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Amazing Long Exposure Ideas to Try as a Beginner

Amazing Long Exposure Ideas to Try as a Beginner

Photography has allowed us to exceed our limits, especially in observing and capturing many visual phenomena that are elusive to the naked eye. The different genres of creative photography make this possible using camera equipment, techniques, and unique inspirations that have transformed how we see and experience the world around us.

In this article, we’ll talk about one of the best genres out there that have turned mundane scenes into ethereal and fantastic images that never fail to amaze: long exposure photography. Here, we’ll first define this type of photography, the camera equipment you need to try it, and long-exposure photo ideas to try for beginners and professionals alike.

Let’s go to the first part of our discussion.

What is Long Exposure Photography?

Long exposure photography is a unique creative photography genre that captures the mesmerizing contrast between highly defined stationary and fixed elements against the blurred and obscured patterns of moving elements.

Long exposure is also known as slow-shutter photography because this technique lets your camera’s shutter be left open for a lengthy period of time. When your shutter allows your camera’s lens to let in more light before it completely closes, it can capture blurry, smeared, and obscured trails that add creative drama to your images.

Long Exposure Ideas

Why Do Photographers Use Long Exposure?

This photography genre is more exciting and dynamic than conventional images.  There are different reasons why photographers would want to choose long exposure over a normal photo. Some include creating an effect that mimics the passing of time, capturing smoother water surfaces, mapping out and tracing the motion of the stars, creating patterns of light, and capturing beautiful human movements, such as a ballerina’s dance.

While these reasons may sound intimidating for beginners, did you know that even with regular, entry-level camera equipment, you can easily capture long-exposure images?

Here are the basic camera equipment and accessories you need for long-exposure photography.

What Equipment Do You Need for Taking Long Exposure Photos?

Long-exposure photography requires the most basic camera equipment. You don’t have to own the most expensive and advanced gear. You just have to learn how to use your camera’s manual settings and pair your device with the most camera versatile accessories for long exposure photography.

Here is a complete list of everything you need to get started.

1. DSLR Camera with Manual Mode

Entry-level cameras conveniently have automatic modes so you can easily take photos without worrying about your camera settings. However, if you want to step up and upgrade your photography skills, it’s time to learn how to use the Manual Mode. Using manual mode is crucial to a successful long exposure shot.

In long exposure photography, you will have to adjust multiple settings, especially your shutter speed. As mentioned earlier, this genre of photography uses slow shutter techniques, so your camera should also allow Bulb Mode. While on Bulb Mode, your camera’s shutter will remain open as long as you need it to be.

You also need your other camera settings adjusted to make sure that you’re getting the level of exposure and other aspects of your images right.  

2. Sturdy Tripod

    You cannot do long exposure photography while manually holding your camera. The technique of using a slow shutter requires your camera to be fixed on a stable platform or tripod, or else, all you’ll get is a blurry image.

    Your goal is to achieve a contrast of high-definition static objects and trails and patterns of the moving elements. Remember, do not just rely on your camera or lens’s image stabilization function. The smallest shaking or movement can easily distort your images and waste your effort.

    What Equipment Do You Need for Taking Long Exposure Photos

    You don’t have to spend on an expensive and bulky tripod. You can go DIY and use stabilizers that will ensure that your mounted camera will stay in place. Seasoned photographers, especially those who shoot outdoors, use bags of sand or rice to weigh down their tripod, especially during harsh, windy weather. 

    3. Wireless Camera Trigger

      Aside from using a tripod to stabilize your camera and prevent image distortion, using a wireless camera trigger can help you achieve the perfect long exposure photography images you want on your first try.

      A remote camera trigger or a wireless camera shutter enables you to signal your camera to shoot from a comfortable distance, without risking blurry shots. Aside from remotely controlling your device, it will also reduce fatigue, especially if you’ve been shooting outside for hours.

      Since long exposure shots take a long time, having a wireless trigger with a self-timer mode can help you manage your shots.

