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How to shoot long exposure?

It often happens in the evening that you are fascinated by the street landscape, colors, lights (at least for me for sure). You wish to take a different photo, to experiment or just to learn something new… If so, then you should definitely try to shoot with a long exposition. And I will try to navigate you in this endeavor by sharing my humble experience.

What is long exposure?

I have already shared what this is in my previous article, but let’s summarize again. Simply said, long exposure is long shutter speed (a long time in which the actual shutter of the lens stays open and collects the light it needs), which creates blur when moving subjects. You can use this shooting technique most effectively when shooting landscapes – the water blurs, the traces of car lights turn into light trails, etc.

You can see examples of such photos below.

What settings should I use to take such a picture?

We use the “M” function of the camera to be able to control all three of our main variables, on which our picture depends – shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. If you are wondering what they are, you can read a little more about them HERE.

Necessary equipment:

  • Camera / mobile phone with the possibility of “M” shooting mode;
  • Tripod / alternative location from which to shoot without holding the camera;
  • A remote shutter for the camera / self-timer also does a great job for both the camera and the mobile phone;
  • Patience 🙂

In general, it’s not complicated and burdensome for the budget. I have already given the alternatives to the necessary equipment and now it only remains to tell you more about the settings you need.


Basic rule: When taking long exposures, the key is to keep the shutter open long enough to achieve exactly the desired effect. If you keep the shutter open for too long, you will lose the details of the subjects because of any light source that illuminates what you are shooting. If this time is too short, the picture will become dark.

Let’s explore some situations in which you can use long exposure.

Night landscapes – light paths

City lights

To capture the effects of car lights on the road, the so-called light paths, you need a shutter speed of at least 1/15 of a second, which means you have to use a tripod. A basic rule of night photography is – be patient and give the photo time to become stunning with the right settings.

Sample settings:

  • Shutter speed 1/15
  • F 7-11
  • ISO 100

If the photo is too light / too dark, change the shutter speed, leaving the other two settings constant. With a few test shots and patience, you will capture the desired effect and the perfect photo!

Shooting the movement of water

A veil effect or a water-smearing effect is again obtained by prolonged exposure. In this case, however, you have the task of finding the right time of the day to take the picture or the right settings to get the desired photo. The trick here is that you won’t be shooting at night (so at least I guess :)) What does that mean? You will not have such low light. There are two main options…

Shooting during the day

You are walking in the mountains and you come across a waterfall. It’s not evening, it’s not night, the sun is smiling between the branches of the trees and somehow it doesn’t give you the opportunity to use the already learned settings from the previous situation to create this beautiful photo.

The lack of low light can be compensated by choosing a place that offers thick shade and F closed as much as possible (for example up to f 20). This technique can give you the opportunity to reduce the shutter speed to at least 1/10, which will “blur” the water and thus recreate the movement of water effectively. Another option for achieving low light is ND filters, which are an additional accessory specially designed for such situations. They have different degrees of an eclipse and you can maneuver with them and how long the shutter speed stays open. The higher the ND filter is, the longer the exposure, the more “blurred” the water movement.

Sample settings without filter:

  • Shutter speed at least 1/10
  • F 18-20
  • ISO 100

If the photo is too bright and you still can’t achieve the desired effect, you need a filter to darken the overall situation.

Shooting at sunrise / sunset

In short, we use twilight to make our long exposure. As you can see for yourself, I have personally used these time ranges to capture seascapes. Here the brightness is lower and the possibilities without ND filter are more extensive. Also, the colors are unique. Note that at sunrise and sunset the shades are totally different and both options carry their unique beauty of the frame.

Sample settings:

  • Shutter speed 1/20
  • F values ​​from 7 to 16
  • ISO 100

If the photo is too light / dark, the rule is to maneuver at the shutter speed. You can wait until it gets dark when shooting at sunset, or start shooting earlier if you have stretched the tripod to capture a sunrise.

Can I take such a picture with my phone?

The short answer is yes. The long one includes an explanation how 🙂 It is important to specify that your phone must have a function for Manual / Manual camera settings, where you have access to shutter speed, shutter speed, f point, and ISO. I have already shared the rest with you above. Another alternative way to get this feature on your phone is to take advantage of one of the iPhone or Android apps.

Bonus tips

When shooting long exposure shots, there are two extremely important things besides the camera / phone settings:

  • The device you are shooting with should be absolutely still while the shutter speed is open. Otherwise, your photos will be blurred and this will not be part of the effect. Use a tripod or leave the camera / phone on a surface that is completely stable. Any twitch would ruin the shot.
  • Use a self-timer – for example, 2, 5, 10 seconds – press capture – this will avoid the flicker of the press itself, which can ruin your photo and blur it.
  • Think of composition. It is extremely important for the final shot. Think of lines, objects that you want to include in your photo, compose it so that it inspires and catches the eye.

Remember – inspiration and imagination create beautiful shots, not technique and exact settings.. Think out of the box 🙂

Have fun and shoot!

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