Smartphone cameras used to have plenty of limitations. They already had foolproof Auto functions. But they didn’t have Manual Mode that lets you do creative shots like long exposures.
You can now do exactly that on your device and we’ll show you how to shoot long exposure iPhone or smartphone photography.
What Is a Long Exposure?
Before we delve into the process of shooting long exposure iPhone or smartphone shots, let’s find out what it means.
To take a picture, a small gate called an aperture inside your device opens to let the light in.
If there’s plenty of light, the aperture doesn’t have to stay open too long to take an exposure. But if it’s dark, it has to remain open longer until it gathers enough light for an image.
When the shutter is open for a long time, it records moving objects as streaks of light. In most cases, the longer the exposure, the longer the trails in your image.
You can use the beautiful effects of this process to make creative pictures.
What Can You Use Long Exposures For
There are plenty of scenarios where you can use long exposures. Apart from creating light trails, you can also apply it to various scenarios in night photography.
For instance, you can try a long exposure when shooting landscapes at night. There’s no way for you to light up the sky with artificial lighting especially if you’re in secluded areas.
Opening up the shutter for a long time allows your camera to gather enough light and create the exposure you need.
You can use long exposure for capturing celestial bodies such as clouds and stars. Since they move across the sky, they will register as light trails and ghostly elements in your camera.
You can also use long exposures for capturing moving bodies of water such as river streams and waterfalls. When you open up your shutter, the motion of the water ends up looking smooth and creamy.
Use a Tripod to Stabilise Your Camera
Using long exposure requires keeping the shutter open for a long time. If you don’t keep it stable, it will produce blurry images. So how do you solve this problem?
The best solution in getting the best long exposure photos is using a tripod. Since you don’t have to hold your phone and cause unnecessary motion blur, you can guarantee your image will look sharp.
To set up your phone on a tripod, you’ll need a tripod mount. It’s a small contraption that clips on to your device. It also has a thread at the bottom which you can screw on to the tripod itself.
You can use a mini tripod which you can carry around for travel. Or you can work with a regular camera tripod if you need a taller and more stable system.
Remember that mounting your phone on a tripod alone is not going to prevent camera shake. You’ll need to either use a self-timer or a remote to ensure you don’t accidentally move your device while shooting.
Start With Live Photos to Practice Long Exposure iPhone Photos
Long exposure can be tricky even when using a regular camera. If you’re not ready to learn all the technical aspects of the technique yet, you can try Live Photos first.
Live Photos is a feature on the iPhone that lets you take a series of photos and turns your shot into a short video clip. But you can also use it to apply all sorts of built-in effects on your native camera app including long exposure.
To activate Live Photos, turn on your native iPhone app and select Live Photos at the top left corner of the screen. Once you select it, you can start taking photos by pressing the red button.
Go to your gallery and look for the photos you just took using Live Photos. Select the photo you like and swipe up to reveal Effects. Scroll to the right and tap Long Exposure. Your phone then applies a “long exposure” effect to your image.
Since your iPhone applies the effect automatically on your photos, you don’t have control over the result of your image. But it’s the easiest way to try long exposure on your phone.
What’s awesome about it is that you can always revert to the original photo if you don’t like what you have.
Use Third-Party Apps to Create Stunning Long Exposures
Using Live Photos is a simple way to create long exposure shots, but it’s always hit or miss. If you want to have more control over your images, then, your best approach is to use a third-party app.
There are plenty of great apps to choose from if you want to create long exposure images. Some of the best ones you can use include Camera+ 2, Slow Shutter Cam, and Procam 6.
For this tutorial, I used Camera+ 2, but you can try all the other options we mentioned as well.
To access Slow Shutter Mode in Camera+ 2, tap the Presets button at the top center of the screen and select Slow Shutter.
Once you’re in Slow Shutter Mode, go to the bottom of the screen where you can find the shutter speed and brightness scales.
Swipe left or right to change the shutter speed or the brightness. You can start with 2 seconds and keep moving up until you’re satisfied with the exposure.
Remember that the longer your shutter speed, the longer and brighter the light trails. In most cases, you’ll need at least 6 seconds to get decent streaks.
Experiment With ND Filters to Take Daytime Long Exposures
In most cases, long exposure only works when its dark because there’s too much light going through the aperture. So if you shoot in the daytime, you’ll most likely end up with overexposed images.
But what if you need to take photos when the sun’s out? Then you’ll need to use Neutral Density (ND) filters. Think of them as sunglasses that block light so you don’t end up with overexposed images.
ND filters come in different optical densities which signify how much light any particular filter lets in. For instance, ND2 has an optical density of 0.3 which is equivalent to 1 f-stop reduction. Then it goes up to 4 with an optical density of 0.6 and 2 f-stop reductions and so on.
To keep it simple, remember that the higher the number, the lesser light it lets in.
There are special ND filters for smartphones that typically range from ND2 to ND400. But you can also use regular ND filters typically used for full-size cameras.
They won’t fit on your camera lens since they’re big. But you can always hold them up while taking photos and they will still work.
In most cases, anything between ND 16 to ND64 is enough to create a long exposure image in daylight. On an overcast day, ND16 would suffice, but ND64 or higher may be needed if you shoot in bright sunlight.
Get Creative With Light Painting
Long exposure is also the best technique to try light painting. It uses the same concept of capturing the movement of lights at night by opening the shutter for a long time. The only difference is that you get to control the movement of the light this time.
To start light painting, place your phone on a tripod and set the shutter to at least 6 seconds. Now activate the self-timer and get in front of the camera.
Once the camera goes off, write something in the air with a flashlight or any small lighting equipment. What you’ll end up with are the light trails you created with your hand while the shutter was open.
Remember that you’re creating a mirror image when light painting. In other words, everything will show up reversed in your camera when you’re drawing something.
To avoid this issue, doodle backward so you end up with the correct picture. This applies even when you’re writing words in the air.
Shoot Without a Tripod for Cool Motion Effects
You don’t always have to place your phone on a tripod when shooting long exposures. If you want to experiment with different effects, you can always take it off and see what you get.
Of course, you can always randomly swirl the camera around while taking a long exposure shot. But you can also try other methods that can give you somewhat more predictable results.
For instance, you can swipe your camera in one direction while the shutter is open so you can create straight lines. Or you can also shoot as you’re walking towards your subject.
Doing so creates a double image. It looks like you were zooming in as you were taking the shot (see photo for example).
No matter what you choose to do, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It’s a great way to learn how the whole long exposure works and surprisingly teaches you to have more control over the process.
How to Edit Long Exposure iPhone or Smartphone Shots
Your long exposure shots may already look cool straight from the camera. But to get the most out of your photos, you’ll need to edit them.
You can use regular editing apps such as VSCO or Adobe Lightroom Mobile. They have all the basic tools you’ll need to enhance your long exposure images.
When editing your pictures, feel free to crank the contrast. You can also darken the blacks and the shadows to make the light streaks pop. But like anything, don’t overdo it as noise may start to appear.
You should always make sure that you don’t lose any detail in the image when editing. Apart from that, you should also pay attention to the colors. If they start to look a bit off, dial back your adjustments.
Creating long exposure iPhone or smartphone photos is just the first step in the process. Once you become familiar with how the technique works, you’ll find it easier to do on a regular camera as well.
Even if you stick to smartphone photography, your little device is still going to amaze you with how much it can do.