      So far, these are the basic things that a regular remote camera trigger can offer, but imagine if you’re using an intuitive and versatile camera trigger that combines the power of your smartphone with technologies designed for creative photography! These are offered by both the MIOPS Smart+ and MIOPS FLEX, the most recommended remote camera triggers for long-exposure photography and other photography genres.

      Using MIOPS Smart+ and MIOPS FLEX for Long Exposure Photography 

      MIOPS has transformed how photographers take on the challenging yet exciting world of long exposure photography. Both its MIOPS Smart+ and FLEX have Long Exposure Mode that offers many possibilities for convenient and creative shots.


      For one, MIOPS devices allow you to control your camera through a dedicated mobile application. Using your smartphone and on the MIOPS app, you can control your camera’s settings, such as shutter speed, aperture, exposure value, ISO, and other relevant camera settings.

      Long Exposure Ideas

      As a gadget for long exposure photography, you can also choose slow shutter settings, the duration of your shot and how many frames your camera can take per second. What’s awesome about this device, especially for beginners who are still figuring out their camera settings, is Smart+ and Flex’s automatic exposure adjustments.


      It means that whether you’re trying a low-light, indoor long exposure photography idea or a bright, daytime long exposure idea, you’ll have the best camera settings that adjust to the presence or absence of light, during the shot! With this intuitive function, you don’t have to waste hours getting the best instant shot or post-processing. 

      4. Lens and Neutral Density Filter (ND Filter)

        Another must-have camera equipment that will help you make difficult daytime long exposure ideas happen is a neutral density filter (ND filter.) 

        A neutral density filter will prevent the overexposure of your photos, especially if you’re shooting outdoors on a sunny day. How? These filters are designed to reduce and balance the amount of light that enters your camera lens. They can come in different light filtration levels, so it’s best to plan out your shoot to identify the filter strength you need beforehand.

        Foggy Mountains and Silky Seascapes

        Now that you have all your long exposure camera equipment ready, we can finally go to inspirations and creative long exposure photo ideas that you can try as a beginner. 

        Using the camera equipment that we listed and the knowledge that you discovered about long exposure photography techniques, you can find these examples easy and fun!

        What Long Exposure Ideas Can You Try as a Beginner?

        Light, motion, and vibrations provide some of the most spectacular trails and patterns that we can only observe through the lens of our camera. Here are some of the best examples that even beginner photographers with an entry-level camera can try! 

        1. Light Trails on a Busy Highway

          One of the most beginner-friendly long exposure photography ideas is taking photos of light trails on a busy highway. These locations are easily accessible and you can find safe locations to set your tripod. However, because this is quite easy, it’s hard to take unique images of the same scene. Your goal is to find a location that will help your photo stand out.

          Light Trails on a Busy Highway

          Light trails offer streaks of differently patterned and coloured bands of lights. These light paintings follow the trails of the roads. While you have to focus on them as your subjects, don’t take your background for granted as this can make a huge difference. Shoot your image from a higher angle. Use a wide-angle lens to capture the beautiful landscape that will serve as the light trail’s canvas. 

          2. Stellar Movements at Night

            Star trail photography or astrophotography is one of the most beloved contributions of long exposure techniques to the world of capturing the night sky. However, unlike photographing light trails on a busy highway, the stars and heavenly bodies are elusive.

            Stellar Movements at Night

            Astrophotography is only possible in remote locations, away from the light pollution of the cities. This will also depend on the weather condition as you’ll need a clear night sky to capture the movement of the stars across the sky. 

            3. Exquisite Movement of Dancers

              One of the most interesting indoor long exposure photography ideas you can try is taking a slow-shutter photo of a dancer’s movement. The resulting image of an interestingly smooth and obscured image is beyond evocative, capturing the beauty of the human body, and the freedom and passion of dance.

              Exquisite Movement of Dancers

              4. Eerie Portrait Photography

                A long exposure technique adds eerie and enigmatic elements to creative portraitures, especially if you’re framing a Halloween-themed shot. Imagine how a long shutter effect can deliver ghostly apparitions and double images through repetitive exposures of the same elements. You can also use the same technique when creating a narrative photography portfolio under the same theme.

