Long exposure photography is an interesting technique that can produce some quite stunning, dreamy and surreal effects. With a traditional DSLR camera, extremely slow shutter speeds are used to capture movement over time. However, the iphone or android camera doesn’t offer the same amount of control over shutter speeds that DSLR cameras do, especially for the durations required to take a long exposure photograph. So, for these types of photos, a specialist app is needed.

In this tutorial guide, I’m going to walk you through the process of shooting a long exposure photograph using your iPhone or android camera, and we’ll take a look at some of the equipment needed.

1. The Equipment

Before you can start shooting a long exposure photograph, you’re going to need a few pieces of equipment.

Firstly, you’ll need a sturdy tripod to mount your iphone onto. This will ensure you’re able to keep the camera perfectly still during the image capture process. Any slight movement of the camera, no matter how minute, will result in a blurry photo.

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Any tripod will do as long as it’s capable of holding the camera perfectly still. You could use a tripod that’s more akin to big camera DSLR photography, or opt for something a lot smaller such as the GorillaPod or the Manfrotto PIXI tripod. While the latter two options offer you a compact and relatively inexpensive solution, going for a more traditional style tripod will give you a much sturdier foundation, particularly in windy conditions.

In order to mount the smartphone onto the tripod, you’re going to need a special mounting bracket which fixes to the tripod and then firmly grips the smartphone. I use the Shoulderpod S1 camera grip which clamps around the smartphone to hold it securely in position. There are many other products out there worth considering, including the GorillaPod, the Glif or the Inmacus universal smartgrip.

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Finally, although not totally necessary, something that can come in handy is a means of releasing the shutter without having to directly touch the smartphone itself. If you’re using an iPhone, then you can use the volume buttons on the Apple headset. Alternatively, you could invest in the Muku Shuttr which is a remote controlled shutter release unit.

2. Use A Long Exposure App

As I mentioned earlier, the iphone or android camera doesn’t really offer the ability to take photographs with the shutter open for prolonged periods of time. For this reason, you’re going to need a specialist app to give you more control over the exposure time of your photograph. Long exposure apps work by recording and layering multiple exposures on top of each other to create a single image. Everything that’s static in the scene will remain so in the final photo, but anything that moves will take on a blurred or ghostlike effect.

There are several apps available for this in the App Store or on Google Play. The most popular ones on iOS are Slow Shutter, AvgCamPro and LongExpo, and for Android users, Camera FV-5 and Long Exposure 2.

3. Find The Right Location

Next, you need to choose the right location and subject for your long exposure photograph. Landscapes are an obvious choice, especially if they include water such as a lake, a river or waterfall. Shooting scenes that contain a large expanse of water such as a lake or the sea can create some beautifully smooth and ethereal effects, especially if there’s some notable cloud movement in the sky or a static object that will provide a focal point in the composition.

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In contrast, shooting a fast flowing river or waterfall will give you the opportunity to capture the power, movement, and energy contained in it.

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Another obvious setting suitable for long exposure photography is night-time or low-light scenes. These will give you the opportunity to capture wonderful light trails from passing vehicles. Or if you want to get creative, you could use a light source such as a torch to paint pictures or write in the air.

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Photo by Dilshad Corleone

4. Taking Your Long Exposure Photograph

It’s now time to take your first long exposure photograph. The first thing to do when arriving at a new location is to decide on the best composition and position to take the photo from. With that composition in mind, you need to set up the tripod, making sure the smartphone is securely positioned and everything is level. Now comes the fun part – the process of shooting the long exposure.

Shooting A Long Exposure On iOS Using Slow Shutter App

Slow Shutter is an iOS app which offers a broad range of options that enable you to control the length and type of long exposure photograph you take.

To use Slow Shutter, firstly fire up the app and go to Settings (the cog icon). This will give you the choice of selecting three shooting modes: motion blur, light trail or low light. Two sliders allow you to adjust the blur strength and shutter speed.

