Long exposure on iPhone, or how to take a photo with a trail effect

The best camera is the one you have with you. Most often it is a smartphone, and if you are reading these lines, your smartphone is an iPhone. The “Apple” gadget takes amateur photography to a new level … if, of course, you know how to use all its photographic capabilities.

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A prime example in this regard is taking pictures with high exposure. When iPhone owners see one such picture somewhere on the web, they immediately rush to look for the corresponding application in the App Store. But this is not necessary at all – after all, the corresponding option is in the Camera system application.

Thanks to the slow shutter speed, you can capture hitchhiking lights describing the trajectory of traffic, emphasize movement in the frame and create cool photos in low light conditions. “But this is the lot of SLR cameras!” – you say.

Modern smartphones are trying with all their might to drag and drop some of the functionality of expensive professional cameras. Long shutter speeds associated with slow shutter speeds have always been considered one of their advantages. But now you can take photos in this way even on your usual smartphone, which is always at hand.

How to Take a Long Exposure Photo with an iPhone

Apple does not provide direct access to iPhone hardware in order to protect the device. So the camera shutter speed of this device cannot be changed directly. However, the iPhone can still capture images with a “trail effect”. There are several ways to implement this scenario: using built-in iOS functions or third-party applications that provide long exposure. We will cover all these options in detail.

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What does it take to take a great long exposure photo on iPhone?

Ideally, you need a tripod, stand or just a flat place where you can put your smartphone, because the absence of shaking is a key prerequisite for creating a high-quality long exposure photo.

It is not necessary to purchase a full-length one and a half meter tripod. Sometimes a small tripod worth a couple of bucks is enough, which you can buy from our Chinese comrades.


The simplest (but not the best) option for shooting with the “Long exposure” effect can be using the standard function of the iPhone camera (requires iOS 11 and newer) – Live Photos, which also has the option of the same name.

An alternative (and better) option is to use a special application that allows you to shoot at long exposure. There is plenty of such goodness in the App Store, but nevertheless, we stopped our choice on programs Slow Shutter Cam and Specter Camera

So let’s talk about everything in order.

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How to take a long exposure photo with a trail effect on iPhone using Live Photos

Apple’s Live Photos are a great feature that captures a full three seconds of movement the moment you press the shutter button. We have already described how to take Live Photos on iPhone. But with the release of iOS 11, Apple has improved this capability. Few people know about the possibility of converting live photos into a long exposure shot. This can be done simply using swipes and taps on the screen. Even a novice amateur photographer who is not familiar with the details of the terms “shutter speed” and “shutter speed” can still take an impressive picture.

To create a long exposure photo, make sure there is at least one moving element in the frame at the right time. It can be a car passing by, a train arriving at the station, falling water. The background should be clean and static. So, a Live photo in which there are too many people running can turn into a blurry mess.

1. Run the standard application Camera on iPhone.

2. Make sure Live Photos is active in the settings.

How to take a long exposure photo with a trail effect on iPhone using Live Photos

3. Select a subject to capture. A good option is cars, lights, a working fountain, a waterfall. In general, anything that moves will do.

4. Take a photo of the moving subject. At this step, all that remains is to hold the smartphone steadily in your hand (or using a tripod) and press the shutter button. The iPhone needs to be held still for another two seconds. Live photos include one and a half seconds before pressing the shutter button and one and a half seconds after that.

5. After the frame is captured, open it in the standard application Photo (tab Albums → section Photo Live Photos).

How to take a long exposure photo with a trail effect on iPhone using Live Photos

6. Swipe up to open the effects Live Photos… The last thing on the list will be exactly what we need – Long exposure

How to take a long exposure photo with a trail effect on iPhone using Live Photos

How to take a long exposure photo with a trail effect on iPhone using Live Photos

The system will put together all the frames of your live photo, and the output will be a great photo with the desired level of blur. It can then be edited as usual using the built-in Photo tools or third-party photo editors for iOS.

Here is another example of “was” and “is”:

How to take a long exposure photo with a trail effect on iPhone using Live Photos

And the picture itself can be easily found along the way Photo → Albums tab → Media types → Long exposure

How to take a long exposure photo with a trail effect on iPhone using Live Photos

The photo can be easily found in the Camera Roll by the icon Long exposure (in the upper left corner).

If you need to return the picture to its previous Live Photo view, it is possible to do so.

1. Open in the app Photo the resulting picture with a long exposure.

2. Swipe up from the bottom to go to the effects.

3. Select an effect Live (first on the list).

This will allow you to get the original Live Photo

Of course, this is not a “real” long exposure, but a software simulation. But the visual effect is still very impressive. Here are some examples:

In the meantime, there is no need to know about it. ”

In the meantime, there is no need to know about it. ”

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How to take a long exposure photo with a trail effect on iPhone using the Slow Shutter Cam app

This program strikes the perfect balance between ease of use and functionality. It offers three main modes, one of which is specially designed for light trail shots. It is convenient that the application is not overloaded with unnecessary complex functions, learning how to work will take much less time than with a professional camera.

What is important to us is the ability of the Slow Shutter Cam to adjust the shutter speed depending on what is being filmed. The app lets you use your smartphone’s volume button as a shutter and set a self-timer to minimize camera shake.

