How to do Long Exposure Photo with iPhone

How to do long exposure shots with your iPhone

Posted on Jan 4th, 2021

The effect of long exposure in photography

Photography with long exposure is one of the most requested photographic “effects”. I put the effect in quotation marks, because it is not an operation that is usually done by acting in post production with a filter.

These are images in which, by setting a fairly long exposure shutter speed, you get the effect of moving the surfaces and objects that are animating the scene.

We will thus obtain images where we usually have the streams that appear as a wake of flowing, the sea that appears as a mirror with few ripples, or in the case of a rough sea with waves, a surface broken by light movements of white foam.

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A historical hint and the first man “frozen” in a photograph

The issue of freeze the time in photography was one of the first problems that the pioneers had to face since the birth of the medium at the beginning of the 19th century. In the photo below, taken by what is considered the father of photography Louis-Jacques Daguerre (although the first recognized inventor was Joseph Nicéphore Niépce), he made one of these first Daguerrotypes (as the first photographs were called) in 1839 with an exposure time of about five / seven minutes.

The result was that the boulevard, which was crowded with carriages at the time, is taken up absolutely deserted. It’s all desert except for one detail, if you can notice the image very well: a silhouette of a person appears!

The person in question is waiting for its shoe to be polished, and by this action, the subject is the first recognizable human person in a photographic image!

Long Exposure: The First Man that appear in a photograph: Image from Daguerre 1839
Image taken by Louis Jacques Daguerre in 1839 shows the first human in a photo ever.

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Long exposure in photography: how do you get the movement in the picture?

Why did I want to make this historical introduction? Because with traditional photography, to obtain the effect of movement (or its absence) with the camera, we must firmly lock the camera on a tripod, set the exposure time (usually higher than one second, but remember it is also proportional to the speed with which the subject / object you photograph moves) and take the shot.

Long Exposure Effect on Traditional Photography Camera
Photo taken with Fujifilm X100T using exposure time of 1 Sec, f/16, ISO 100

The same effect of long shutter speeds in photography can also be obtained with smartphones. In fact, you can obtain the result using an App that allows you to manually set the shutter speed.

On both Android and iOS I recommend using Lightroom which has a camera with a manual exposure option. By setting a sufficiently long shutter speed, you will be able to obtain the effect of a long exposure.

It is interesting to note that, in some situations like the one I found below last summer, it was enough for me to use a shutter speed of 1/4 sec. Then on the iPhone Xs, and thanks to the optical stabilization, I did the photography completely hand-held without any tripod (in any case standing perfectly still and holding the breath)!

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How the Long Exposure shots changes with computational photography

As I have analyzed in many previous smartphone reviews, computational photography is changing many photographic aspects, or allows us to obtain images by going with a different technique than conventional photography.

It therefore happens that we can get a photograph with the effect of long exposure shutter speed even without having a tripod! All this is possible thanks to the analysis of the parts that have remained sufficiently still in the shutter time compared to those that have moved.

It is interesting to note that you can use this technique for free without buying any extra App on the iPhone! You just have to activate the “Live Photo” command. The “Live Photo” is basically a photograph to which a small video recording of a few seconds “pasted over”. The effect is therefore to have an image that “comes alive”when you scroll in your gallery.

On iOS, in the Photo App, after taking a photo with the “Live photo” option, by swiping upwards, we can choose between different options: “Loop”, “Bounce” and “Long Exposure”. This last item will be the one that will allow us to achieve the desired effect.

Long exposure effect with Lightroom Camera

The computational long exposure functionality was recently introduced as “Technology Previews” also inside the camera of  Lightroom App.

At the moment, however, this feature is only present on iOS with models from iPhone 7 and above.

It is interesting to note that on the Lightroom camera we have more control in functionality compared to the Live Photos: we can set a shutter speed from 0.5 to 5 seconds, furthermore at the end we get a Raw DNG file that can be worked in post production (you could even use then my custom Raw Smartphone presets).

Here’s how to activate the feature within Lightroom on iOS:

Long Exposure Effect with Lightroom Camera
Achieved Hand-held with 5 seconds exposure. Raw Dng edited inside Lightroom with my own custom Smartphone Raw Presets.

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2 Comments
  • Andrew Ockwell
    Posted at 14:57h, 05 January Reply

    Thanks. A good combination of explanation and advice. I think the topic of how to best use ProRaw will become more and more important to photographers..

    It would be good to include comparison with other smartphones, especially the Samsung Note 20 Ultra. This would not only be useful to prospective purchasers, but would also be a good way of giving a deeper exploration of the 12 Pro Max.

    Another comparison would be with cameras such as the Fujifilm X100 series. Fujifilm’s film simulations and Raw Studio app offer a different type of computational photography.

    • Alessandro Michelazzi
      Posted at 11:32h, 06 January Reply

      Ciao Andrew! Thanks for your comment! Yes, I’ve in the pipeline some articles about the Apple ProRaw development. And about Samsung, at this point I’m waiting for the soon upcoming S21 to see how it compete with iPhone 12 Pro series. And about the Fujifilm X Raw Studio, I have an old video on YouTube when it was just released. Sure I would have to record an updated one with better sound too! 😅

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