Motion Blur & Light Trails: Long Exposure on your iPhone

One of the challenges of photography is to keep your content new, creative, and eye catching. When you don’t travel too much or do portraits too often, you get stuck shooting the same locations again and again and if you’re not careful or creative, wind up with the same shots. A method I like to use to give my creativity a kickstart is called “long exposure”.

I like to use “Long Exposure” photography when shooting around moving subjects like water and clouds. It blurs their motion and yields a misty, ghostly effect that in some cases, works quite well. On a DSLR or similar camera, you have to be in fully manual mode, know how to elongate your shutter speed (keep the shutter open a long time to allow the light to hit the camera’s sensor over a longer period of time), and, if you’re shooting in the daytime, how to use a neutral density filter. Think: putting sunglasses over your lens. In the photo below, I used a 10-stop neutral density filter. The shot below on the right (without the filter) was iso 200, f18, 1/20. With the filter I’m now going to change my shutter speed to Bulb and let it run for 51 seconds. It blurs the clouds’ motion and gives the water a creamy, misty quality. (the shot below on the left).

I like both shots equally well, but because of my crazy schedule, I take a lot of quick shots (like the one on the left). I like them but  also like to change it up.

How to do long exposures on your iPhone

So, I mentioned iPhones in the title. I shoot with my iPhone a lot. It takes pretty good photos, there are some really good editing apps, and I always have it with me. A couple months ago I discovered the “Slow Shutter” app. The $.99 app is designed to give the user control over motion blur, light trails, and low light situations while maintaining a proper exposure. For the following photo, I used the motion blur setting, keep the slider toward “fairly high” and my shutter speed around 20 seconds (though you can manually “turn off” the exposure too if you’ve got the shot you want.)

There is a slight catch. In order to get a good, crisp photo where your stationary subjects (in my case the pier and the sand/shells) are in tight focus, you need to stabilize your phone. I used a $25 Reticam tripod mount* (XL for the iPhone 6+) and propped it up in the sand. (I was using my tripod for my DSLR at the same time for the shots at the top of the post). There are other tripod mounts available for mobile devices and tablets. I’ve been using the Reticam for a little over a year and love it. It’s built well and does what it’s supposed to do.

Slow shutter also gives you the ability to lock in your focus and exposure on different areas of your composition, has a built in interIntervalometer, and can save your photos as a TIFF file. That last part about the TIFF file is pretty cool. It produces a larger size image, but if you plan on editing your photo further, a TIFF responds much better to edits than a JPEG. I coincidentally forgot to set my app to do that this morning.

If you’ve got an iPhone and want to bump up your photo arsenal, give Slow Shutter Cam a try. It’s inexpensive and yields great results. I don’t use an Android device, so I’m not up to speed on photo apps for them but here’s a list of the Top 7 apps for Slow Shutter speed on that platform.

Go give it a try, be creative, and have fun!

*Amazon affiliate link. Buying through this link helps to keep me in photography, and help support this website. Thanks!

The Historic St. James Santee Episcopal Chapel of Ease: A quick look at Architectural Composition

McClellanville, SC

The historic St. James Santee Episcopal Chapel of Ease 18mm, ISO 400, F/5, 1/60

The historic St. James Santee Episcopal Chapel of Ease ISO 400, 18mm, F/5, 1/60Nothing like a good name for your church. Who wouldn’t want to attend a chapel of ease? On a drive back from Charleston, SC, my father-in-law and I pulled in to the historic fishing village of McClellanville. (On a side note, if you want local shrimp, this is where to get it!) At the last census, the town registered just under 500 for its residency. It’s a small town, but not without its charm. The coastal highway 17 holds ages of history; communities and villages that still exist today. It is always a beautiful corridor to explore.

The St. James Episcopal church was constructed in 1890 to accommodate the growing population of the village (hence, the Chapel of Ease moniker). You can read more about it here.