                Eerie Portrait Photography

                5. Busy Crowds at World Landmarks

                  When you see photos of a famous landmark, most images just focus on the structure. Sometimes, the images are empty and lifeless in an effort to emphasize the beauty of its architecture. However, through long exposure photography, you can capture a unique image that visually narrates a more interesting story.

                  Including the busy movement of crowds, tourists, pedestrians, and other elements in your frame, against a famous global landmark as a background will not just add life to your photo. It will deliver a timeless image that is full of life and filled with stories.


                  6. Foggy Mountains and Silky Seascapes

                    Let’s also not forget the landscape photography genres that have been transformed with the introduction of long-exposure photography techniques. Rising smoke and thickening fog on a mountainside,  flowing rivers, raging waves, and dancing waterfalls, are some of the best images that this genre has captured through the years.

                    You can add to this collection by exploring the great outdoors and capturing the movements and patterns that these natural elements can offer. 

                    7. Light Paintings and Patterns

                      Light painting, light performance art, and light drawing are all made possible using basic time lapse techniques. Set up your tripod, leave your shutter open for a longer period, and start drawing or painting patterns using light sticks, flash bombs, and other sources. Don’t hesitate to use different colors and light intensities! It will add more texture and depth to your images.

                      8. Smoke Bombs and Smoke Art

                      Smoke bomb photography is one of the emerging styles of commercial photography, especially when taking portrait photos of product models. Depending on how you use them, these props can deliver cool and awesome effects to your portraits. Some photographers even use this equipment for Halloween-themed portraits and other creative photography ideas.

                      Smoke Bombs and Smoke Art

                      Using long exposure tricks, you can take advantage of the creative clouds and colors that your smoke bombs produce. You can even just focus on smoke as your primary subject and contribute to the emerging genre of Smoke Photography. 

                      Just like how waterdrop photographers focus on droplets and splashes of clear or colored water, smoke photography (also known as smoke art photography) as a genre relies on chance, luck, and imagination! Smoke art photography can be done indoors or outdoors, too! Just make sure you have the proper lighting equipment to help emphasize the unique patterns and flow of your subject.

                      Getting Started on Long Exposure Photography

                      We provided you with the definition, camera equipment information, and subject ideas to help you get started on long-exposure photography. Hopefully, we have also inspired you to think of more unique ways to take advantage of this camera technique.

                      What is Long Exposure Photography

                      While your creativity and imagination can help you capture unique long exposure images, you shouldn’t also take for granted how pairing your camera with the right gadgets can up your game in this genre.

                      We’ve introduced how MIOPS and its Smart+ and FLEX models can conveniently deliver spectacular long-exposure images for beginners and professionals alike. These gadgets, however, can cover more and help you take on some of the most advanced and challenging photography techniques today, especially lightning photography. 

                      Know more about our latest MIOPS products today!

                      Blog Credit: Charm Villalon

                      Charm is a writer and a visual artist. Her drive to share ideas and stories is evident in her background in communication arts and language studies. Years of professional experience in content creation have given her a broad proficiency with the process of engaging online communities. An appreciation for multiple languages and cultures drives her to seek out experiences and capture these moments through her writing, digital art, and photography.

                      Painting the City with Light and Long Exposure

                      City Lights and Long Exposure

                      Any city in the world is some form of organized chaos one way or another. The concrete jungle with its towering structures remain still as the whole world seemingly moves around it. While cityscapes always seem to be very lively and dynamic environments, it is actually the inhabitants of it and the natural elements around it that bring it to life. 


                      There is a particular challenge in photographing city life. This is specifically with the aim of capturing the life and dynamism of the city in single photographs that can only contain so much information. That is why compelling photographs of city life requires a bit of creativity to be able to encapsulate so much life into a single image. In this endeavor where street photography and landscape photography intersect, the common factor is being able be in sync with the urban environment, feel its rhythm, and anticipate the moments when dynamic interactions between the city and its inhabitants happen. 

