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How to take long exposure photographs on an iPhone

It's not always best to freeze the moment.
By
November 25, 2022

Have you ever wanted to take those impressive photos with the smooth water or vehicle light trails? You may think these require a fancy DSLR or mirrorless camera, but smartphone camera systems and computational photography are getting so good that even mobile devices can handle these shots to a certain degree. Are you rocking an Apple device? Today we’ll show you how to take long exposure photographs on an iPhone.

QUICK ANSWER

To take long exposure photographs on an iPhone, use the stock Camera app to shoot an image, while making sure Live Photos is on. Open the photo using the stock Apple Photos app. Expand the section that says Live, then select Long Exposure. Let iOS work its magic, and your long exposure image will be ready in a few seconds.


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Editor’s note: We used an iPhone 12 Mini running iOS 16.1.1. Remember some steps may differ depending on your iPhone model and software version.

What is a long exposure photograph?

A long exposure photograph is an image taken with a longer shutter speed. When any camera shoots an image, it allows light to enter the sensor for a pre-determined amount of time. This is often in the hundredths or thousandths of a second. Elongating the shutter speed will create what we know as a long exposure image.

People like quick shutter speeds because they make for much sharper pictures with no motion blur. They “freeze the moment,” so to speak. Prolonged exposure can soften images or create motion blur, especially when handholding the camera or shooting a moving subject, often for multiple seconds. A long exposure photograph can create very interesting effects if you do them correctly, though.

Here: These are all the photography terms you’ll ever need to learn

Have you ever seen those photos with the traffic light streaks? Those are long exposure images. Then there are also the gorgeous pictures with the softened flowing water.

The only tip we can give you is that, while computational photography and merging helps, a long exposure is still subject to blur with movement. You will need to keep the camera (in this case, the iPhone) as steady as possible. Whether you use a tripod or set the device somewhere, just make sure to keep it as still as possible.

Here are some samples of long-exposure photographs:

Google Pixel 6 Pro camera sample falls long exposure 5
Eric Zeman / Android Authority
A Long Exposure shot taken with a Google Pixel 6 of a subway car. The subway car itself is blurry and conveys a sense of motion while the tunnel and station platform are clear.
Zak Khan / Android Authority
long exposure
Long exposure shots create beautiful effects

How to take long exposure shots by using Live Photos

Apple iPhone users have a straightforward way to create long exposure photographs. iPhones can do this using the Live Photos feature, which comes on any iPhone 6s or newer Apple smartphone. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Launch the Camera app.
  2. Make sure Live Photos is turned on. It’s the circular icon in the top-right corner.
  3. Shoot the photo as you usually would.
  4. Open the photo in the stock Apple Photos app.
  5. Expand the section that says Live.
  6. Select Long Exposure.

Here’s a comparison between a regular iPhone image and a long exposure one:

What’s the best iPhone app for long exposure photography

If you’re looking to make an actual long exposure image, the stock iPhone camera app won’t be of much help. You’ll have to rely on a more advanced manual camera app that will actually allow you to elongate the shutter speed. If you don’t know how to do that, we have a guide on using manual mode on your smartphone camera.

If you’re looking to get something free, we recommend Lightroom Mobile. It’s technically a photo editing app, but it features a built-in manual camera that works amazingly. The only downside is that you’re limited to one-second exposures. You can’t go longer than that. That said, it’s an incredibly powerful tool, and we have a full guide on using it.

If you don’t mind paying some cash, we also like ProCamera and Slow Shutter Cam.


Read more: 8 smartphone photography tips guaranteed to produce instant results

FAQs

Any iPhone can use manual camera apps to shoot long exposure images. If you prefer using the Live Photos feature to create a long exposure image, you’ll need an iPhone 6s or newer model.

There’s a plethora of manual camera apps in the App Store. If you choose to use third-party applications, we recommend Lightroom, ProCamera, or Slow Shutter Cam.

All long exposure photos you created using Live Photos will be safely stored in your Apple Photos app. You can even switch them back to regular images, if you choose to.

You don’t absolutely need a tripod, but the goal is to keep the camera phone as still as possible. This will help avoid any blur. That said, you can always set the phone on a surface with good support and avoid paying for an extra photography accessory.