Guide to Long Exposure Photography: Tips, Techniques, Set Up

Long exposure photography is a type of photography that generates photos that appear to be from another universe. Consider the image of a rushing waterfall frozen in time. Or the light trails left by stars across a midnight sky.

While long exposure photography may appear to be a difficult and advanced technique, there are a few basic principles to follow in order to create stunning images. Here you will get a guide to long exposure photography: tips, techniques, set up

Guide to Long Exposure Photography: Tips, Techniques, Set Up

What Is Long Exposure Photography and How Does It Work?

Slow-shutter photography or time-exposure photography are other terms for long exposure photography. The method has its origins in the early days of photography when inadequate equipment required photographers to expose a picture for several hours in order to achieve a satisfactory result on film.

Long exposure photography, which relies on leaving the shutter open for a lengthy period of time, is still used today. The resultant photos display stable subjects in sharp focus while moving subjects seem fuzzy, thanks to advancements in camera technology.

What’s the Connection Between Long Exposure and Shutter Speed?

For long exposure photography, shutter speed is a basic concept in photography and the most important part in the exposure triangle (shutter speed, ISO, and aperture). The amount of time the camera shutter is open and the digital sensor or film is exposed to light is referred to as shutter speed.

Long exposure photographers leave their shutter open for 30 seconds or longer, whereas conventional photographers utilize shutter speeds of 1/125th to 1/500th of a second. This enables more light into the camera, allowing for stunning low-light photos of things such as the night sky. At the same time, the extended exposure period of a slow shutter speed implies that any camera shaking caused by movement or vibrations will be picked up, potentially resulting in a fuzzy final image.

Long Exposure Photography: 4 Must-Have Pieces of Gear

To capture amazing long exposure photographs, you’ll need a few key tools.

  • A digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR). Long exposure photography isn’t simply point-and-shoot: you’ll need to change various settings on your camera to produce outstanding long exposure photos. With that in mind, a DSLR digital camera with manual camera modes and slow shutter settings is a good investment. You’ll also require a DSLR with bulb mode, which lets you leave your shutter open for as long as you can hold down your camera button at shutter speeds longer than 30 seconds. High-end smartphones, including iPhones, enable mobile applications. That provides manual camera mode capability if you can’t afford a DSLR camera or wish to explore without one. For example, the Adobe Lightroom software features a built-in camera with PRO mode that creates RAW files, giving you more flexibility over long exposures.
  • Tripod. It’s impossible for a human to hold a camera entirely still by hand for more than a few seconds. While image stabilization is available on many lenses and cameras, it is ineffective for lengthy exposure durations, when even a slight shaking or movement may alter the image’s intended impact. A tripod keeps your camera stable so you can expose a picture for as long as you want it to be exposed—hands-free. Remember to bring several bags of sand or dry rice with you to help weigh down your tripod in windy situations.
  • A shutter release that can be controlled remotely. Even the slightest movement of your camera’s shutter button might cause undesired movement in your long exposure photos. A remote shutter release, also known as a cable release, allows you to press the camera button without having to stand over it and keep your finger still. This helps you take better long exposure photos by reducing fatigue and eliminating movement. (If you don’t have access to a remote shutter release, a delay timer combined with your camera’s self-time feature can help you get lengthy, steady pictures.)
  • Filter with a Neutral Density (ND Filter). While long exposures are best done in low-light situations, you may also wish to try them in bright sunlight. Add a neutral-density filter, or ND filter, to your lens to avoid overexposing photographs in strong light situations. The quantity of light that passes through the lens is reduced by using an ND filter. ND filters are available in a variety of strengths, depending on the amount of light present and the length of your exposure.

What Are the Best Places to Take Long Exposure Photos?

The importance of location in long exposure photography cannot be overstated. Long exposure photography is most commonly used in landscape photography to highlight distinctive features such as star trails, cloud swirls, blurred waves, and gentle waterfalls.

To find stunning vistas to photograph, try exploring a variety of environments, from forests and deserts to urban cityscapes. Look for light sources that will convert into light trails. Such as a never-ending stream of cars during rush hour or other fascinating sources of motion.

Set Up Your Camera for Long Exposure Photography in 4 Easy Steps

When you get to the location for a long exposure photo, the first thing you should do is compose your shot. Set up your tripod and camera, then fill the frame to your satisfaction using your viewfinder. After that, you’ll go through a number of stages to verify that your shot is correctly exposed.

  1. Focus. Fix your gaze on the subject of your choice. To guarantee that nothing changes during your exposure, we recommend utilizing the manual focus. If you’re using autofocus, though, push halfway down on the camera button to change your focus automatically. Then all the way down to lock it.
  2. Expose. Take test pictures in manual mode, experimenting with shutter speed and aperture. If you use an ND filter, you can reduce the shutter speed without sacrificing other aspects of the image. (For example, a 10 stop ND filter (the strongest available) allows you to utilize a 1,000x slower shutter speed.) Long exposure photos should have an aperture of 7 to 13, and ISO should be kept low, about 100. Before moving on to the next stage, double-check your test pictures to make sure the static shot is exposed. And to your liking and record your settings.
  3. Bulb mode is on. Switch the camera to bulb mode once you’ve selected your exposure, which will lengthen your shutter speed beyond 30 seconds. Bulb mode is a setting that may be accessed while the camera is in manual mode.
  4. Take a chance! You’re ready to take your photo after you’ve set up your camera and camera settings. The camera’s shutter will be locked open if you press down on your remote shutter release or cable release button. Simply press the button again when you’re ready to close the shutter. Here’s the hard part: the amount of time the shutter remains open is determined by a number of factors. MDCalc, for example, is a useful software that automates the computation for you. Based on the values you obtained from your test shot.


Understanding long exposure photography requires a mix of studying the theory and fundamentals as well as applying what you’ve learned in this book into practice.

It’s also important to remember that long exposure photography is about “learning to see” things in new ways. Long exposure photography is a genre that takes time and skill to perfect, but it opens up a whole new universe of possibilities.

Do you want to improve your photography skills? Exclusive video lectures from renowned photographers such as Jimmy Chin and Annie Leibovitz are included with the MasterClass Annual Membership.

I really hope that this long exposure photography lesson piques your interest in this beautiful and creative kind of photography. You how to take the long exposure images you’ve always wanted.

If you have any questions on long exposure photography, please leave them in the comments section below!

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