                      City Buildings Long Exposure Photography

                      Long exposure plays a key role and brings forth so much value in photographing city life. There is an almost limitless collection of subjects and phenomena that happens within the city and with a sharp vision, they can be turned into the most compelling images that tell the story of the place and its people. Exposure techniques can be used to conceal identities of people in a photograph, to cover or remove clutter from the overall visual design, to illustrate the movement of people, the passing of time, the state of being constant amidst an ever changing environment, to illustrate life, big and small, within the bounds of the urban jungle. 

                      Essential Tools for Photographing City Life

                      Doing photography in the city can of course be done with any camera. From the simplest smartphones to the highest end gear, the biggest determinant will be the capability of the photographer to work with whatever they have. However, it is of course more beneficial to be using more capable and more versatile gear to deal with the demands of the envisioned photograph. 

                      Cameras and Lenses

                      Any camera can be used to photograph the city, however it is definitely more advantageous to use a camera with higher resolution and one with better low light capabilities. This simply benefits the photographer in being versatile with the final output and when they intend to produce prints. The choice of lenses will always depend on the exact scene being photographed. While wide angle lenses definitely have an edge in being able to capture more of the city from within its boundaries, there are instances when longer focal lengths become more beneficial specifically when the goal is to isolate certain portions of the view from the rest of the environment and juxtapose interacting elements. Overall, the most important attribute of a camera setup is how easy it would be to manipulate to be able to achieve specific shooting methods. 

                      Light Trials - Long Exposure Photography

                      Tripods and Clamps 

                      Tripods can sometimes be quite a chore to carry around but they always offer a lot more possibilities when you have them. Tripods can either hold the camera for you in situations where the shot calls for multiple exposures, or when you take long exposure to illustrate motion. Nonetheless, tripods should always ensure the stability needed to keep your shot stable and clear. The only thing that ruins artistic motion blur is unintended motion blur from camera shake. At the same time, the tripod should of course ensure that your camera will be secure especially when shooting from a significant height. 

                      Other tripod alternatives can definitely be useful. For one, portable tabletop tripods are definitely much better than having no tripod at all. While they are often limited in height, you can use tables, ledges, and other elevated platforms to attain certain levels. Good quality tabletop tripods often have considerable payload capacity despite their compact size and that is the crucial factor for them. On the other hand, mounting clamps can be very handy as well. Clamps are used to mount cameras onto railing and ledges that are often found on rooftops and balconies. Some clamps can be paired with tripod heads or articulating arms that will give you more flexibility. Good quality clamps such as those from Manfrotto can carry up to 15 kilograms of camera gear comfortably and allow you to photograph the city from unusual perspectives. 


                      Neutral density (ND) filters are also useful in photographing the city specifically when shooting during the day. ND filters are essential to be able to do long exposure effects when there is more than enough ambient light. Graduated neutral density (GND) filters can help you balance the exposure when the sky is much brighter than the city or when the city lights are making the sky too dark. Circular Polarizing filters (CPL) come in handy when there are reflections that you want to enhance, especially when it is a unique way of using symmetry, as well as when glare from reflective surfaces can get in the way. 

                      Camera Triggers

                      Remote triggers make shooting creatively much easier. Most of the time, the use of long exposure effects, as well as HDR and time-lapse workflows can become quite complicated with necessary adjustments and sequences. Camera triggers can help make these processes easier. Basic remotes can help you control the camera from a certain distance if necessary but more advanced triggers can be as helpful as doing the thinking for you in terms of exposure time, and automating the process entirely. 


