Photography is all about capturing light – and what better way to document it’s presence than in a night time long exposure!

What you need

  • A steady hand – so get yourself a tripod!

  • Probably a remote because most cameras won’t expose for longer than 30 seconds using bulb mode.

What you want to capture
Drama, movement, contrast. Think:

  • Star trails in the sky

  • Car lights on a highway

  • An illuminated train speeding along a railway track

  • The spinning lights of a fairground

  • A scene lit by a full moon

  • Reflections of light in water

  • Light Painting with a torch

ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture

Successful night time long exposures require a delicate compromise between ISO aperture and shutter speed. We have covered understanding ISO settings before (link to but as a quick recap:

A low ISO means that you can have the shutter open for longer because the film or sensor is less sensitive to light.
The graininess associated with high ISO is more noticeable on larger and darker areas.

Shutter Speed
A slower shutter speed means that you can capture more light and movement.
A slow shutter speed can also overexpose the darker areas - however this can create some amazing effects giving night time pictures an eerie daylight aesthetic.

Top Tip
To help achieve a sharper image at night use autofocus to focus on a point of light and then switch it off when taking the photo; or use a flashlight to illuminate up the area while focussing.

For a less ‘grainy’ image you will need a low ISO, and to get more of the picture in focus, a smaller aperture.
Be careful, because the smaller the aperture, the longer your shutter speed and exposure will need to be to get the same image!

Top Tip? Experiment!

Start with an ISO of 100, a shutter speed of 1/60 and an aperture of F/2.8. With this you can expect to capture the blurred lights of a moving object.

Then adjust one element at a time to see how the image changes. First the ISO. Reset. Change the aperture. Back to the beginning, then find out what happens when you change the shutter speed instead.

Something like a star trail can require an exposure for at least a couple of hours, so when experimenting with exposure, keep an open mind!

Top Tip
Ditch the tripod (gasp!) and move your camera to create crazy light paintings without a moving light source.

Yes, there is more to night time long exposures than just capturing what is out there – create your own images through light painting. This can be achieved by ‘painting’ with a torch or other incandescent object (more of this to come in later post) in front of the camera or by moving your camera to create the movement.

Do you have night time long exposures in your 365collection? Or maybe you have some more great tips for others to follow? Why not share your thoughts, achievements and ideas in the comments below!

Image credit thanks to andy c, Brenda Ashley and J A Byrdlip

November 1st, 2012
cool... ta for using my shot :-)

Good tips too - But as someone who has only used a tripod a couple of times... flat surfaces are a god-send ...:-)
November 2nd, 2012
Even if you think you got the settings right, keep experimenting because what looks good on the lcd, may not once you get back home
November 4th, 2012
I did a photo walk tour of london on Fri night here is my night trail is great fun.

November 4th, 2012
A Fair Ride
November 4th, 2012
Multi-Fair Rides
November 5th, 2012
Cool article! Just got back from Melbourne (Australia) where I took some long-exposure nighttime shots of the beautiful city :)
November 6th, 2012
November 8th, 2012
February 3rd, 2013

Very helpful article. Thanks for sharing it. :)
February 20th, 2013
This is a shot that I took last year, of a flight coming into land at Kos Island airport. Very simple, yet rather original.

April 19th, 2013
Star trail:

A torch parade down the ski slope:
June 19th, 2013
@simster The night photo of London is such a favourite of mine. Fantastic.
June 20th, 2013
Some very cool shots. Adding another fair ride at night

September 4th, 2013
here are a couple of mine :

October 2nd, 2013
This was a long (4 second) exposure in a supermarket car park with my camera sitting on top on my car.
October 22nd, 2013
Here's one I took.
December 5th, 2013
I love night time photography and have posted several in my album. My favourite one is one I took last year in the golden hour (before I'd found 365) and posted recently:

April 7th, 2014
I love taking long exposure shots. Here's one of my first attempts at light painting.

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