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The Complete Guide to Long Exposure Photography

Last updated: November 12, 2023 - 14 min read
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Once you learn to take basic photographs, it is time to try some more creative techniques.

Long exposure photography is a technique where you use slow shutter speeds to create cool effects. This technique can be used to create a wide variety of images, whether landscapes, cityscapes, star photographs, or more.

If you are ready to take your photographs to the next level, check out this complete guide. To understand the basics, get tips, and be creatively inspired, keep reading.

Precise Timing Control
PHOLSY C6 Remote Control with Intervalometer
Remote Control with Intervalometer
Take your knowledge of long exposure photography to the next level with a remote control that allows you to take photos without touching your camera and set regular intervals for time-lapse projects.

Basics of Long Exposure Photography

What Is Long Exposure Photography and How to Get Started

Have you ever seen a picture of the sea and wondered how the water looks so smooth and soft?

Long exposure photography is a simple way to add some drama to your images without post-processing. It can make gushing water look smooth or transform speeding cars into red and yellow lines.

Continue reading to learn how to master this technique and take your photos to the next level.

Beautiful long exposure of a flowing waterfall

35 Stunning Examples of Long Exposure Photography

The best thing about long exposure photography is that it can be used for many different types of photographs. Long exposure photography usually falls into the following categories:

water, astrophotography, light painting, light trails from cars, abstract photography, architecture, and sports.

For some beautiful examples of long exposure photography click here.

A busy night motorway with streaming light trails

Understanding Exposure

When you are taking a photo, you are capturing light. Hence, understanding exposure is the key to good photography.

3 factors affect exposure: shutter speed, ISO, and aperture.

It is important to understand these factors. If you want to be a good photographer, you need to know how they can positively and negatively affect a photograph. Then you can play around with the settings to get the result you want.

Rows of white stone crosses in a cemetery

How To Shoot Long Exposure iPhone or Smartphone Photos

If you are not ready to start with long exposure on a camera, you can use your iPhone or smartphone. Earlier, smartphone cameras used to be very limited. They had great Auto functions but no Manual Mode. That didn’t let you take creative shots like long exposures.

The good news is, you can do that now!

A person shooting long exposure with a smartphone


Photography Equipment for Long Exposure Shots: What You Really Need

Some equipment is essential for long exposure photography. To find everything you may need, check out this article.

Overhead view of photography equipment on a table
Photo by Shivkumar Dharmoji from Pexels

A Complete Guide to Neutral Density Filters

Many times a photo won’t be perfect due to too much light. This is where an ND filter comes in.

There are different types of ND filters you can use. To understand exactly what an ND filter is and how to use it, read this article.

A large red bridge
Photo by zoe pappas from Pexels

How to Use an ND Filter to Remove People from Long Exposure Shots

We have all seen those perfect pictures of famous landmarks. But when you go to take your own shots, tourists crowd into your frame, ruining your images. So how can you take the perfect photograph without people in it?

If you are shooting a famous tourist spot or want to capture a lonely beach, but people are ruining your photograph, don’t worry. There is a way to remove people from your photos, without post-processing. All you need to do is capture a long exposure with an ND filter.

To understand how to make people magically disappear from your photos, read this article. Long exposure of pedestrians crossing the road at Oktogon, Budapest

How to Shoot a Long Exposure Without ND Filter

What if you want to take a long-exposure shot in the daytime, but you don’t have an ND filter? You can still get the results you want by using a technique called photo stacking. Read this article to understand the two ways of doing this in detail.

Beautiful long exposure of a flowing waterfall
Photo by Ian Beckley from Pexels

What Is a CPL Filter? How, When and Why to Use One

Every landscape photographer should have a polariser as part of their photography equipment. There are two types of CPL filters: linear and circular.

Read this article to understand how and why CPL filters are so helpful.
Beautiful long exposure of trees and mountains reflecting in a lake

10 Best Travel Tripod Options

A tripod is a must in long exposure photography. Hence, it is important to consider all aspects of a tripod before purchasing the right one for you. We have rounded up the best tripods for you that are sturdy, budget-friendly, and portable.

Overhead photo of photography equipment

Settings, Techniques

How To Get Creative Photos Using a Slow Shutter Speed

You can use a slow shutter speed to create many interesting effects in your photos. For example, you can capture motion blur, light trails, water and cloud movement, and much more. Read this article for 7 creative photos you can take with a slow shutter speed.

heart shaped light painting
Photo by Ian Panelo from Pexels

How to Use Bulb Mode: 6 Tips for Better Long Exposures

Sometimes creative long exposures need shutter speeds as slow as minutes or hours. How can you get such a slow shutter speed if the slowest setting your camera allows is 30 or 60 seconds? The answer lies in bulb mode. In this setting, the shutter will stay open as long as you press the shutter release button.

