How to take Stunning Long Exposure Photos with an iPhone?

Long exposure photography is a popular and creative way to capture beautiful images. It allows photographers to create surreal, vibrant images that otherwise wouldn’t be possible with a standard camera. Surprisingly, you can now achieve long exposure photography on an iPhone.

Long exposure photo of traffic on an iphone screen

In this article, we will discuss tips and tricks for achieving stunning long exposure photos with your iPhone. From understanding the basics of long exposure photography to mastering advanced techniques, this article will give you everything you need to know to take stunning photographs with an iPhone.

Let’s dive right into it!

What is long exposure photography?

Long exposure photography is a creative and unique technique used by photographers to create images that capture an extended moment in time. The long exposure technique can be used to capture light trails, silky waterfalls, and starscapes over an extended period of time.

Long exposure photo of the Milky Way

Until recently, this form of photography was only possible on standard cameras such as DSLR, mirrorless, or film cameras and required the use of specialized equipment such as tripods, neutral density filters, and cable releases in order to achieve optimal results.

Now it is possible to capture beautiful long exposure photographs just by using your iPhone. There are several techniques available to do so and we will explore the most used ones in this article.

Long exposure photography works by allowing more light into the camera than would normally be possible when using typical shutter speeds. By doing this, photographers are able to blur motion or even erase it entirely from the scene. 

Diagram showing relationship betwen shutter speed and available light and resulting appearance of motion

Depending on what effect you want to achieve, exposures can range from fractions of seconds up to several minutes or even hours!

What is Long Exposure Used For?

As we previously mentioned, long exposure is a photography technique used to capture motion over a long period of time. This time depends on the effect that we want to achieve and the subject we are capturing. 

If we are trying to capture a star trail, for example, we might have to leave the shutter open for a much longer period of time compared to a different scenario where we might just want to capture a waterfall or river.

When using an iPhone we have to be a little bit more creative because, especially if we are not using a third-party app, we can control much fewer settings compared to a classic DSLR camera. But we will discuss all the options later in the article.

Long exposure photography is often used to create stunning images from the night sky, such as star trails or the Milky Way to light trails from cars and other moving objects, creating beautiful abstract images.

It can also be used to blur out waterfalls and rivers. This is often used to create a dreamy, ethereal look in landscape photography. By blurring out the waterfalls and rivers, it creates a soft, romantic atmosphere that can be quite beautiful. It also helps to emphasize the other elements in the scene, such as trees and rocks, which can be lost in the rush of water. This technique is especially effective when shooting during golden hour or at sunset when the light is softer and more flattering.

Photo of mountains at the golden hour

One of the most popular, as we mentioned above, but yet an incredible way to use long exposure is to capture star trails. Star trails are created by taking a long exposure photograph of the night sky. The camera is set up to take a photo over a period of time, usually several hours

During this time, the stars will appear to move across the sky as they rotate around the Earth. This creates an amazing effect in which the stars appear as streaks or trails across the sky.

Photo of star trails behind a tree

Star trails are difficult to capture with an iPhone, but not impossible using a third-party app as we will see in this article.

How to take long exposure photos with your iPhone?

With the rise of digital photography, it has become easier than ever to take stunning photos with iPhones. The high-resolution cameras built into these devices have made it possible for even amateur photographers to capture beautiful and professional-looking images. 

Many people are now turning to iPhone photography as a creative outlet and hobby that can be enjoyed for years to come.

iPhone photography offers many advantages over traditional film or digital cameras. Thanks to its portability, users can bring their device wherever they go, allowing them to capture spontaneous moments that may otherwise be missed. 

Additionally, the built-in editing tools in the camera application mean users can quickly and easily enhance their photos without needing any specialized software or knowledge.

Taking long exposure photos with an iPhone can be a great way to add an interesting and creative touch to your photography. With a few simple steps, you can learn how to take beautiful, professional-looking shots right from your phone.

The first method to take long exposure photos with your iPhone is very simple and doesn’t require any third-party app.

This method has some limitations because we won’t be able to control many settings that we would otherwise be able to change in a standard camera or using an app.


  • Very Intuitive
  • Free to use
  • Good quality


  • Can’t change any settings
  • Limited in the type of long exposure photos you can do

Personally, I think that this method is great to start experimenting with long exposure before jumping on a more serious app.

So, let’s jump right into the first method!

In order to take a long exposure photograph, we need to:

1) Open the camera app on your iPhone

iPhone camera app

2) Turn on the live photo mode

iPhone camera app live photo mode

The live photo mode will record a 3 second video every time you take a photo.

3) Select a 3 or 10 second timer

iPhone camera app 3 second timer

This will prevent the camera from shaking when you press the shutter

4) Frame up and take the photo

Framing the photo

5) Click the little thumbnail icon in the corner

Thumbnail icon in iPhone camera app

6) Drag up with your finger and a set of effects will appear

Effects options

7) Select Long Exposure

8) Now your live photo will be transformed into a long exposure photograph

Long exposure result

This method is very straightforward as you can see and yet very powerful. For it to work at its best, you need to use a tripod. Since you are basically taking a series of photos and overlapping them to create a slow shutter effect, you have to make sure that the camera stays still, otherwise, the whole image is going to be blurred.

iPhone on tripod

In the example of the waterfall or river, you only want the flowing water blurred and everything else sharp.