                      The MIOPS Flex is one of the most capable smart camera remote triggers in the market. This device handles a wide range of tasks creating a fool proof shooting process no matter how many variables are at play. Paired with the MIOPS mobile app, the Flex can becomes a wireless tethered shooting device through its own remote live view and device control. It can aid in long exposure shooting from as simple as triggering the exposure remotely to avoid camera shake, to computing for the proper exposure time with ND filters. The Flex also has various time-lapse functions that can help you create seamless clips while adapting to the changing environment and light. It has lightning, sound, and laser sensors that can be used to trigger exposures automatically for photographing thunderstorms, fireworks, fast moving objects, and many more. These sensors can also be integrated with time-lapse shooting. Best of all, the MIOPS Flex has the capability to create real-time previews of your time-lapse or HDR output without having to open a computer. It then stores the output on its own micro-SD storage which also serves as a viable backup. 

                      Essential Gear

                      Slow Shutter and Motion Blur 

                      Slow shutter is done by taking exposures of about 0.5 to 4 seconds in length. During this period, motion of objects that are moving quickly across the frame is turned into a slight trail that can seem like a single brush stroke. This is commonly used in architectural photograph to use human elements for scale without putting a distinguishable person in the photograph. The same principle can be used for anonymity in street photography. At the same time it can be used for concealing clutter in any given urban scenario as long as there are moving visual elements that momentarily cover them in their path. 

                      Using motion blur may or may not require the use of a tripod depending on the length of the exposure and the feasibility of using image stabilization. Nonetheless, it can be done much easier on a steady platform, controlled with a remote trigger. With the MIOPS Flex, this can even be automated by using the laser sensor that will trigger the exposure once an object crosses its path. 

                      Long Exposure and Dynamism 

                      There are many things that long exposure can achieve when photographing the city. As the city remains a still structure, there is a multitude of moving objects around it that can create an ultimately dynamic photograph. Much like any outdoor scene the changing weather can do wonders with long exposure. Either by shooting at night or during the day with ND filters, fast moving clouds in the sky create appealing textures that can either contribute to the flow of the image as leading lines or create a background that will complement the view of the city. 

                      Aside from the sky, long exposure can also create dynamic patterns in the foreground. The most common and most obvious element of motion in cityscape photography are moving cars. The light trails created by moving cars on the road not only paint light but actually highlight the path of the road and when taken from the right angle, they create the most compelling leading lines that invite the viewers deeper into the city. 

                      Long Exposure Architecture Photography

                      The primary determinants of the length of exposure should be the length of the road that is visible in frame, and how long it takes for the cars to reach from one end to the other or from the corner of the frame to a vanishing point. With just enough traffic the light trails can be done in 10-15 seconds. However if there aren’t too many cars on the road then it could take a couple of minutes to have enough trails to fill the frame. 

                      The City and the Night Sky

                      In advantageous weather conditions with considerable visibility, it is possible to photograph the city with the night sky as the background. Because of light pollution, the result will not be as clear and vibrant as night time landscapes taken from rural areas but it doesn’t mean that the stars can’t be visible. By shooting consecutive long exposures on intervalometer/time-lapse mode, one can capture star trails created by the rotation of the earth and these trails automatically create direction in the background. Alternatively, the output of the same shooting process can be used to create a time-lapse that shows not just the movement of the stars in the sky but also the movement of the city’s inhabitants, the turning on and off of individual lights in the city, land and even air traffic. 

                      Long Exposure Night Sky

                      Photographing the city, whether during the day or at night is like painting with light. Your brush is the camera kept still on a tripod while you let your canvas be filled with motion brought by the passing of time. With your artistic vision and the proper use of tools, the possibilities are endless. 

                      Blog Credit: Nicco Valenzuela

                      Nicco started his photographic journey in 2007 practicing the craft as a hobby. Currently, he shoots for various local and international architectural firms and construction companies. Out of his love for sharing his knowledge, Nicco began writing about photography and various pieces of gear.


                      How to Shoot Motion Photographs At Night With Slower Shutter Speed

                      How to Shoot Motion Photographs At Night With Slower Shutter Speed

                      Night is an incredible motive for street photography. Cityscapes are lit with a myriad of interesting and colorful light sources, such as lampposts, neon signs, store windows, car lights, and bare bulbs. People dress in their favorite outfits to go out. Bland scenes by day can suddenly turn ominous and fascinating at night. Here are some recommendations for capturing those shots:


                      Slow down your shutter speed

                      The reason for movement blur is simply that the amount of time that the shutter of a camera is open is long enough to allow your camera’s image sensor to ‘see’ the movement of your subject.