Check out this article for tips on how to take really long exposures using bulb mode.

pretty coastal scene
How to Calculate Long Exposure Time

If you are shooting with an ND filter, it can get complicated calculating the right shutter speed to use. You can use apps that will calculate it for you. Or, you can also do this manually, using this formula:
TND = T0 X 2^ND

  • ND = F-Stop reduction in light from filter
  • tND = Final exposure time in seconds
  • t0 = Correct exposure time without ND filter
River with mossy green riverbanks shot with long exposure
Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh from Pexels

How to Reduce Noise in Long Exposure Photography

In Bulb Mode, the sensor remains exposed to capture light for as long as you decide. This prolonged exposure time will produce digital noise.
A small trick to get the cleanest raw files to edit in post-production is to apply long exposure noise reduction in camera. 

A busy night cityscape with streaming light trails
Photo by zhang kaiyv from Pexels

How To Use Intentional Camera Movement in Photography

You may come across a lot of tutorials on how to keep your photos sharp during long exposures. However, sometimes photographers intentionally incorporate blurred movement in photographs. This can make their images more dynamic.

There are many ways to use this technique to make your photographs more creative.

A person looking through a tunnel of swirling colored lights

How to Use Panning to Easily Capture Movement

Panning is the most popular technique to get movement in your image. Panning is commonly used in taking panoramas, but it is also used in timelaspes, hyperlapses, and long exposures. In this technique, you use an exposure of around 1/20th of a second and follow a moving object.

The idea is that you capture a moving object while moving your camera along with it, preferably at the same speed. This will give you a clear subject in front of a blurred background. This article will take you through everything you need to know about using this technique in your images.

Tram in Budapest

How to Shoot Daytime Long Exposure Photography

Taking long exposure photos in the day requires a lot of technique. You can face many issues with long exposure photography in the daytime. This includes false light, camera shake, etc.

To get some specific tips on daytime long exposure photography, check out this article.

Daytime long exposure of the seashore
Photo by Daniel Jurin from Pexels

Photo Stacking: Awesome Daytime Long-Exposure Photography

With all the issues of long exposure in the daytime, you can waste a lot of time trying to get the perfect shot. A more efficient way of this is photo stacking.

Factors like too much light, wind, or the risk of camera shake make it worthwhile to use photo stacking for your daytime long-exposure photos.

Screenshot of focus stacking a long exposure of a bridge

How to Capture Great Photos in Low Light

Shooting low light can be challenging, but with some camera settings, extra gear, and techniques, you can capture great photos. This article goes through all the settings, gear, and tips that you need to capture great photos in low light.

A busy motorway with streaming light trails

12 Essential Tips to Mastering Creative Night Photography

If you want to take your low light photography to the next level, it is time to try night photography. Night photography produces some of the most stunning images. But it can be exceptionally frustrating to capture if you don’t know what you’re doing.

A stone church at night

How to Use the 500 Rule to Capture Better Night Sky Photography

If you want to capture the beauty of a starry night, use the 500 Rule to estimate the slowest possible shutter speed to avoid star trails.

This rule is one of the many that were created to help photographers before digital cameras. The rules helped photographers determine the right settings and get their shot right without wasting film. We now don’t need to wait for photos to be developed to see if we got it right, but learning these rules can help us shoot more efficiently.

Some of the famous photography rules are the sunny-16, overcast-8 and sunset-4 rules. These deal with finding the right settings for specific daylight conditions. For night time photography, the looney-11 rule will help you correctly expose the Moon.

For night sky photography, learn the 500 Rule in this article.

A red van under a star filled sky
Made from 10 light frames (captured with a SONY camera) by Starry Landscape Stacker 1.5.1.


12 Tips for Long Exposure Landscape Photography

Landscape photography can lend itself to stunning images even without much creativity. However, using long exposures to capture landscapes can take your images to the next level. Here are 12 tips to help you take better landscape photos using long exposures.

Aerial shot of a coastal town

6 Tips for Taking Breathtaking Pictures of Waterfalls

Waterfalls are one of the quintessential subjects for long exposure photography. If you do it right, capturing silky smooth water can result in breathtaking photos. However, there are a few things to know before you head to a waterfall to shoot long exposures.

Read this article to be prepared and take mind-blowing photos.

Beautiful long exposure of a flowing waterfall

11 Tips for Photographing Cliffs and Coastlines

We have all drooled over those dramatic images of cliffs and coastlines that amazing travel photographers post on Instagram or publish in magazines. Although the photographs look spectacular, they are not so difficult to shoot.