The chapel sits in the shade of a few Live Oaks. I struggle with architectural photographs. In this composition there are a couple things to consider: how much of that beautiful tree in the front to include; how to frame the church; how to balance the exposure so the church isn’t too bright and the tree to dark and vice versa; and making sure your “horizon” is straight.

I shoot in a file format called RAW, as opposed to JPEG. While the RAW file is pretty big (about 25 MB) it allows me to correct some exposures and colors in editing. Much like a photographic dark room, you can “burn” in some lighter areas and “dodge” darker areas to achieve balance. I took my exposure for the church since this was the focal point of the shot.  Fortunately the tree wasn’t too much darker than the church so I was able to draw out some details later.

I took this shot at 18mm which is a wide-angle shot. While this fits more of the subject into the frame, it also distorts the way somethings look (read: the church looks crooked). I chose to make sure the tree was aligned correctly with nature (the trunk is 90 degrees to the ground) and allow the church to take on a moving-like quality. The front looks very large and the rear shrinks away because of depth perception. We generally don’t think about this when viewing something in real life, but in a photograph it becomes more apparent. My goal was to achieve motion in the photo: making your eyes move from the tree to the front of the church to it’s rear; or drawing your attention to the middle of the photograph.

Hopefully that makes sense. Feel free to share this on your social media of choice or drop me a line in the comments below with your thoughts!


A Sharp-Shot at Night

Pulling off a sharp-shot at night…

Diana of the Chase

24mm, f/2.8, 1 sec., ISO 800 Nights of 1000 Candles, Brookgreen Gardens, SC

Diana of the Chase is a statue in Brookgreen Gardens, a sculpture garden at the south end of Murrells Inlet, SC. Each year in December, Brookgreen hosts “Nights of 1,000 Candles”. Lights and candles adorn ancient Live Oak trees sculptures, and buildings throughout the property. It’s worth a trip to coastal South Carolina in December.

Technically, you’re not supposed to bring in tripods, so I only toted around my monopod. A long exposure was tricky, but with vibration control on my Tamron 17-50mm lens, I was able to pull off a 1 second exposure for this shot. The lens opens to an f-stop of 2.8 letting in a lot of light, which allowed me to keep my ISO a little lower. (Tip: While higher ISO’s allow you to keep your shutter speed faster, it adds a bit more noise or grain into your shot, and reduces detail. Sometimes a high ISO is just necessary. You just have to figure out when and where you can get away with it.)



Shooting Jellyfish: Photographing fish in an aquarium


Canon T4i, Tamron 17-50, 33mm, f/2.8, 1/320, ISO 1600

We went to Charlotte, NC a couple weekends ago and visited the incredible Discover Place. What a fun day! Heaps of stuff for the kids, an IMAX, aquarium, terrariums  with frogs from all over the world, and more science experiments than you could shake a stick at.

This guy was really tough to capture. First, it was really dark in the aquarium but I didn’t want to set my ISO too terribly high. I had my Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 lens on which opens wide enough to keep my shutter pretty fast (Opens wide=aperture can go to 2.8, letting in more light…This in turn lets the shutter open and close more quickly…I’ll cover this in another post too).

My main problem was maintaining focus. The wide-open aperture of f/2.8 provided a small depth of field to maintain focus, so if the jellyfish moved away from me, I had to re-set focus. One helpful way to accomplish this is using Canon’s Al-Servo focus system which does a pretty good job of tracking the motion of your subject. Check your camera’s manual if you’re not sure how to set this. Also, if your camera’s lens doesn’t open to 2.8, set it for the widest you can. (The lower the number the wider it is!) Go to f/3.5 or 4 if you can. If you’re not quite comfortable with manual shots, switch to sports mode for these shots. Sports mode will set your auto focus to Al-Servo (or whatever Nikon calls it), open the aperture, and increase the shutter speed to freeze the frame as quickly as it can. It will also increase the ISO to accomplish this and will set your shutter to auto. That means if you hold down your shutter button it will “rapid-fire” photos.

I kept my autofocus button down, tried my best to follow the jelly, took about 10 different shots, and got this one. I like it too!