                      During the day, you will typically use shutter speeds that are a small fraction of a second. At night, however, the camera will use shutter speeds that are longer than one second – sometimes significantly longer. Think of it this way: because it is dark, the camera needs a longer period of time to gather light for proper exposure.

                      boat floating on amsterdam river

                      The shutter will now be open for a longer period of time, so the camera needs to be held steady or the picture will move during the exposure process, causing your image to be blurry. That is why a tripod is required equipment at night. You can leave the shutter open as long as you want, as long as the camera is steady and does not move at all.

                      Tripod + Shutter release

                      There are two ways to get a feeling of movement in your images – have your subject move or have your camera move (or both).

                      In this type of shot, you need to do everything that you can to keep your camera perfectly still or in addition to the blur from the subject, you’ll find that the whole frame looks like it’s moving as a result of using long shutter speed. Whether it be by using a tripod or have your camera sitting on some other still object you’ll want to ensure that camera is perfectly still.

                      A remote shutter release will avoid vibrancies that will result in blurred images during long-exposures. MIOPS Smart+ will allow you to set the desired time of exposition and we recommend, having 30 seconds as a starting point.

                      traffic lights at night


                      The aperture is the opening in the lens that lets light into the camera. The size of the aperture determines the amount of light being let into the camera for given shutter speed, and it also affects the depth of field.

                      For the most part, there is no difference between how you will use the aperture at night versus how you use it during the day. The only difference is that the camera will struggle to get enough light for proper exposure, so a small aperture will often require ridiculously long shutter speeds. In addition, the background is usually black, so you don’t need to worry as much about achieving a wide depth of field.

                      clouds moving above new york skyline at night


                      ISO is a measurement of the sensitivity to light of your digital sensor. Higher ISO values make your digital sensor more sensitive to light and thereby allow you to use a shorter shutter speed or a smaller aperture.

                      Using higher ISOs will result in more digital noise in your pictures. Since dark areas of your picture tend to show more digital noise than lighter areas, it is often a problem with night photos. Therefore, resist the temptation to crank up the ISO at night if you can help it.

                      Since you will be using a tripod, you can usually avoid the need to use a high ISO or set to the minimum, such as 50 or the default, 100. However, in those cases where you cannot use a tripod or you have a moving subject, you will need to increase the ISO.

                      person shot at night in long exposure

                      Try shutter priority mode

                      One of the most important settings in photographing an image that emphasizes movement is the shutter speed. Even small changes in shutter speed will have a big impact upon your shot – so you want to shoot in a mode that gives you full control over it.

                      This means either switching your camera into full Manual Mode or Shutter Priority Mode. Shutter Priority Mode is a mode that allows you to set your shutter speed and where the camera chooses other settings (like Aperture) to ensure the shot is well exposed. It’s a very handy mode to play with as it ensures you get the movement effect that you’re after but also generally well-exposed shots.

                      The other option is to go with Manual mode if you feel more confident in getting the aperture/shutter speed balance right.


                      Related Article: Night Photography, How to Shoot Stunning Light Trails

                      About The Author Manuel Delgado:

                      Manuel Delgado is an award-winning photographer with a specialization in travel and documentary photography. He writes for Contrastly and is a Mentor for NGO Photographers Alliance, having led workshops in Africa with a focus on ethical and humanitarian photography. His work has been exhibited in Europe and the Americas.

                      Driven by an innate curiosity for his surroundings, Manuel´s process is mainly focused on capturing people in their natural environment; translating through his lens the subtle threads of daily life that are shared across cultures, borders, and races. Depicting people from diverse backgrounds, his work is united by a shared aesthetic that serves to tell each individual’s story. Manuel is currently living in Düsseldorf, Germany. 

                      Manuel Delgado Instagram Profile

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