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How to capture long exposures and light trails with your iPhone

Long-exposure photography lets you capture light trails, motion blur and better low-light shots. While the iPhone’s built-in Camera app doesn’t let you control shutter speed and light sensitivity, lots of apps do. Slow Shutter Cam is my favorite — here’s how I’ve used it to capture long exposures with nothing but my iPhone 6 and a tripod.

What you need to capture long exposures on iPhone

A decent tripod

Since the shutter must stay open for lengthy periods during long exposures, it’s impossible to take one without a tripod. If you already have a tripod that you use with your larger camera, the odds are pretty high that you can find a smartphone adapter to go with it. For example, I use the MeFOTO Road Trip tripod I purchased for use with my Nikon DSLR. I just purchased the smartphone mount that goes along with it.

If you don’t have a tripod already and don’t want to spend a ton of cash, I recommend a JOBY Gorillapod, which should work with any iPhone you have (including the 6 Plus) and retails for only $20 or so. It’ll also attach to pretty much any surface by wrapping around it.

Slow Shutter Cam

There are many manual camera apps in the App Store and lots of them will work for long exposures. I use Slow Shutter Cam because it’s specifically meant for long exposures and offers great tools that other apps don’t. Not only can I see a live preview of what I’m capturing (including picture-in-picture views), I can edit and see the final result immediately. That makes a big difference and means there’s less post-editing, which makes everyone happy.

I’ve found a few other long-exposure apps in the App Store but I don’t find them as intuitive and as easy to use as Slow Shutter Cam.

Capturing light trails

A good tripod and a single app can let you capture great long exposures without a professional camera.
Photo: Ally Kazmucha/The App Factor

Light trails are exactly what they sound like and are typically created by moving cars, trains, planes or any other object that emits light. Above are two examples of photos I took using the light trails mode in Slow Shutter Cam.

In order to capture the best light trails, try at dusk instead of when it’s pitch black out. It’s dark enough that you can capture light but you don’t get glaring street lights or other objects that blow out elements of the photo. You also won’t get as much grain or noise. Both of the photos above were taken within 20 minutes of the “official” sunset time in my area.

For most light trail captures, 1/4 light sensitivity and 15 seconds seems to be the sweet spot. You can also stop the capture earlier if you want. If you change your mind, just tap the start button again to capture over what you’ve already taken. I’ve used this feature to stop and start captures when cars are passing by. This is a great way to avoid headlights and go for tail lights instead. Headlights will blow out a photo super-fast so if you can capture in between them, you’ll get the best results.

Capturing after dusk works too but you’ll want to use a higher light sensitivity and longer capture. I use the pause and start feature of Slow Shutter Cam a lot more at night in order to avoid streetlights getting blown out and, as mentioned above, to avoid capturing headlights of cars altogether if I can.

For anyone wondering, after I took the above light trail photos, I dropped the exposure down slightly and increased the sharpness and details to add more effect to the light trails. All edits I made were done with Snapseed, Enlight and Instagram.

Capturing motion blur

Longer shutter speeds with a tripod allow you to capture better motion scenes.Longer shutter speeds with a tripod allow you to capture better motion scenes.
Photo: Ally Kazmucha/The App Factor

Motion blur is created by any passing object. Slow Shutter Cam offers a great motion blur option that lets you edit what you’ve captured live. Just tap on the edit button and you can rewind and fast forward your capture to get the perfect balance. You can also add some minor editing effects right inside Slow Shutter Cam. These are available in all modes.

Moving water is a great test subject to help train yourself to capture better motion blur. The two photos above are great examples of how motion blur can add a lot of creativity and depth to a photo. The photo on the left was captured with the built-in Camera app. The one on the right was taken with Slow Shutter Cam.

Taking better low-light photos

Longer shutter speeds can also drastically improve low light photos.Longer shutter speeds can also drastically improve low-light photos.
Photo: Ally Kazmucha/The App Factor

Low-light photos require a lot of light to look best. Unfortunately, allowing the shutter to stay open for a long time would result in motion blur. So your iPhone compensates by bumping up light sensitivity instead. Unfortunately this adds noise to your images.

Slow Shutter Cam offers a decent exposure boost and lets you manually control the shutter. In the above photos, I took the one on the left with the normal Camera app. The one on the right was taken with Slow Shutter Cam. As you can tell, it did a much better job of capturing enough light to make the image usable.

I typically use the medium exposure setting for low light and adjust the shutter speed based on my surroundings. If there are headlights or other overhead lights, try boosting the exposure more and using a faster shutter speed. Sometimes you’ll just have to play with different shots until you find a sweet spot.

Got iPhone photography tips and questions?

If you have any iPhone photography tips, I’d love to hear them. And if you have any questions about iPhone photography in general, let me know and I’ll try my best to answer it!

This post was syndicated via The App Factor.

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