The iPhone 1
A long exposure photo is one where the shutter has been purposely open long enough to blur movement in the image. If you look up pictures of waterfalls, you will no doubt see pictures in which the raging stream of water has been smoothed into that otherworldly river – this is a long exposure picture.
To capture this type of picture with a DSLR camera, you usually need a tripod to hold the camera steady and a filter that blocks out the light. This is often necessary because opening the shutter for a second or longer can let in too much light for the picture to become too bright.
However, the iPhone uses a different and much smarter technique that doesn’t require any additional equipment. It uses Live Photos, a feature that turns a still image into a short animation by capturing a few seconds of video when you release the shutter.
By analyzing which objects are moving, the iPhone detects the movement and blurs it. It can also detect what is not moving (such as a stone or wall) and try to keep those objects sharp and sharp. This is a brilliant method as it allows you to take long exposure pictures even in bright midday sun without a tripod or filter. Take this, DSLRs.
Here’s how to get started.
Know what makes a good long exposure
Not everything works as long exposure. A close-up of a flower blowing in the wind just turns into a blurry mess, while an image of a static car just stays static.
What you need is a scene that has both static and moving elements. Waterfalls are common subjects as the rushing water blurs while the rocks around it remain solid. Any body of water would be a good subject to experiment with.
You can also check out busy city streets (think about your social distance!). The long exposure effect would keep the buildings and streets sharp and solid, but the people walking around everywhere would be blurred into ghostly figures that would look atmospheric and dramatic.
Enable live photos
A long exposure image requires the movement that was recorded in a live photo. It is therefore important that the mode is activated when recording. It’s in the top right of the screen in the camera (in portrait) or in the top left (in landscape). You will see a symbol made up of two circles surrounded by a third dotted circle. If there is no line, live photos will be activated. If there is a line, tap the icon and the message “Live” will appear on the screen in a small yellow box.
Although the iPhone doesn’t require a tripod to get a good long exposure image, keeping the phone as still as possible while capturing the live image will get the best results. I suggest leaning the phone against a wall or other solid surface while recording. When you need to hold the phone in hand, it helps me stick my elbows towards my body and hold my breath to reduce motion blur while recording.
It is a good idea to also take multiple pictures and press the shutter button while holding the position. This way, you increase your chances of taking at least one picture that is stable enough for an attractive long exposure.
Create the long exposure
Once you’ve captured your live images, it’s time to convert them to actual long exposure. Open the picture you decided on in your gallery and swipe up. This will bring up a window called Effects that lets you loop the motion in the video into gifs. However, swipe down to the end of the Effects window and you’ll see one labeled Long Exposure. Tip it on.
It will take a second or two, but you will quickly see how every movement in your shot has been blurred into the dreamy effect you are looking for. You can then zoom in to check that it’s still nice and sharp. You can also apply the same effect to other photos you took of the same scene, in case they work better.
Check your library
Before heading out to find the nearest waterfall, search your library to see if you already have any pictures that would work. The great thing about using the iPhone’s long exposure tool is that you don’t have to use it while shooting. You can go back and apply it to any long exposure image you’ve taken so far.
Perhaps you visited Niagara Falls or Havasu Falls in Arizona a few years ago and happened to turn on Live Photos while taking pictures. You can swipe up on each of these shots and activate the long exposure. You can even go to your “Live Photos” album in your gallery to see all of the footage on your phone that can be converted into long exposures. My advice? Put on a good podcast, sit in a comfortable chair, and see what dreamy recordings you can get out of your library.