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Simple about complicated: the secrets of taking long exposure photos on iPhone

April 18

14 min. to read

iPhone long exposure photos create smooth transitions, thanks to the fact that the camera shutter was left open long enough.

To take such a picture with a DSLR camera, you usually need a tripod and a blocking filter for light, so you don't get flashes in the photo.

But the iPhone uses a different technique that doesn't require much equipment or time. Thanks to the Live Photos function, you can turn your photo not only into an animation but also into a beautiful blurry photo. So, let's find out how to do a long exposure on iPhone.

Use your smartphone!

Your device combines all the photos together and blurs them slightly. Your iPhone can also calculate which objects aren't moving and leave them sharp.

How to take a Live Photo with a slow shutter speed?

Note that you must have an iPhone version 6 or later because devices starting their support this feature:

  • go to the standard camera app and turn on the Live Photo function by tapping the icon at the top;
  • take a photo in Live Photo mode, but try not to move your iPhone when it takes a photo. For a Live Photo with a slow shutter speed, it's best to choose a river or a street at night;
  • go to the gallery, tap the Live Photo icon at the top and select Slow Shutter.

Now you know how to take a long exposure photo on an iPhone that replicates the effect of a professional camera. It's an interesting idea to spice up your everyday shots from your summer vacation. iPhone owners, if they see one of these pictures somewhere on the web, immediately rush to search for the corresponding application in the App Store. But there is no need to do this because the corresponding option is available in the system app Camera.

Thanks to this method of shooting, you can capture the lights of the halt, describe the path of traffic, emphasize the movement in the frame and create a great photo in low light conditions. "But that's a lot of DSLR cameras!” you'll say. In the next, we will talk about another method and show how to take a long exposure on iPhone.

What do you need to make a perfect picture?

Today's smartphones are trying their best to take over some functionality of expensive professional cameras. One of their advantages has always been the slow shutter speed. But now you can take pictures in this way even on your familiar smartphone, which is always at hand.

Do I really need a tripod?

Ideally, for long exposure photography on iPhone, you need a tripod, stand, or just a flat place to put your smartphone on, because the lack of shake is the key to making a quality photograph with a long shutter speed.

You don't have to buy a full-size tripod to reduce the camera shake. Sometimes a small tripod costing a couple of bucks is enough.

Ideally, you require a tripod, stand, or just a flat place to put your smartphone on, because the lack of shake is the key to making a quality photograph with a long shutter speed.

You don't have to buy a full-size tripod with a foot and a half. Sometimes a small tripod costing a couple of bucks is enough to prevent camera shake.

Built-in features or separate apps?

The easiest (but not the best) way to take pictures with the “Long Shutter” effect would be to use the standard iPhone camera function (requires iOS 11 or newer) — Live Photos, which also has an option of the same name. Now we will tell you another method on how to get long exposure on iPhone.

An alternative (and better) option is to use a special application that allows you to take pictures at a slow shutter speed. The App Store is full of such goodies, but we chose Slow Shutter Cam and Specter Camera.

Incredible photos: a guide to taking them

Apple's Live Photos are a great feature that allows you to capture as much as three seconds of motion as you press the shutter button. We've already told you how to take Live Photos on your iPhone. But with the release of iOS 11, Apple has improved this feature. Few people know about the possibility of converting live photos into a picture with a slow shutter speed. You can do it simply with swipes and taps on the screen. Even a novice amateur photographer who is not familiar in detail with the terms “shutter speed” and “shutter speed” is still able to take an impressive picture. We will also share some tips on how to take long-exposure photos on an iPhone.

To create a photo with a slow shutter speed, make sure that there will be at least one moving element in the frame at the right moment. It could be a car passing by, a train arriving at the station, or falling water. The background should be clean and static. So, a Live photo with too many people running around can turn into a blurry mishmash.

