f/2.8-f/4. This will provide you great results. Press the remote control in order to open the shutter.

Keep the ISO at maximum 100 to reduce the digital noise to the minimum. After the time has passed, for completing the picture, press the remote control and release the shutter button. This can last from 15 minutes to a few hours.

10. Take Test Shots

I recommend you to perform a test shooting before doing the real one. Begin with a shutter speed of 1 second and check the result. If it’s short, increase the shutter speed by 2 seconds and then 2 seconds more till you’re fully satisfied with the result.

11. Take Pictures of Car Trails

photo of road with cars

It’s not difficult to take photos of roads. The main thing you have to do is to shoot at an interesting location. It should be a nice road with a good view. The size and width of the road don’t matter. It can be both a highway and a road to the village.

I definitely recommend you to implement this idea for long exposure photography. Don’t forget that with longer shutter speed, there will be more traces of headlights and lamps in your picture and they will be longer too.

12. Take a Photo of Lightning

night photo of lightning

Taking photos of lightning at night is a rare but very unusual idea for photography long exposure. The lightning will provide enough light, which means that you won’t have to use flash. For better results, adjust the exposure time in the range from 20 to 30 seconds.

13. Create Stellar Beauty

photo star motion

Another great idea for long exposure photography is to capture a starry night using slower shutter speed. For better photos, shoot not only stars but include some trees in your composition as well. To shoot static stars, use a shutter speed of 10-40 seconds and the stars will look like dots in the sky.

If you feel like shooting a rotating sky with the stars, use a longer shutter speed from 15 minutes to a few hours. However, pay attention to the moon. If it shines brightly, the stars will look faded on the sky background.

It means that the best time for shooting is before the moon rises or someplace where you can’t see it.

14. Captured Ferris Wheel

exposure in a ferris wheel

If you wish to shoot the Ferris wheel at night, you should come closer to it and draw a frame. Select the correct place towards the ring. Use the tripod to achieve amazing shots. Your photo will have bright lines in the black sky background and will be placed closer to the center of the ring.

15. Waterfalls at Long Exposure

motion picture of watermotion picture of water
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Shooting water is also a great idea for time exposures photography. First of all, you can plan almost the whole shooting beforehand. Secondly, running water looks simply wonderful. In order to achieve the best results, choose interesting angles by putting the camera higher, lower or shooting from different places.

16. Using Long Exposure, Transfer Motion

long exposure photo of people

A lot of photographers use a long exposure to show the movement of different subjects. I advise you to try it in places with many people around. In this way, your photo will display the effect of passing time.

17. Shoot the Movement of the Clouds

cloud movement picture

Another nice idea for long exposure photography is to take pictures of the clouds moving. Here, it is important to wait for the proper weather. There has to be a balance between the clouds and the blue sky. In this way, you can achieve stunning images.

18. Work with Light Painting

light play picture

Such types of photos with long exposure look very beautiful and unusual. The only thing you need to have is a light source to “paint” images for a long exposure. You can use LED lights, sparklers, flashlights, etc. I recommend inviting somebody who can help you paint. However, you can do this by yourself too.

19. Take Pictures of Circling Children

long exposure with children

For such pictures, you need to have 2 people. One person will be circling a child and another person will be shooting. Take this picture in motion. It’s better if you do it at the waist level of a person who is circling the child.

Such pictures will look very sincere and genuine. However, you have to take these photos carefully not to harm the child.

20. Take Photos of Trains

train traffic picture

It’s not a difficult type of long-exposure photography and the pictures turn out to be amazing. You can achieve the effect of the washed moving train even with short shutter speed. Still, I advise you to use a tripod, particularly if you are going to shoot in the subway.

21. Take Pictures of Dancing

exposure in dances

Long exposure allows you to show the beauty and elegance of dancing. Use the flash and turn on synchronization with the flash along the second curtain. Then turn on the slow shutter speed. At this moment, the dancer starts moving and in the end, the flash highlights the last position.

22. Fireworks with Long Exposure

long exposure firework photograph

One more amazing idea for long exposure photography is to capture fireworks as there are beautiful traces of fireworks in such photos. I recommend you to take pictures at the time of disclosure. You can achieve gorgeous fireworks at shutter speeds of 4-5 seconds.

23. Use Long Exposures on Your IPhone

how to take long exposure shots on phone

iPhone camera is not designed for shooting at high shutter speed, because the "Camera" application does not have the function of setting the shutter speed. An excellent option for shooting on the phone is to use the application with large shutter speed.

This method may be different from others, but it is great for taking high-quality photos. I recommend using Slow Shutter Cam. This app allows you to adjust the shutter speed depending on what you are shooting. Also, you can use the volume button as the shutter and set the self-timer.

Freebies for Long Exposure Photography

If you work with long exposure photography, you have to be patient and hardworking. When you finish shooting, you need to make your photos even more beautiful through image editing. The following image editing tools will help you create outstanding photos.


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With this action, you can give your pictures a professional look. Apply it to make your photo livelier and interesting.

Realistic Lightning

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This overlay will help you achieve beautiful photos. It is perfect for making photos deeper, fresher and more appealing.

Cool Tones

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With this preset, you will make your pictures more sophisticated and remarkable. It adds a light blue shade and gives your photo a dramatic effect.

Tata Rossi

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