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When to do long exposure photography?

‘When should I do long exposure photography?’ is one of those questions I get asked a lot. And, that’s a valid question because Long Exposure Photography is not just about shooting those buttery smooth photographs of waterfalls and lights. Sometimes it’s more about getting the normal shot right.

If you are into any sort or any genre of photography for a while you may know that the exposure is something that could be the turning factor for any shot to be good photograph or a bad one.

There are three primary aspects on a camera that determine the exposure of a photograph which are, of course, ISO, Aperture, and the Shutter Speed. And, each of those aspects or more technically settings, help compensate for the final exposure of the photograph. Tuning each of those settings has its own pros and cons. I’m not going in-depth about those settings in this article. But, if you want to know more about them there are links to them below.

Basically the takeaway here is for the perfectly exposed image, you must have a balance between ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed

BUT, there are situations when you may have a very small room to play around those settings. These are the situations when you may want your image to have a special kind of look to it so, you may also have very few options to tune.

For example, sometimes you may get locked to tune only ISO & Aperture, or sometimes you can only play around Shutter Speed and ISO, and so on. You might want to use those settings on positive or negative depending on how you want your shot to be. That’s what photography is.

In this article, I’m explaining just about the applications of or the slower shutter speed or Long Exposure photography. At the end of this article, you might have knowledge about when to make use of Long Exposure photography even if you’re not into Long Exposure photography.

When to do Long Exposure Photography?

Primarily there are two situations when you make use of slower shutter speed or the long exposure. Each of those situations has its own sort of ‘sub-situations’, which I’ll get afterward.

If you don’t know how shutter speed plays its role in photography, you must read this article about shutter speed. 

Basically, inside a camera, there’s a shutter that prevents light from hitting the sensor until you press the shutter button. The amount of time the shutter opens up to let light hit the sensor is known as shutter speed. That also means, longer the shutter remains open, the brighter the final image would be as more light hits the sensor and vice versa.

So moving on to the first reason you may want to do Long Exposure photography which is…

To achieve Long Exposure Shots

This is pretty straight forward and obvious. You make use of slower shutter speed to achieve some of the best looking images on the planet (biased) which are of course the Long Exposure shots. 

I don’t think I should explain a lot here because this whole website is all about Long Exposure photography and there are a lot of other articles that have explained everything you need to know about Long Exposure Photography. 

But, in case you don’t have time to swim around the site, here’s what Long Exposure photography is, in a nutshell.

“By making use of slow shutter speed, you get the ability to capture the continuous frame of your moving subject. Because your sensor has captured every frame of the action of your subject in a single photograph, in some situations, it gives a kind of really appealing effect to the image.” That’s what Long Exposure photography is.

And, that’s also why you may deliberately make use of Long Exposure photography or slow shutter speed. That is use number one. Below will be some examples of Long Exposure photography.

Moving on to another kind of situation where you’d want to use Long Exposure Photography, I want to point out our frequent giveaway program which includes free cameras too. So make sure you’ve signed up to Long Exposure School to be one of the first ones to know about the giveaways.

To compensate low light

Using a slow shutter to compensate underexposure of a photograph due to low light is another brilliant use case of slow shutter speed or long exposure photography.

As I mentioned earlier there will be situations in your photography career where you won’t have options to play around other settings rather than Shutter Speed to compensate exposure for an underexposed image.

That explains why using slow shutter speed or long exposure in the low light situation makes total sense.

So, in which sort of low light situation would you actually use Long Exposure photography and get sweet results? Here are a few examples…

Low light photography:

Low light photography is one of those situations where Long Exposure or slow shutter is something you MUST use. And don’t mistake low-light photography with night photography. They are entirely different.

Anywhere where there is low ambiance whether it’s day or night / inside or outside is called low light situation and using Long Exposure or Slow Shutter in those situations gives pretty solid results. 

Here’s an example of slow shutter and normal shutter (fast) of a waterfall.

Fast Shutter

Slow Shutter / Long Exposure

Night Photography:

Night photography is another low light situation where you commonly have two options to get a properly exposed image. You must either use flash or you must use Long Exposure.

And let me explain to you that, unless you want some late-night party vibe from your photograph or unless you are in a super dark place with no visible light, you wouldn’t love to use flash. The results are usually ugly. 

So the only option left is Long Exposure or slow shutter speed. Yes, because there’s no other way you are gonna get the same results as Long Exposure shots if you opt for alternatives like wider Aperture or higher ISO.

Here are some examples of night photography where the photographer used various options to achieve a properly exposed night shot.
[flash] [high iso] [wide aperture] [slow shutter]

[explain what happened there]

And here’s a short disclaimer that, if you’re shooting somewhere the moment matters a lot, you shouldn’t think about the Long Exposure. For example, if you’re hired as a marriage photographer, thinking long exposure as your option could lead to a disaster. So, in those kinds of situations, higher ISO, wider Aperture, or well-planned flashing are the options you should opt for.

Astrophotography:

Astrophotography is a kind of low – light photography where Long Exposure or slow shutter is the only way to achieve good photographs.

If you are less – known about Astrophotography, it is a sub-genre of night photography where the focus is to capture the deepness of dark night sky.

Sometimes you might want to capture something that is not possible for human eyes to gaze. So, it’s a tough one but a fun one.

So, the definition of astrophotography aside, the technical ideology for Astrophotography is no different than general Long Exposure Photography. You have to use some slow shutter speed, same gears, and the same way of thinking to achieve breathtaking Astrophotography shots.

Earlier I said, the only option to shoot Astrophotography is by using slow shutter speed or by using Long Exposure. The reason is, to capture that tiny amount of light emitting from the stars, for instance, your sensor needs time. You might think that higher ISO could make the sensor sensitive enough to do the task but that doesn’t work either for two reasons.

First is the common high ISO issue: Grainy image. Another issue is, despite of being more sensitive to the light, the sensor still needs a few seconds to sense light from hundreds of light-years far.

Conclusion

So, finishing it off, let me remind you of all the situations you’d want to use Long Exposure photography. First, to take Long Exposure shots, second, to compensate for the exposure to dark situations. Saying that you should be aware that, only Long Exposure is not enough to get that one image you aspire for. The right choice of gears and the right situations matter a lot.

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