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The blur strength will determine how much blur will be applied to the moving parts of the photograph. I would recommend setting this to medium to high.

The shutter speed allows you to adjust the duration that the shutter will remain open. If you select the “Bulb” option, the shutter will remain open until you manually close it by tapping the shutter release button again. For this, I would advise using a remote method of controlling the shutter.

To set the focus/exposure points, tap the screen. A circle and square icon will now appear. By dragging these points apart, you can now position them in different locations in your composition. Tapping the small circle or square icons located in the top or left section of the screen (depending on the camera’s orientation) will lock these focus/exposure points during the image capture process.

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Happy with your setup? Then hit the shutter release button.

Once Slow Shutter has taken the photo, you’ll be given the opportunity to review the image. At this point, you can choose to Edit, Save or Clear the photo. Editing will allow you to adjust the amount of freeze, brightness, contrast or saturation applied to the image, before saving it to your camera roll.

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Shot with iPhone’s native camera app

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Shot using Slow Shutter app over a 60 second exposure

Shooting A Long Exposure On Android Using Camera FV-5 Lite

When it comes to selecting which app to use on Android, there are many different options available. This is primarily due to the number of different brands on the Android market and associated apps in the Google Play store.

For this guide, I’m going to illustrate the process of taking a long exposure using an app called Camera FV-5 Lite which is free to download from Google Play.

Camera FV-5 is a pro camera app that puts DSLR-like manual controls in the hands of smartphone photographers. Users will find it packed full of features such as manual shutter speed control (from 1/80000 to 2”), exposure bracketing, control over exposure compensation, ISO, light metering mode, focus mode, as well as long exposure support.

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Shooting a long exposure with Camera FV-5 is pretty straightforward.

The first step is to open the app and set the focus/exposure point in your composition. If you have Camera FV-5 set to automatic, then the app should calculate these points for you. If you prefer to have more control over them, the app offers a variety of different types of focus and exposure calculation settings similar to those on a DSLR camera. You’ll need to play about with these settings to see which ones work for you.

Next, you need to set the length of your exposure. To do this tap the P icon in the top left corner (if in landscape orientation) or top right (if in portrait orientation). This will allow you to switch between Program or Shutter Priority mode. You need to select the “S” mode.

Now select the exposure duration. Preset options include Auto, 1 second, 2 seconds or 5 seconds. If you’d like a longer exposure, then tap the three dots and type in the required exposure duration. Tap OK to confirm.

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Happy with your composition and the camera app setup? Tap the yellow shutter release button to start the image capture process.

During this time the screen will dim, and all controls will disappear. Once complete, a picture thumbnail will appear in the bottom left of the screen. Tapping this will display your photo.

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In my tests, I preferred the results that the iPhone gave when using the apps outlined here. Even so, there are many different app options available on both platforms, each having their own different pros and cons. I would recommend practicing with a few apps before settling on one that resonates with you.

Things To Look Out For

Depending on the scene you’re photographing, be aware of any objects within the frame that could move, especially objects that you’d prefer to be stationary. Any such objects could result in unwanted and distracting blur effects. For example, the photo below was shot on a 128 second exposure using Average Camera Pro. The aim was to create an image that captured the water of the lake so that it was as smooth as possible. The movement in the clouds added some extra atmosphere to the photo.

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However, on reviewing the results I noticed the boats had been moving back and forth ever so slightly throughout the image capture process. This resulted in a rather distracting blur effect which I think spoils what would otherwise be a really atmospheric photo.

Give Long Exposure Photography A Go

As you can see, long exposure photography is simple to shoot and provides an alternative and fun way to take photos. It’s also a technique that offers a wide range of creative possibilities. Personally, I love using this technique in my landscape photography work as it can add a hint of movement, a sense of time, and sometimes a surreal element to an image.

If you haven’t tried long exposure photography before, I’d recommend giving it a go to see what results you can achieve. Don’t forget to share your photos on Instagram using the hashtag #mobiography.