Use a third-party app to take long exposure photos

There are several apps that we can use to shoot long exposure photos and allow us to change specific settings to get optimal results.

Camera+: Pro Camera & Editor

Camera+: Pro Camera & Editor app

Let’s start with the first option, which is a free app called Camera+: Pro Camera & Editor.

Camera+ is a great app to take your photography to the next level. It offers preset white balances and manual shutter speed control, as well as an “Action” mode for capturing even better long exposure photographs.

Additionally, it has UltraRes for capturing high-resolution images.

It offers in-app purchases but even at the free stage, it offers great features to take beautiful long exposure photos that you couldn’t take with the iPhone camera app.

Main Features

  • Manual ISO and Shutter Speed control
  • Manual white balance, as well as several, presets to choose from
  • Action Mode

Slow Shutter Cam

Slow Shutter Cam app

The second app, which is my go-to because it has great features at a super affordable price, is Slow Shutter Cam.

This is the perfect app if you are looking for something that stands between the iPhone camera app and an expensive app that gives control over everything.

What I particularly like about Slow Shutter Cam is the fact that it is very intuitive and delivers great pictures.

This app has several modes for capturing smooth light trails and taking pictures during the night, with a maximum exposure time of 30 seconds. Additionally, you can change your ISO and reduce noise manually.

Slow Shutter Cam is an excellent app worth the cost that offers rich functions for shooting long exposure photographs.

Main Features

  • Different modes available
  • Exposure time up to 30 seconds
  • ISO & Noise Reduction
  • Bulb Mode


ProCamera app

If you are looking for something that gives you control over everything like if you were using a standard digital camera, the ProCamera app is what you are looking for.

Developed as a simple, yet versatile app, ProCamera is designed for the needs of daily life while being ready to dive in when needed. It gives you control over your iPhone’s camera but never interferes when you want to take a shot.

ProCamera offers pro-level DSLR camera features and a distinct video recorder mode and photo editor suite, including those for RAW editing.

Main Features

  • Several modes available (Manual, Semi-Automatic, Automatic)
  • Manual Exposure Control
  • Manual Focus
  • Exposure Compensation
  • Supports RAW, TIFF, Jpeg & HEIF
  • Manual White Balance

All these apps work on any iPhone as long as you have the latest ios installed. Some of the features they offer might be available only on the latest iPhone model because they have the hardware necessary for them to work.

Painting with light

Painting with light is a technique that uses long-exposure photography to create unique works of art. Artists use various lights and tools, such as flashlights and candles, to paint with light on their photos. This technique can be used to create stunning images using nothing more than your iPhone and some imagination. 

Light painting example

To begin painting with light, set up your iPhone on a tripod so that it is steady and won’t move while you take the photo. Make sure your shutter speed is set to its longest possible setting so you have plenty of time to “paint” the scene using your lights. You can then use a variety of tools, such as flashlights or sparklers, to paint patterns or write words in the air during the exposure.

To achieve this style of photography, any of the apps we discussed above work great because they allow you to set a long exposure time. Unfortunately, you can’t achieve this result using just the iPhone camera app since 3 seconds is too little time to get anything closer to this type of photography.

How to improve your iPhone long exposure photographs using color

Color and composition are two key elements when it comes to long exposure photography. 

Composition is the arrangement of elements within a photograph, while color adds emotion and atmosphere to a scene. When used together, composition and color can create stunning images that capture the beauty of a location or moment in time. 

Color plays an important role in long exposure photography by creating contrast between different objects in the frame. By using colors that contrast with one another, such as warm tones against cool hues, photographers can draw attention to certain areas of their image and make them stand out from the rest.

Use of contrasting colors in long exposure photo of stars

Additionally, colors can evoke emotions within viewers which helps give photos more impactful messages. 

You can implement this with the concept discussed before about painting with light. If you are shooting a star trail and in the foreground you have some trees, you might choose to highlight those trees with a yellow/orange light that will then look beautiful in contrast with the cool/blue tones of the sky.


In conclusion, using your iPhone for long exposure photography is a great way to get stunning images that showcase the beauty of motion. With the right techniques, anyone can learn how to do it, and you don’t need any expensive equipment.

Experimenting with long exposures is a fun and rewarding experience that can help you take your photography game to the next level. So why not try it out today?

Click the following link to learn the mistakes to avoid in long exposure photography.

By Nicholas

Nicholas is a staff writer at Photodoto. His interests include photography, collecting cameras old and new, video editing, and all things 3d. If a new gadget comes out on the market, he's sure to be the first to try it. He enjoys experimenting with low light photography, very long exposures and high speed filming.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *