The Uniqueness & Tricks of Long Exposures


The Uniqueness & Tricks of Long Exposures

Slow, very slow shutter speeds are vastly under used as a creative approach. Generally slow shutters speeds start at the half-second exposure. That is the speed that moving water starts to look milky, for example.

To do slow photography effectively you need to do a few things differently.

No matter how steady you think your hand holding ability is or how confidant you are of your stabilizer, the camera needs to be mounted. Tripods are best and most common but anything that takes it out of your hands and onto a solid surface works. Some photographers bring along little sand bags or clamps rigged for cameras.


When you put your camera on a tripod, turn off your stabilizer; it will actually create camera vibrations as the gyros come into play. Just remember to turn them back on when you are done.

Use a remote for the very long exposures. The pressing of the shutter can cause the slight movement that will create blur. The best are digital releases.

A great trick is to use the bulb function, which opens the shutter and keeps it open until you close it. Put a black card in front of the lens, removing it for timed moments then covering it up again. This gives you multiple exposures, perfect for getting things like multiple fireworks in one frame. A black sky or background works best for this effect. Lighting strikes are also very effective.

Keep your ISO as low as possible to avoid grain or noise in the image. You might need to acquire neutral density filters to knock the amount of light down. These come in set f-stop values. Working slow exposures during the day makes these a necessity. I have shot images where the stacked filters became so dark that the viewfinder was black. Focus before you put the filters on.


Some effects are predictable. Water always goes very, very smooth. Pinpoint lights that move always create light trails, suggesting movement, like fireworks or sparks flying.

Here are some creative ideas to try:

Carnivals or dancers twirling in big dresses; the blurred movement creates very cool patterns. Especially when unmoving elements are in the image.

Have your subject stands very still while the world moves past them.

For an abstract effect, take the camera off the tripod and be the movement.

Partway through the long exposure tell your still subject to start to move, they will become ghost like.

Water is always gorgeous in long exposures, waterfalls look like sand, oceans and lakes take on unreal serenity. It is such a change from the usual images of violent waves crashing.


Car headlight trails light up a road and the city. The amber and red lights can become a great color contrast if you photograph at dusk for the blue sky and blue shadows..

Panning is very effective. Especially with very slow speeds, everything takes on this soft liquid look while your subject maintains some sharpness. You can create very evocative storytelling with this approach.

Of course, you can always paint with light or fire. Make sure to dress in black, covering your face and hands and keep moving during the exposure.

For stargazers aiming the camera upwards will get you a sky of star streaks. You will need to be far from the city lights for this.

For inspiration here are some websites where you can see these wonderful effects. My favorite is the site with 50 examples of slow shutters speed images.

Smashing Apps has 45 inspirations.  The last and the most diverse collection of samples is here at smashing tips, their 45+ collection.

Slow, very slow, shutters speeds create some of the most unique and soothing images. In this time of fast snapshots, try slowing things down to find some very unique expressions to your photography.

X1016B-381BS blur bird


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