Capturing iPhone Long Exposure Photos

by Jan 15, 2024Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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Capturing iPhone Long Exposure Photos

Did you know that there is an easy way to capture an iPhone long exposure photo? You don’t need any special software, only the software you will find on your iPhone by default. Best of all, you can capture these long-exposure photos handheld, so you don’t need to put your iPhone on a tripod.

In this article, I’ll explain everything you need to know to capture a long exposure with your iPhone.

The High Efficiency Setting

The first step to allow you to capture a long exposure is to check your iPhone camera settings. The Camera app on the iPhone needs to capture images using the High Efficiency setting for this to work. Capturing photos in the regular JPEG format won’t produce Long Exposures.

Some photographers don’t like the High Efficiency format, saying that the JPEG setting produces better quality because it uses less compression. This may be true, but I haven’t personally noticed much difference, and I’ve made some huge enlargements from iPhone photos.

To check the format setting for your iPhone, open Settings and find the Camera settings. You can see the options on my phone in the screenshot on the left below.

Changing the iPhone settings to be able to capture long exposure images

In the Camera settings, click the Formats option. You will then see the options for recording photos and videos using the iPhone Camera app. As you can see from the screenshot on the right above, I have mine set to High Efficiency.

Using the High Efficiency format then allows you to turn on the iPhone Live Mode in the Camera app. Let’s look at that next.

iPhone Live Mode For Long Exposure Photos

The iPhone Live Mode is a great feature, allowing the camera on your phone to capture images before and after you click the shutter. If your iPhone has this turned on, you may have noticed images seem to move when you first open them in the Photo app. Although this may seem like a gimmick, it can be extremely useful when editing.

When you open the Camera app on your iPhone, you will see the Live option in the top right of the interface. You can see this indicated (1) in the following screenshot.

Turning the iPhone Live Mode off and on

When this symbol is displayed in amber, as here, the Live mode is active on the iPhone.

Another way to activate the Live mode is to click the small icon (2) to the centre top of the interface. This reveals several icons along the bottom of the interface. The second icon from the left (3) is the Live mode. Tapping this icon also toggles Live Mode on and off.

Now when you capture a photo using the iPhone Camera App, it’s captured using Live mode. It’s then possible to take advantage of a couple of impressive editing features in the Apple Photo app. This is where we can turn our image into a long exposure photo.

Editing in the Apple Photo App

 To produce a long exposure from your iPhone Live Photo, open it using the Apple Photos app. You can do this on the iPhone, iPad, or even Mac desktop Photo application.

Here you can see a screenshot showing the Photo app on my desktop Mac.

Opening an image for editing in the Mac Photo App

On the left, I’ve selected the filter to show only the photos taken using the Live mode. I then opened the one that I wanted to edit and clicked the Edit option at the top right of the interface. This opens the editing interface, as shown below.

Editing the iPhone photo using the Photo App on a Mac to produce a Long Exposure

When the photo opens for editing, you can see that it’s set to “Live” in the bottom right of the interface. Then, along the bottom of the interface, we have a strip of images. These are images the camera took before and after the photo was captured.

Selecting an Alternate Photo

The actual photo is the frame indicated by the dot and a white square. By clicking and dragging the white frame marker, you can select one of the other photos in the sequence if you think it’s better. This is another nice feature of using the Live Mode.

Creating the Long Exposure

To create the photo’s long exposure version, click the dropdown displaying the word live. This displays a list of options where you can select “Long Exposure”.

Selecting the long exposure option in the Photo app

After selecting to produce a Long Exposure image, the software will merge the various photos in the sequence, using them to blur the movement. You can see the result below, compared to the original photo taken with the iPhone.

Comparing the original iPhone photo with the long exposure

Notice the movement in the waterfall is frozen in the left image but blurred in the right one.

The only problem with this image is that it was heavily cropped by the software when the images in the sequence were merged. This is because I didn’t hold the iPhone steady for long enough while taking the photo. If you take more care than I did or if you use a tripod, you should be able to capture excellent long exposures.

Long Exposure iPhone Option

While the editing above was done using a desktop iMac, you can do the same using the iPhone Photo app.

Start by selecting and opening the image you want to use in the Photo app. You can see this in the left screenshot below.

Selecting the long exposure option on the iPhone in the Photo App

You can then click the Live option at the top left of the interface. This displays a list of further options where you can select Long Exposure. The image is then processed to produce a long exposure version where moving objects like the waterfall are blurred.

This isn’t, however, the only way to capture a long exposure on an iPhone. I also like to use a special Slow Shutter speed app on my iPhone, which has also allowed me to capture some great long exposure photos with my iPhone mounted on a tripod.

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