Long exposure. To me this term is synonymous with long division,  contemplating the whereabouts of socks lost in the laundry, neurosurgery, and wiggling your ears. As far as I’m concerned, they all might as well mean the same thing: ‘too difficult, don’t even think about it’. But since I’m in the business of writing about smart phone photography, and feeling particularly inspired by some great work that’s coming through PosterCandy lately, I thought I might try to wrestle with the ins and outs of long exposure iPhone photography. And to my surprise, it was not as difficult as I had first suspected.

At the very least, once I understood the basic requirements for taking long exposure shots on an iPhone, it became a whole lot less daunting. It took a lot of trawling through online how-to guides, App reviews and photography books, all heavily laden with industry-exclusive jargon (as well as some degree of Instagram stalking,) but eventually, I was able to whittle the process of taking long exposure iPhone photographs down to a simple and coherent 6-step process. So here it is – in layman’s terms!

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of long exposure iPhone photography, be aware that you can alter the exposure on your iPhone to a certain degree without installing any Apps or buying fancy equipment. There are some great tutorials available on the subject online.

You can get some beautiful, moody shots following the methods outlined in this tute, but if you’re serious about quality (or really impressing your Instagram followers), you will need to invest a little bit of time and a few dollars (generally less than $25) to achieve your goals. Here we go.

Coogee Beach Pools Long Exposure

A long exposure photo of the Coogee Beach Pools, Sydney.


Step 1: Get equipped

You Will Need:

  • an iPhone
  • a lightweight camera stand (a Gorillapod or similar stand with an iPhone mount will do the trick)
  • A long exposure/slow shutter IOS App


If you’re on a budget, you can improvise a stand by propping your iPhone against something very sturdy.Also search the app store and try out a few iPhone apps. Some apps have free versions that are full of annoying adds but are good to use as test runs before paying for the full version of the App


Step 2: Install Apps

I recommend downloading a couple of Apps and using them to photograph the same scene in order to compare the available settings and find what’s best for you. This brief list of available Apps should give you an idea of how they can differ, but read through the App Store descriptions before you purchase, just to be sure it will suit the kind of scenes you want to photograph.

Recommended IOS Apps for long exposure photography:


Step 3: Familiarise yourself with your App’s settings

Some Apps combine a number of photos to create long exposure while others use shutter speed settings. If you’re using an app that combines photos and has manual settings, remember that the more photos piled on top of each other, the more fluid the movement in the photo will be. This is good for photos of water, for example. Less photos will create a jolted look. Experiment with different settings to get the right look for you. Most apps will come with in-app instructions, but if they get too much, just play around.


Step 4: Set up and frame shot

Common subjects for long exposure photographs include cityscapes, light trails, the stars and moon and fluid natural elements like rivers, the ocean, clouds, fog, rain and waterfalls. You can also play around with the movement of people – in cities, offices and urban environments like train stations.

A long exposure photo taken of Wentworth Falls, Sydney.

A long exposure photo taken of Wentworth Falls, Sydney.


Step 5: Shoot!

Go on then! Don’t be shy.


Step 6: Edit

Once you’re happy with your image, take it back to your computer for editing. If you’re an iPhone photography purist, you can edit the image in any number of photo editing Apps. Some personal favourites of mine are SnapseedCamera Plus and Photo Toaster.


To Finish: Share, print, display

By now you should find that you have a fantastic, moody and unique image – something different to the barrage of pouty selfies that appear on your Instagram feed. Granted, the quality of an iPhone long exposure photograph will never reach the quality of one taken with a DSLR or even digital camera, but the advantages of iPhone photography are irrefutable. You will always have your camera on you, production of images is relatively low-cost, and you can access places that you might not reach with bulky photographic equipment, and you don’t need to think about long division (or lost socks for that matter) just to get the camera setting right. To these advantages you can add the option of sharing your images immediately and globally.

For Instagram inspiration, search the hashtag #longexposure.  A series of long exposure nature photos will bring a cool, tranquil look to your living area, or add an inner-city vibe to your office with a poster of urban landscapes.