  • Launch the standard Camera app on your iPhone;
  • Make sure Live Photos is active in the settings;
  • Choose a subject to take pictures of. Good choices are cars, lights, a running fountain, and a waterfall. In general, anything that moves will do;
  • Take a picture of the moving object. At this step, you just need to hold your smartphone steady in your hand (or with a tripod) and press the shutter button. The iPhone needs to be held still for another two seconds. Live photos include a second and a half before you press the shutter button and a second and a half after that.
  • After the picture is taken, open it in the standard Photos app (Albums tab → Photo Live Photos section).

Next, if you have an iPhone running iOS 15 or a newer version of the software, click the LIVE button in the upper left corner. In the list that appears, select Long Shutter. If you have an iPhone running iOS 14 or an older version of the software, slide the screen up to reveal Live Photos effects. The last one on the list is Long Shutter. The system will put together all the frames of your live photo and the result will be a great photo with the right level of blur. It can then be edited like a normal photo using the built-in tools in the Photos app or third-party photo editors for iOS. You can easily find the photo itself by going to Photos → Albums → Media File Types → Long Shutter. Now you know one more method: how to do a long exposure on an iPhone camera.

You can easily find the photo in the Photo Capture by the Slow Shutter icon (in the upper left corner).

Did you do something wrong and you don't like the final result? Not to worry, you can always go back to the beginning:

  • open the captured picture with the slow shutter speed in the Photo app;
  • swipe up from the bottom to navigate to the effects;
  • select the Animation effect (the first in the list).

This will return you to the original Live Photo.

Of course, this is not a “real”  iPhone long exposure photo, but a software simulation. But the visual effect is still very impressive.

Long-exposure photography on iPhone: Extra Tips

Now let's look at the procedure how to take low-exposure photos on iPhone.

In this section, we will explain how to better photograph various objects using the long delay shutter effect.

  • Blur in Motion. Lets you control the strength of the blur and is great for capturing busy city scenes and flowing water;
  • Light Trace. It is easy to guess that this is used to make the light sensitivity higher or lower;
  • Low Light: comes with a noise reduction setting so you can avoid noise when shooting in low light.

The Slow Shutter Cam also has a few handy settings, such as a self-timer that lets you set the self-timer shutter timer. Sleep timer that prevents your phone from auto-locking while you're shooting, and a good old-fashioned grid that helps you compose your shot.

Shutter Stop is perfect if you don't want to go through the settings just for the sake of a waterfall picture. When you start the app, it prompts you to select the mode, Normal or Light Trace, adjust the light sensitivity, and set the timer. Now you can do long exposure photos with iPhone.

By clicking the grid icon in the upper left corner you can add a familiar grid for a better composition, and the flash icon in the same corner speaks for itself.

Once you take a picture, you can make it less blurry by adjusting the still image and increasing or decreasing the contrast before saving the photo to Photofilm.


Now that you know all about the best long-exposure methods for the iPhone, it's time to tackle the hardware. As we mentioned above, one of the common shutter speed mistakes when shooting with a slow shutter speed is the inability to hold the camera still. So if you're serious about mastering long exposure photos on iPhone, get the best result.

When your iPhone is steady on a tripod, moving objects will be blurry like you want them to be, but the rest of the frame will be clear and in focus. And to make sure you don't accidentally nudge your phone by pressing the shutter button, the remote shutter release is one of the most important iPhone camera accessories you should seriously consider buying. Now you know how to use long exposure on iPhone.

Simple about complicated: the secrets of taking long exposure photos on iPhone | Skylum How-to(2)

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Written by

Yehor Mishchenko

Freelance photographer

Yehor Mishchenko is a freelance photographer who specializes in artwork. His sources of inspiration are books by Howard Lovecraft and paintings by Hieronymus Bosch, so he is well-versed in surrealistic photography. He likes to show objects in an unfamiliar way and has excelled at it. Yegor also enjoys film photography and movies from the 1990s, from which he draws inspiration. He became interested in photography at university and now successfully combines his love for it with his main profession.

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Simple about complicated: the secrets of taking long exposure photos on iPhone | Skylum How-to(14)