Photography Long Exposures

Most of the time, photographers take photos that freeze action into one frame that represents a split second in time. Keeping your shutter open a little longer than usual, however, can bring new life and interest to your photographs. Long exposures produce images of silky water, ghosts walking about, and trails of light that transcend our perceptions of reality. Though images taken with long shutter speeds look complicated, they’re actually simple to create with the right tools.

Tools for Long Exposure Photography

  • neutral density filter to allow for long shutter times during daylight hours

  • tripod to steady the camera

  • bulb setting for exposures longer than 30 seconds

  • remote or cable shutter release to prevent camera shake and blurring

  • long exposure app if using a smartphone

Tips for Taking Long Exposures

  • During the day, long exposures usually require the use of a low ISO and a small aperture in order to get a slower shutter speed. If you still can’t get a slow enough shutter speed, use a neutral density filter to reduce the amount of light coming into the lens.

  • Use mirror lock up to eliminate any movement caused by your DSLR’s mirror flipping up as you release the shutter. The mirror’s movement creates a vibration that affects your images’ sharpness. When mirror lock up is enabled, the mirror is flipped up in advance of taking a shot, so exposure happens after the vibration has dissipated. The steps to take to enable mirror lock up are different for each type of camera. Check your user manual to see how it works on your camera model.

  • For star trails, which show the earth’s movement, wait for moonless, clear nights and find a location without interference from ambient light. Shutter speeds for star trails can be minutes or hours long, and ambient light will most often over-expose the scene.

  • Compose carefully. Sometimes we get so dazzled by the effect of long exposures that we forget to be mindful of creating an interesting composition. Pay attention to framing, placement of elements, and any distracting objects before taking the photo.

Photography Long Exposure Ideas


Photography Long Exposure Traffic

Day 18/365 – Cars-N-Stars… by Caden Crawford

Amusement Parks

Photography Long Exposure Amusement Parks

ferris sheeaaaooo by matt


Photography Long Exposure Waterfalls

West Virginia waterfalls in a National Geographic Contest! by Forest Wander

Star Trails

Photography Long Exposure Star Trails

Star trails while watching Perseid meteor shower by Ralph Arvesen

Ocean Waves

Photography Long Exposure Ocean Waves

May 5, 2012 by Nicoal Price


Photography Long Exposure Fireflies

Numerous fireflies glowed above the stream by T.Kiya


Photography Long Exposure Lightning

A Little Too Close… by John Drought, Jr.


Photography Long Exposure People

Flower Market by Nishanth Jois

Photography Long Exposure People

Hell on earth…. by liz_com1981

Light Painting

Photography Long Exposure Light Painting

Untitled by Caitlin H

These are only a handful of the subjects that make for stunning long exposures. Opening your shutter for seconds, minutes, or even hours widens the possibilities of your photography. Put your camera on a tripod and add long exposures to your repertoire.

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Profile photo of Nicoal Price About Nicoal Price

​Nicoal is a New England photographer with a penchant for learning. Her work ranges from nature-inspired portraiture to outdoor product photography. Visit for more info.

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