City scenes with traffic trails. Landscape scenes with wispy clouds. Your name literally written in light. There’s no doubt that long exposure photography is one of the most visually stunning, yet easily achievable effects that a photographer can attempt.

And it’s not just for experts.

Experimentation is part of the fun, and it’s easy to see results, but here are some tips to get you started on that winning shot!


Knowing why you’re going for a long exposure shot helps to determine your focus. There’s no one set formula for a long exposure – aperture and shutter speeds run the gamut – because the subjects are endless.

Long exposure photography usually views moving objects as its best friend. In nature, flowing water and clouds are popular. In cities, cars, trains and planes make up the bulk. Also popular are fireworks, sparklers and glow sticks.

But other than the above, long exposure photography can be also used to showcase a glittering city night scene, or expressing movement in a daytime event, such as a dancer or a racing car.

Defining the focus of your long exposure will help you determine the settings and gear to go for.


If you’ve never tried long exposure photography, we recommend going for light trails with your subjects.

Most of us are city folks, and getting sparklers, light sticks and the like is easy. If not, we are constantly surrounded by moving lights – think vehicle heads and tail lights. Best thing is, all you need is your camera and a tripod.

Playing with light trails in long exposure is rewarding because you see the adjustments taking effect almost immediately. The difference between a 5-second shot and a 10-second shot is obvious. As a general rule, you’ll want to keep your aperture high (F4 and below), and your shutter speed long (10 – 20 seconds). Tweak this a little bit here and there, and you’ll find the perfect setting for your illuminated adventures.

Another thing to keep in mind though is to keep your camera on bulb mode for shots that require more than 30 seconds, and to minimise movement of the camera. This includes pressing the trigger, so a good alternative is to use a remote shutter release. Another tip is to place the camera on timer, so that there’s no physical interruption from start to finish.

Needless to say, the movement needs to be controlled at the lens’ end as well, so use inanimate objects as your subjects initially before moving on to people to gain a grasp of how long exposure photography works.

When illuminating a subject with light trails, remember to position them away from the background. You don’t want the light to bounce from the back and have it steal the focus from the picture.

Suggested locations: Changi Beach area for plane trails, any dark parks or rooms for light trails. Marina Bay area for fireworks.


Getting the hang of it? Good!

Long exposure photography doesn’t have to be about gimmicky light trails. Landscapes and city scenes become very fulfilling when you see the more delicate movement suggestions through long exposure photography.

With night long exposure pictures, here are some extra special details to take note of.

Firstly, keep your ISO as low as possible. Even though it’s tempting to take the ISO up a notch to capture dark scenes, the light element may heighten the noise from higher ISO settings. The only exception to that is when you’re taking star trail night skies.

If you have an anti-shake mode on, switch that off. Even though the camera isn’t moving, the sensor might still compensate for perceived movement which actually blurs out your image edges.

Moving on to day scenes with landscapes featuring movement in clouds, water or people, Neutral Density (ND) and Graduated Neutral Density (GND) filters are your best friend. Though a little costly, they help to cut out unnecessary light from overexposed areas.

For example, a forest with a flowing river at the foreground will benefit from a GND filter that blocks out the reflected light from the water surface, but leaves the trees nicely exposed.

This problem with too much light extends to leaks as well. With landscape photography and wide-angle lens, flares can be a problem. Use a lens hood, and keep your viewfinder covered too as an extra measure.

Be very aware of outdoor elements like wind and water, which may move your camera or mist up your lens during the long exposure. Just remember to retain details with a small aperture, but you can go up to F8 for water movement shots.

If you’re ready to try handheld shots, which are perfect for holiday movement shots of people and traffic, you can go for a larger aperture. But remember to keep yourself very steady with armpits closed, arms anchored to your torso and hold your breath for the duration of about 1 to 2 seconds.

Suggested locations: Marina Bay area. Marina Bay Sands light show. Singapore Flyer. Central Business District. The Merlion. Gardens By The Bay and the Zoo for water features.

We can’t wait to see your results with long exposure photography. Share them online and remember to tag us using #canonsg to be featured!

First published: Canon EOS World

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