You Can Take Stunning Long-Exposure Photos Using Just Your iPhone (2024)

If you've looked at arty pictures of waterfalls or rivers then you'll no doubt have seen those creative long-exposure shots where the water is intentionally blurred but the surroundings -- the rocks and trees -- remain pin-sharp. It's a great technique to give the impression of motion in a still image and it used to be something you'd need a DSLR with filters and tripods to take. But a neat feature built right into the iPhone's camera lets you take shots that look just as good. You don't even need the latest iPhone 15 Pro or Pro Max to take advantage of this feature. It works on any iPhone launched after the iPhone 6.

Read more:Take Your Best Ever Photos With Your iPhone

The iPhone uses Live Photos, a feature that turns a still image into a short animation by recording a few seconds of video when you fire the shutter. By analyzing which objects are moving, the iPhone captures the movement and blurs it. It's also able to recognize what isn't moving (a rock or a wall, for example) and attempts to keep those objects sharp and in focus. This lets you capture long-exposure images in even bright midday sun without using a tripod or filter. Take that, DSLRs.

You Can Take Stunning Long-Exposure Photos Using Just Your iPhone (2)

Here's how you can do it.

Know what makes a good long-exposure shot

Not everything works as a long-exposure image. A close-up of a flower blowing in the breeze will just become a blurry mess, while a picture of a static car will remain, well, static.

What you need is a scene where there are both static and moving elements. Waterfalls are common subjects as the rushing water will be blurred while the rocks all around will remain solid. Any body of water, really, would be a good subject to experiment with.

You Can Take Stunning Long-Exposure Photos Using Just Your iPhone (3)

You can also try busy city streets. The long-exposure effect keeps the buildings and roads sharp and fixed in the image, but the people walking all around will be blurred into ghostly figures, which looks atmospheric and dramatic.

Turn on Live Photos

Getting a long-exposure image requires the movement that's recorded in a Live Photo, so it's critical that that mode is activated when shooting. It's located in the top right of the screen in the camera (when held in portrait orientation) or the top left (in landscape orientation). You'll see an icon of two circles surrounded by a third dotted circle. If there's no line through it, then Live Photos is activated. If there's a line through it, tap the icon and you'll see the message "Live" appear onscreen in a little yellow box.

You Can Take Stunning Long-Exposure Photos Using Just Your iPhone (4)

Keep steady

Although the iPhone doesn't require a tripod to get a good long-exposure image, you'll get the best results if you keep the phone as steady as possible while it's taking the Live image. I suggest resting the phone against a wall or some other fixed surface while shooting. If you have to hold the phone in your hand, I find that tucking my elbows in toward my body and holding my breath helps decrease motion blur while taking the shot.

It's a good idea to take multiple shots too, hammering the shutter button while you hold the position. This way you'll increase your chances of capturing at least one image that's stable enough to produce an attractive long exposure.

You Can Take Stunning Long-Exposure Photos Using Just Your iPhone (5)

Create the long exposure

Once you've captured your Live image, it's time to transform it into the actual long exposure. Start by opening your image in the gallery app. In the top left you'll see a small icon saying Livewith a small downward-pointing arrow next to it. Tap the arrow and you'll have the option to turn the image into a looping GIF or, down at the bottom, to create a long exposure.

It'll take a second or two, but you'll quickly see how any motion in your shot has been blurred into the dreamy effect you're after. You can then zoom in to check that it's still nice and sharp. Feel free to apply the same effect to other photos you took of the same scene, just in case they worked out better.

If you happen to still be on iOS 14 or older, open the image you've settled on in your gallery and swipe up. This will bring up a panel calledEffectswhere you can loop the motion in the video into GIFs. Swipe to the end of the effects panel though and you'll see one calledLong Exposure. Tap it. But you really should update your phone to a more recent version.

You Can Take Stunning Long-Exposure Photos Using Just Your iPhone (6)

Check your library

Before you dash out to find your nearest waterfall, have a look through your library to see if you already have images that would work. The great thing about using the iPhone's long-exposure tool is that you don't need to use it while you're shooting. You can go back and apply it to any Live image you've taken up until now.

Perhaps you visited Niagara Falls in New York or Havasu Falls in Arizona a few years ago and you happened to have had Live Photos activated when taking your shots. You can swipe up and activate long exposure on any of those shots. You can even go into your Live Photos album in your gallery to see all the shots you've got on your phone that can be transformed into long exposures. My advice? Put a good podcast on, settle into a comfy chair and see what dreamy shots you can dig out of your library.

As a photography enthusiast with a deep understanding of the techniques involved, particularly in the realm of mobile photography, I can attest to the power of leveraging the iPhone's features to capture stunning long-exposure shots. The article highlights a creative approach to achieving long-exposure effects without the need for a DSLR, filters, or tripods, showcasing the accessibility and versatility of the iPhone's camera capabilities.

The key feature discussed in the article is Live Photos, a functionality that transforms a still image into a short animation by recording a few seconds of video when the shutter is activated. The iPhone intelligently analyzes the movement within the frame, blurring dynamic elements while keeping static objects sharp. This eliminates the traditional requirement for specialized equipment and opens up new possibilities for enthusiasts and casual photographers alike.

Let's break down the concepts mentioned in the article:

  1. Long-Exposure Shots:

    • Definition: Long-exposure photography involves using a slow shutter speed to capture motion over an extended period. This technique is commonly used to create a sense of motion or emphasize certain elements in a scene.
  2. Live Photos:

    • Definition: Live Photos is an iPhone camera feature that captures a few seconds of video before and after the still image is taken. It enables the creation of short animations and allows for post-processing effects like long-exposure shots.
  3. Static and Moving Elements:

    • Concept: Successful long-exposure shots require a scene with both static and moving elements. This dynamic contrast enhances the visual impact of the image. Examples include waterfalls (blurred water, sharp rocks) or busy city streets (blurred pedestrians, sharp buildings).
  4. Activating Live Photos:

    • Procedure: To enable the long-exposure effect, Live Photos must be activated. The article guides users to the location of the Live Photos icon in the camera app and emphasizes checking for the "Live" indicator to ensure the mode is active.
  5. Stability in Shooting:

    • Technique: While a tripod is not mandatory, maintaining stability during the Live Photo capture is recommended. Suggestions include resting the iPhone against a fixed surface or holding it steady by tucking elbows in and holding one's breath. Taking multiple shots increases the chances of obtaining a stable image.
  6. Creating Long Exposures:

    • Process: After capturing a Live Photo, the article explains how to transform it into a long-exposure shot using the iPhone's gallery app. The steps involve tapping on the Live icon and selecting the long exposure option.
  7. Library Exploration:

    • Tip: Users are encouraged to explore their existing photo library for Live Photos that can be converted into long exposures. The article suggests revisiting past images and applying the long-exposure effect to discover hidden gems.

In conclusion, the article provides a comprehensive guide for iPhone users, irrespective of the model, to harness the power of Live Photos and create captivating long-exposure shots with ease. This not only showcases the capabilities of the iPhone's camera but also democratizes a photography technique that was once associated with advanced equipment.

You Can Take Stunning Long-Exposure Photos Using Just Your iPhone (2024)
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