In this walkthrough, we've explained the basics of long exposure photography, as well as some helpful techniques for capturing high-quality images over a longer time period.
What is Long Exposure Photography?
Also known as time exposure, this photography technique employs a long shutter speed so that the moving elements look blurry or smudged. For example, if you're shooting a long exposure cityscape, any car headlights will leave bright streaks on your image. With a sufficient shutter speed, you can even capture star trails in the night sky. Meanwhile, any stationary elements in the frame will still look sharp, because the camera is set up on a tripod to achieve the full effect.
Tips for Shooting a Long Exposure
- You'll need a DSLR camera with manual settings, as well as a tripod to keep the camera from moving. If you don't have access to a tripod, you can rest the camera on a flat surface (like a stack of books), but you won't have full control over the camera angle.
- We recommend waiting until nighttime to try your first long exposure, so you can see the contrast between moving and stationary objects. Set up your tripod, turn on your camera, and adjust the angle until you find a compelling composition.
- Try not to fill the entire frame with moving objects, so that you end up with some contrast between the blurry and sharp areas of your image. Ideally, the moving objects should enter and exit the frame at a consistent speed (i.e. not stopping and starting), so that you get a seamless blur effect.
- Instead of pressing the shutter button manually, go into your DSLR camera settings and set up a brief self-timer (i.e. 2-10 seconds). This way, your long exposure won't capture any incidental camera shaking. If you don't know where your camera's timer settings are located, just do a quick Google search of your camera model.
- We recommend using Shutter Priority mode when you first start shooting long exposures. This allows you to adjust the shutter speed manually, but the camera will optimize the other settings automatically. Once you get the hang of this hybrid mode, try switching to Manual mode. This gives you full control over every camera setting.
Setting Your Shutter Speed
Also known as exposure, your shutter speed should be adjusted to match the speed of objects passing through the frame. For example, if you're shooting a night scene with cars racing down a highway, consider how many cars you'd like to pass through the frame in a given shot. In this case, a shutter speed of 5 to 10 seconds will probably suffice. If you're shooting in Manual mode, you'll also need to