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Shutter Speeds: Long


The above photograph of deep space has a cumulative exposure time of 2 million seconds.

Long shutter speeds allow you to:

• Photograph 5,500 galaxies. 

• Blur motion.

• Blur motion so much that movement doesn't record.

• Photograph in the dark.

• Paint with light.

There are examples below, and a tutorial about using a welding filter to allow long exposures in the sun.

If you haven't already, go to Shutter Speed.



The earliest shutters consisted of something to uncover and cover the lens, such as a hat or a lens cap.

The plates were very insensitive to light (extremely low ISO), so the accuracy of the exposure time was not critical.

For example, let's say a scene called for a ten minute exposure.

It didn't matter if the exposure was 9 minutes and fifty seconds—or—10 minutes and ten seconds.

Louis Daguerre

The earliest existing photograph of a human was taken by Louis Daguerre.

The exposure was about ten minutes long.

Therefore, only things that were still were recorded on the plate.

A man was getting his boots shined (inside the red circle below).

Because the man was stationary, he was recorded on the plate.

The many horses, buggies, and pedestrians, didn't record, because they were moving.



Note how the trees look wispy.

That's because the branches were moving during the exposure.


Go to traces by Nicholas Jenkins.

Eadweard Muybridge

In 1879, Eadweard Muybridge wanted to photograph the gait of horses.


He created a faster shutter and film with greater sensitivity (higher ISO).

Muybridge determined that horse do have all four legs up in the air at the same time.

However, the legs are folded inward.

They're not flung out, front and rear, as seen in many paintings before Muybridge's research.




Empty LA

Matt Logue photographed Los Angles without cars and people by using long exposures.


Lucie & Simon

Lucie and Simon also used long exposures to eliminate people.

There's usually one person, though.


Chris Kotsiopoulos

Chris Kotsiopoulos photographed over twenty-four hours to capture an entire day.

While the photograph below is made from many photographs, we'll still consider it a long exposure.


Michael Wesely

Michael Wesely uses exposures that last for years.

He did a series on tulips, with more normal long-exposure times.


Tulpen, 20. - 26.1.2009

He photographed the renovation of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City using an eighteen-month exposure.


9.8.2001 - 2.5.2003 The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Matthew Pillsbury

Matthew Pillsbury photographed people in their homes using the light from televisions and monitors.


Matthew Pillsbury, Alias, 9-10pm (2003)

He has photographed other interiors as well.


Matthew Pillsbury, La Joconde, Salle des Etats, Le Louvre (2008)

Hiroshi Sugimoto

Hiroshi Sugimoto photographed in empty theaters as a film ran.

The length of the exposure was the length of the film.


Hiroshi Sugimoto, Radio City Music Hall (1978)

William Lesch

William Lesch paints with light.


William Lesch

Go to Painting with Light.

Susanne Friedrich

Susanne Friedrich has done night photography with a Holga, a simple camera.


Susanne Friedrich, Dreamboat, 2006

More about Long Exposures

Bulb Shutter Speed

Christmas (Holiday) Lights


Moon Photography

Night Photography

Painting with Light

Stars & Star Trails

Waving Black Card Technique



The tutorial below uses an inexpensive welding helmet filter that costs about $5.

That's a great way to get started.

If you decide to pursue long-exposure photography, consider purchasing a very dark neutral density filter or a variable neutral density filter.

Do diligent research, as less expensive filters may:

• Be less sharp.

• Have a color caste.

Go to Use Welding Glass As 10 Stops ND Filter by Aaron Czeszynski.