How to Approximate Long-Exposure Photos on Your iPhone

How to Approximate Long-Exposure Photos on Your iPhone


Photo:  Tomas Picka (Shutterstock)

Photo: Tomas Picka (Shutterstock)

Long-exposure photography lets you take some truly stunning shots if you want to capture light trails, a starry sky, or exaggerated motion in your pictures. While your iPhone won’t give you the same long-exposure tools a DSLR would, there are multiple ways to take a long-exposure shot with either the Camera app or using a third-party option.

Use the stock Camera app for long-exposure shots

The default Camera app on your iPhone has a few tricks up its sleeve, and long-exposure photography is among them. For daytime shots, iOS has a long-exposure effect, which, while not being true a long-exposure image, does work well (think Portrait mode versus an actual camera bokeh).

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To use the long-exposure effect, you need to enable Live Photo in the camera app. To do this, open the Camera app and tap the circles icon in the top-right corner. Live Photo is enabled if the icon is yellow. Now, take a photo, then open it in the Photos app. Tap the Live button in the top-left corner and select Long Exposure, which merges the different frames shot during the Live Photo to create a long-exposure effect.

In addition to not being a true long exposure, this method is a bit tedious. You don’t have the ability to quickly review your shots, and you have to go to the Photos app and process each image separately.

If you’re looking to capture light trails, or if you want to try astrophotography, you will need an iPhone that supports Night Mode. iPhone 11 and newer models (excluding iPhone SE) support this feature, and it’s automatically enabled in the Camera app in low-light conditions.

However, to maximize Night Mode for long exposures, you need to place your iPhone on a tripod, or keep it on a stable surface. When iOS detects your iPhone is perfectly still, the Night Mode switch automatically shows you an option to capture long-exposure shots for up to 30 seconds, up from the usual 10-second maximum.

These shots may not be as good as those taken with a DSLR camera, but they’re pretty impressive for a phone camera.

Use third-party apps for long-exposure photographs

Even in 2023, your iPhone’s stock Camera app doesn’t give you enough control over your photos. If you want granular control over everything, you should try a third-party camera app such as Slow Shutter Cam ($2), Spectre ($5), or Pro Cam 8 ($10).

Slow Shutter Cam is hyper-focused on long-exposure photography. If that’s all you need from a camera app, it’s a pocket-friendly option that does a great job with these kinds of photos.

Spectre is also focused on long-exposure shots, but it uses AI to help you capture better photos. The app can even remove crowds from your photos, so you can focus on the subject or background instead of people you don’t know.

On the other hand, Pro Cam 8 is a full-fledged camera app that can also take long-exposure photos. If you’re looking for a camera app with a manual mode that lets you control shutter speed, ISO, exposure levels, etc., then Pro Cam 8 may be a good option for you.

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