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Long exposure, or slow shutter speed, used to be the domain of pro photographers with expensive gear. However, you can now take one of these photos with your humble smartphone.
Although you can’t access the iPhone camera’s shutter speed due to Apple being overprotective of its hardware, there are ways to recreate long exposure using your iPhone.
There are three ways to do it: You can use a built-in feature of iOS, use a third-party long exposure app, or use a clip-on camera attached to your iPhone. And we detail all three below.
Method 1: Convert Live Photos to Long Exposure
Apple’s Live Photos (how to use Live Photos) was a neat feature to begin with, capturing three seconds of movement around the moment you press the shutter. In iOS 11, Apple took it even further. You might not know about it, but you can convert a Live Photo to a long exposure pic with just a swipe and a tap. That means even if you have no clue what the terms “shutter speed” or “exposure” mean, you’ll still be able to produce a jaw-dropping shot.
How to Convert a Live Photo to a Long Exposure Picture
Let’s start with taking the Live Photo in the first place. Not every Live Photo will make a good long exposure shot, so make sure you have at least one moving elements (cars rushing by, a train arriving at the station, water falling) and a clean static background. A Live Photo with too many people running around, for example, is likely to turn out a blurry mess.
In case you haven’t taken a Live Photo before, here’s how you do it:
- Open the Camera app.
- Tap on the Live Photos icon at the top. It looks like a set of concentric circles and turns yellow when the feature is on.
- Compose your shot.
- Hold your iPhone steady and press the shutter button.
- Hold the phone steady for two more seconds. Live Photos captures one and a half seconds before you tap the shutter button and one and a half seconds after.
Now let’s convert the Live Photo and see if it makes a good long exposure picture:
- Open the Photos app.
- Find and open your Live Photo.
- Swipe up to reveal Effects.
- Swipe right till you see Long Exposure.
- Tap on it and wait a second.
The system will overlay every frame within your Live Photo and, hopefully, you’ll get yourself a cool-looking photo with just the right amount of blur. You can edit it like you normally do, with the default tools in Photos or one of these free photo editors for iPhone.
The shot is easy to find in Photos > Media Types > Long Exposure, and you’ll quickly recognize it in the Camera Roll by the Long Exposure badge. If at any point in time you want to revert the photo to the Live format, you can do it by following these steps:
- Open the long exposure pic in Photos.
- Swipe up to Effects.
- Pick Live.
And there we have it. The Live Photo is back.
Method 2: Use a Long Exposure App for iOS
Converting a Live Photo is a quick and dirty trick that works well enough with moving objects, but if you’re hoping to capture a light trail, you’re in for a disappointment. Thankfully, you can take that dream photo by using an app instead.
After trying out some of the best long exposure apps, I’d recommend Slow Shutter Cam as the perfect balance between ease of use and functionality. It offers three essential modes, one of which is specifically designed for capturing light trails. Plus, Slow Shutter Cam isn’t overloaded with features you don’t need, so there’s less of a learning curve than with a pro-level camera app.
Slow Shutter Cam allows you to adjust the shutter speed depending on what you’re shooting, use the volume button as your shutter, and set a self-timer to minimize camera shake. And all for a very reasonable price.
Method 3: Use a Clip-On Camera Attached to Your iPhone
For true long exposure—that is, actually leaving the shutter open for a longer time rather than stacking multiple shots like with the previous two methods—you’re going to need hardware. You might not be able to change shutter speed for the native iPhone camera, but you can clip a more versatile external camera onto your phone.
The DxO One, a clip-on digital camera, is a little smaller than an AirPods case and connects to your iPhone via Lightning or Wi-Fi. It turns the screen of your phone into a decent-sized viewer and comes with the DxO One app for you to access all the controls. In the app you can choose from a variety of modes, including Sport and Night photography, and set a slow shutter speed of up to 30 seconds.
The camera itself is an instant upgrade of your iPhone’s capabilities: at 20 MP, it has a higher resolution than the iPhone XS camera and gives you the control of a DSLR without the size. In addition to long exposure, this powerful little thing will let you shoot bokeh portraits and full HD video. It even has a Selfie mode with a soft, flattering light.
You Can Now Shoot Long Exposure Photos on Your iPhone
Whether you’re just starting out with iPhone photography or are good enough to be featured on Apple’s Instagram with the #shotoniphone hashtag, you should find one of these long exposure tricks works for you. As long as you own a good tripod for your phone to keep your phone perfectly still, you’ll get beautifully blurred subjects and avoid unwanted blur in the rest of the shot.
Taking long exposure photos is a great skill to master, but don’t stop there. To learn how to take better photos with your iPhone, try one of these smartphone photography courses. And whenever you reach for your phone to take a picture, remember to steer clear of these smartphone photography mistakes.