Consider using the application on one of three profiles – Light Tail, which is designed to create a light trail in low light conditions (you will find a description of other application modes below in this article).

1. Download Slow Shutter Cam App from App Store (link).

2. Run the program and click on the gear icon.

Long Exposure Slow Shutter Cam on iPhone

3. Select a profile Light trail and move the slider Shutter speed (holding time in seconds) to the value Bulb, thereby you set the application to manual mode and you can decide for yourself at what point to take a picture.

Long Exposure Slow Shutter Cam on iPhone

4. Press the shutter button to take a photo.

Long Exposure Slow Shutter Cam on iPhone

5. Watch what is happening on the iPhone display. The boundaries of moving objects will begin to blur in real time. For example, the surface of the waterfall will become smooth, the flame of the fire will lose its sharpness, etc. When you are satisfied with the effect, press the shutter button again.

Long Exposure Slow Shutter Cam on iPhone

6. Press the button to save the snapshot. Save

Long Exposure Slow Shutter Cam on iPhone

Be sure to try again shooting your composition from a different angle, as well as with changed program settings.

Slow Shutter Cam app profiles description

Almost all applications of this kind have three main profiles for shooting light trails, moving objects (Light Tail, Motion Blur and Low Light).

Slow Shutter Cam app profiles description

Below you will find some tips for getting a good long exposure photo, as there are some nuances here.

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Light Tail mode produces a dramatic light trail

A quality light trail can be found on a busy autobahn, in an amusement park, in the starry sky, or during the launch of fireworks.


The most “convenient” time of day for a beginner photographer will be early twilight. The thing is that at this time the vehicles are already driving with the headlights on, and the street lighting that could distract from the main plot is not yet on. In the middle of the night, lanterns, signs, and other burning static objects will overexpose, and there will be more noise.


The following settings will become more or less averaged values ​​for shooting: light sensitivity 1/4 and shutter speed 15 seconds. But here you must definitely work with exposure and contrast in order to get the best effect.

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Motion Blur mode is for capturing moving subjects at slow shutter speeds in normal lighting


The subject for the next mode can be water (fountains, waterfalls, surf), a moving cyclist, a busy intersection, a passing train, and so on. Among the additional options in iPhone applications, there are usually blur intensity and various effects.

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Low Light mode – for shooting in low light conditions with long exposure

Taking a long exposure photo at dusk, even on a DSLR camera, is quite a difficult task, not to mention the iPhone, because the light sensitivity of the matrix is ​​important in this matter, that is, the maximum amount of light that the device can capture.


But there are two nuances here:

  • you can capture more light using a slower shutter speed (keeping the aperture open longer), but there is a risk of getting a blurry image;
  • a gradual increase in light sensitivity leads to the appearance of noise.

This is why you need a tripod. Be sure to take into account the overall level of illumination, because a bright lantern or advertising sign caught in the frame can ruin everything. There is a small rule – the more intense the light source, the faster the shutter speed should be.


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How to take a photo with a long exposure trail effect on iPhone using the Specter Camera app

How to take a long exposure photo with the Specter Camera app on iPhone

The benefits of this alternative long exposure photo app are machine learning coupled with hardware acceleration. Artificial intelligence allows you to automatically detect scenes, set stabilization. The Specter Camera uses a neural network to replace a tripod, removing movement. Any frame can be used as live wallpaper on a smartphone.

How to take a long exposure photo with the Specter Camera app on iPhone

The application is able to remove cars or people from photos. It helps you create beautiful shots with long streaks of light or blurry streams of water. Specter Camera also saves images in the new HEIC format.

How to take a long exposure photo with the Specter Camera app on iPhone

The application does not know how to open the shutter for a long time, but quickly takes many frames. The exposure is optimized by artificial intelligence to make the shots bright enough. The shots are then combined into one using a slow shutter speed simulation. You can view the entire exposure in its original frame-by-frame form, or you can save it as a single processed frame or a live photograph.

How to take a long exposure photo with the Specter Camera app on iPhone

Download Specter Camera for iPhone (App Store)


Whether you’re just getting started with iPhone photography or are already good enough to post to Apple’s Instagram with the hashtag #shotoniphone, there are a few ways to take long exposure photos worth exploring. You need a good tripod to completely immobilize your smartphone while taking a photo. This will allow the iPhone to capture beautifully blurred objects and avoid unwanted blur in the rest of the frame.

Taking long exposure photos is a great skill. But it is not worth dwelling on this. To learn how to take better photos with your iPhone, take one of the popular courses on the subject. Thus, you can avoid the classic mistakes when taking pictures with a smartphone.

Yes – ideally you can play around with apps from the App Store and get more interesting results than in the case of the Camera. But for most users, the capabilities of the system application will be quite enough.

In this article, we briefly tried to give the basic skills of shooting on the iPhone at long exposure and talk about the conditions that will be needed for this. In general, professional photographers have been learning this for years, and to achieve the best effect, of course, you need a DSLR camera. It’s another matter if you just decided to pamper or experiment, in which case the iPhone will be enough.

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