Check out these eleven tips that will help you start shooting gorgeous photos of coastlines and cliffs. Some of these tips can also be used in general landscapes, seascapes, and ocean photography.

Long exposure of coastal cliffs

How to Photograph Star Trails at Night | From Landscape to Cityscape

Intentional camera movement, like panning, and long exposures that capture star trails can add magic to your photography. To get star trails in your photographs, all you need to do is take a long exposure of the sky.

Here are all the necessary camera settings, gear, accessories and techniques that you will need to take your own star trail photographs.

Star trails over a stone ruin

How to Take Great Photos of Clouds

Taking photos of moving clouds is another way of capturing movement in your photographs. Different types of clouds can evoke different moods in your image.

Check out this article for everything you need to know to take amazing photos of clouds. You will find types of clouds, long exposure settings for clouds, and many more tips.



How to Shoot Fantastic Light Trails

At night, cities light up with an array of color, providing the perfect opportunity to capture light trails. With long shutter speeds, you can capture luminous light trails. To learn how to add that wow factor to your urban night photography with light trails, read this article.

A busy night cityscape with streaming light trails
Photo by Vishal Shah from Pexels

How to Photograph Fireworks in 8 Easy Steps

Fireworks are dazzling affairs, but to capture them requires the right knowledge and gear. If you don’t have the right technique, you will end up with blurry shots or overexposed shots. It takes patience and understanding the technique to get the splendid firework shots you see online. To learn how to take the perfect firework photograph, check out these 8 tips.

Fireworks exploding over the Hungarian parliament building in Budapest

How To do Steel Wool Photography

Steel wool photography is a variation of  light painting that uses a material called steel wool. Experiment with this type of photography to create very interesting and unique photographs. The best part about this technique is that it does not require expensive gear, and can create very interesting photographs.

cool steel wool photography on a beach

Spiral Light Painting: Cool Photography Ideas to Try Today

Spiral light painting photography is a great way to create cool and colorful photographs. While it creates very unique photos, it is not a technical process. Here we show you exactly how to use this easy technique to take fun and interesting shots.

Spiral light painting photography on a beach

How LED Light Sticks Are Taking Light Painting Photography to a New Level

Light painting is a technique that uses long exposures to capture moving light as streaks. Earlier people used flashlights. But, flashlights did not have variety in color.

A great way to try light painting photography is to use LED light sticks. They are a colorful and easy tool to use in light painting photography.

Light painting over a female model
Photo by Ali atiabi from Pexels

How to Create Impressive Light Graffiti

Light graffiti is very similar to light painting. You can do this with a torch, a sparkler, a fire, or even a still light source by moving your camera. To read more about light graffiti, check out this article.

light grafitti of a bicycle

50 Stunning Examples of Motion Blur Photography

Daily life is full of movement. Hence, movement is a great subject to create thoughtful and slightly abstract photographs. Here are 50 different ways you can capture the stories that motion tells.

Motion blurred man walking past advertisements

How to Use Your Smartphone to Create Stunning Light Painting Photography

You don’t always need fancy equipment to be creative. Once of the most creative types of photography is light painting. Although there are various techniques, one of the simplest is using your smartphone. Here are various tricks on how you can use your smartphone in light painting photography. You can either use it as the camera to take light painting photographs, or you can use it as a light painting tool.

a Japanese wooden doll is lit up using a smartphone's flashlight
In this photo you can see the Japanese wooden doll is lit up using a smartphone’s flashlight. The background is painted using the smart phone’s screen.

How to Take Long Exposure Time Lapse

Shooting a time lapse in the daytime can be difficult. As the shutter stays open during the time lapse, light will keep pouring in, leaving your photo very overexposed. If you want to find out how to shoot a long exposure timelapse in the daytime, check out this article.

busy city scene
Photo by Zach Inglis on Unsplash

How to Shoot Long Exposure Portraits

You can create very unique portraits with the light painting technique. The combination of light and a human face creates abstract and surreal photos.

long exposure portrait of a glittery female model
Photo by Tainá Bernard from Pexels

How to Shoot Night Cityscape Photos (Long Exposure)

Cities at night have a buzzing energy that makes fantastic images. You can take some amazing cityscapes using long exposures. This way, you will capture light trails, colors, and a lot of movement. In this article, find out exactly how you can take cool cityscapes at night.

A busy night cityscape with streaming light trails

Conclusion: Long Exposure Photography

You can use long exposure photography in almost every genre; landscapes, portraits, night or day. This technique allows you to experiment and create images that you would not be able to with a short shutter speed.

PHOLSY C6 Remote Control with Intervalometer
Remote Control with Intervalometer
This remote control allows you to take long exposure shots with ease and accuracy, perfect for capturing stunning landscape images.