Long Exposure and Motion Blur Photo Ideas and Tips

Take a look at the following long exposure and motion blur photo ideas and tips to use when capturing your own images. Use these tips in addition to basic photography techniques to take your own pictures that showcase the long exposure or motion blur technique.

Long Exposure photography is a technique that uses a slow shutter speed to capture motion and blurring or softening any part of the image where there’s motion. It’s also used when taking pictures at night.

motion blur photo ideas and tips

Long exposure and motion blur photography can create visually striking and creative images. Here are some ideas and tips for capturing motion blur effects.

The key is plenty of experimentation to master shutter speeds, camera movement, and lighting conditions for your desired motion effects. Don’t be afraid to try different creative techniques to make motion blur a part of your unique photography style.

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Camera Gear for Landscape Photography

  • Tripod: take a look at these compact and lightweight travel tripods!
  • Camera Bag: protect your camera from sand and water → We use Lowepro camera backpacks for outdoor photography.
  • Neutral density filter: to compensate for variance of light you’ll need to use a neutral density filter. → Check out the Kase magnetic filters we use!
  • Camera cleaning kit: remove dust or water that WILL get on your lens. NOTE: this is not for cleaning the sensor.  
  • Memory cards: purchase name brand memory cards since you’re trusting your images to the card! → We use Lexar and Sandisk!
  • External hard drive: copy photos to a portable external hard drive ‘just in case’. 
  • Headlamp: use when taking sunrise and sunset photos!

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What is Long Exposure Photography?

Long Exposure photography refers to the practice of leaving the camera shutter open for a longer amount of time. Everything that happens in the scene within that specified exposure time is captured in the image. This technique enables a photographer to create unique images expressing movement, mood and ethereal quality.

It is also a great technique for capturing Motion Blur involving the subjects of a composition. This involves leaving the shutter open for a longer amount of time while elements of the composition are moving, which causes blur along the path of travel. Movement or action in a scene may be emphasized in this way. 

Long Exposure and Motion Blur Photo Ideas and Tips

Take a look at these tips for capturing long exposure and motion blur in photographs shared by our photography friends.

Daytime

Accomplishing long exposure photography during the daytime may require the use of filters to facilitate opening the shutter longer. You may also take advantage of cloudy days that provide softer, diffused light to accomplish longer exposures. 

Long exposure photography waves at sunset
Sunset long exposure photo by Dana Jones

Dana Jones shows us a wonderful example of long exposure photography during daylight hours with her beautiful sunset capture. Note the emphasis on the movement of the waves accomplished with a longer exposure time.

Long exposure during the daytime allows us to utilize the wonderful lighting conditions we often experience during such hours, and accomplish the mood and action-enhancing aspects of longer shutter speeds. 

long exposure photo blurred water and clouds
Daytime long exposure photo by Roy Goldsberry

Roy Goldsberry’s landscape scene really illustrates how powerful a long exposure photograph can be by blurring the movement of the clouds and water.

He’s also composed the scene with terrific foreground, midground and background elements!

Nighttime

Nighttime is when long exposure techniques really shine. Leaving the shutter open longer allows more light into the camera and compensates for the lack of light in the environment. 

long exposure at night - old building and cemetery
Night long exposure photo by James Griffin

James Griffin’s photo showcases unique lighting effects and motion blur at night. The long exposure technique also creates an interesting mood that enhances this night scene.

Richey Oliver uses long exposure to blur the water movement in the foreground of this photo.

long exposure photo idea with water and clouds
Night motion blur photo by Rickey Oliver

The dark tones of the water and cloudy sky are a sharp contrast to the dimming light as the sun goes down. Using motion blur in this scene produced a mood that creates interest for the viewer.

Light Trails

The blurred motion technique may be used to accomplish very cool effects in a photographic composition. Lighted objects moving through the scene during longer exposure times will leave a trail of light behind them. 

long exposure light trails at night in the city
Light trails photo by Denise Thomason

Capturing these light trails adds a unique quality and interest to a photograph as brilliantly illustrated by Denise Thomason in this amazing image of a city scene at night.

Tony Kendrick has captured the contrast of beautiful light trails of fireworks against the dark sky at night.

blurred motion fireworks
Fireworks motion blur photo by Tony Kendrick

By filling the frame with the exploding movement of the light, it draws the viewer into the action and creates more impact!

Night Sky and Milky Way

Long exposure times are a primary component of quality nightscape photographs, including Milky Way photography.

long exposure light trails and the milky way at night
Milky way and light trails photo by Richey Oliver

This incredible photograph by Richey Oliver illustrates the beauty of a great night sky capture. It is further enhanced by the skillful capture of light trails in the foreground.

Roy Goldsberry shares another magnificent example of long exposure used in capturing the Milky Way behind an interesting subject! It takes research and planning to find milky way locations with interesting subjects.

milky way photography
Milky way photo by Roy Goldsberry

Using external lighting and foreground composition has produced a stunning and memorable image.

Moving Water

The moving impact of water in photography is well exhibited in this gorgeous capture by Daphne Brislin

long exposure waterfall photo
Long exposure waterfall photo by Daphne Brislin

Using long exposure to photograph scenes containing moving water results in a silky white expression of blurred movement. The long exposure technique is good when photographing waterfalls and rivers.

This stunning photograph by Shelley Pike really captures the beauty and mesmerizing nature of a cascading water scene. 

motion blur of water in a river
Motion blur water photo by Shelley Pike

When photographing water, using the motion blur technique creates interest. Shelley adds to the impact of this photo by capturing a part of the whole scene to bring the viewer closer to the action.

Abstract

 Long exposure and motion blur are great techniques for producing stunning abstract images

abstract photo using motion blur
Abstract motion blur photo by Jeff Hall

Jeff Hall’s intriguing capture of white aspen trees is a great example of abstract expression using movement in photography. 

abstract motion blur effect of fireworks
Fireworks motion blur photo by Jeff Hall

He also uses this motion blur technique to create an abstract quality when photographing fireworks.

Action

William Davis uses long exposure/motion blur to focus on action and movement in this really cool image. 

blurred motion of a train going by
Moving train motion blur photo by William Davis

The blurred movement of the train is created by using a longer open shutter time to really define the energy of his photograph.

There’s added impact for the viewer who can see the layers of the scene in front of and behind the train going by!

Drama

Long Exposure may create a strong sense of drama in a photograph as seen in this photo by Richey Oliver.

long exposure effects photographing fireworks
Fireworks long exposure photo by Rickey Oliver

The blurred motion of the lights and smoke combined with skillful use of basic composition techniques provides a dramatic scene for the viewer.

Key Concepts for Motion Blur and Long Exposure Photography

Achieving compelling motion blur images requires dedicated practice and an openness to explore various approaches. The core elements to experiment with are:

Shutter Speed Control

Precisely dialing in the right shutter speed is crucial for freezing or blurring motion to the desired degree. This takes hands-on experience with different subject movements.

Camera Technique

From panning to zooming the lens during exposure, the way you move and operate the camera can dramatically impact the motion blur effect. Developing a repertoire of techniques is important.

Light Management

Adjusting aperture, ISO and using filters allows you to control the amount of light hitting the sensor. This enables the long exposures needed for extreme blurring in different lighting scenarios.

The path to compelling motion blur imagery lies in embracing experimentation. Don’t be afraid to try new creative approaches and develop a unique style by mastering the variables that influence the capture of subject movement.

AMAZON Landscape Photography Books:

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15 long exposure and motion blur photo ideas and tips

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