How to create a long exposure in iOS 11 (Upd. Apr. ‘18)

Apple has enhanced Live Photos in iOS 11. Introduced with iOS 10, Live Photos capture 1.5 seconds before and after you press the shutter release. This essentially creates a 3 seconds long “mini clip” that you can view in iOS by long tapping a photo in the camera roll.

If you’re using iCloud Photos, you can also view Live Photos on Apple TV. Locate it in the Apple TV photos app, tap the remote to view it full screen and press and hold the the swipe panel of the Apple TV to play the Live Photo.

In iOS 11 Apple added two great editing features to enhance your Live Photos.

  • You can trim your Live Photos at the beginning and the end of the 3 second clip
  • You can apply one of three effects to your Live Photo which are loop, bounce and long exposure

In this post I’ll only write about long exposures.

Three things to know about long exposures in iOS 11

First, taking long exposures is not a new shooting mode that you can enable by swiping the mode selector in the iOS camera app. You create a long exposure from a Live Photo using a new editing feature.

Second, be sure to enable Live Photo mode to take a long exposure with iOS 11. Taking Live Photos is currently limited to the built in camera app. To see if Live Photo mode is enabled or not, check the middle icon in the toolbar at the top of the screen in your iOS camera app:

  • If the icon (three circles) is yellow, then live photo mode is enabled
  • If the icon is white and crossed through, then Live Photo mode is disabled
  • Tap the icon to toggle Live Photo mode on and off. A short message saying “live” (if turned on) or “live off” (if turned off) will be displayed.
 If the middle icon (circle) is white with a line running through, live photos are disabled.

If the middle icon (circle) is white with a line running through, live photos are disabled.

 A yellow middle icon indicates that love photos are enabled. If you enable it, the word "live" will briefly be displayed.

A yellow middle icon indicates that love photos are enabled. If you enable it, the word "live" will briefly be displayed.

Third, your iPhone surly is a smart phone (and camera), but it can’t (yet?) do much about camera shake. So if you plan to take a long exposure, either hold your camera absolutely steady for three seconds (congrats, if you can do that), use a gimbal like the DJI Osmo that can balance a shaky hand to some extent or best, use a tripod.

Update: While taking Live Photos last weekend in iOS 11.3, I noticed that it seems that iOS 11 does now apply some stabilization to Live Photos after you’ve taken them. I have yet to find a confirmation for this.

How to create a long exposure with iOS 11

The process of taking a long exposure is pretty straight forward and simple:

  1. Make sure “Live Photo” is enabled in the iOS camera app. The icon should be yellow. If it’s not, tap it to enable Live Photo mode.
  2. Put your iPhone on a tripod or hold your hand steady for three seconds (I strongly propose the first option).
  3. Press the shutter release button.

Now you should have a new live photo in your camera roll. In iOS 11, live photos have a small Icon saying “live” in the upper left corner.

Now tap the newly shot Live Photo to view it full screen. iOS 11 may display a message right below your photo if iOS thinks it may look good as e.g. a long exposure. If you see such a message, tap it. If not, just swipe up. You'll see a section labeled as effects

 iOS 11 has detected that this live photo may look great as a long exposure. Tap the sign to create it.

iOS 11 has detected that this live photo may look great as a long exposure. Tap the sign to create it.

 If iOS 11 does not display a sign indicating that this photo may look great as a long exposure, just swipe up.

If iOS 11 does not display a sign indicating that this photo may look great as a long exposure, just swipe up.

Swipe left over the first two effects and you’ll get two more, namely bounce and long exposure. The last one is the one we’re looking for. Tap it and watch the photo you’ve just taken being transformed into a 3-second long exposure.

 Swipe left to get to the long exposure effect

Swipe left to get to the long exposure effect

 Tap the long exposure effect to create a long exposure from your live photo.

Tap the long exposure effect to create a long exposure from your live photo.

What you'll see in the camera roll is the newly created long exposure

 Newly created long exposure

Newly created long exposure

How to edit a long exposure in iOS 11

You can even edit the long exposure and adjust the intensity of the effect you’ve just created. After you’ve applied the long exposure effect, tap “edit” in the upper right corner of the screen. At the bottom of the screen you’ll see all the known editing tools for light, color and black and white. Right above is a filmstrip representing the whole three seconds of the Live Photo that’s used to create the long exposure.

 Edit the long exposure in iOS 11

Edit the long exposure in iOS 11

Now drag the handle either from the right or left. A yellow marker will appear. Dragging either (or both) sides you can change the exposure (from 3 seconds down to a millisecond) that is used to created the long exposure. So, Apple has given us the possibility to adjust the exposure of a long exposure after we’ve taken it. Isn’t that awesome? (Try that with a classic camera!)

Hit the yellow check mark in the lower right corner of the screen to make your adjustment permanent and remember you can always revert back to the original photo in your camera roll by going into editing mode and taping the red, curved, arrow in the bottom right corner.

My thought on long exposures in iOS 11

I love that Apple has made it so simple to create long exposures and I'll use that in some situations for sure. However, this mode won’t yet replace my favorite long exposure app Slow Shutter Cam (Read my review here), because:

  • There are scenes where a three seconds exposure simply is not enough, like slow moving clouds or a slow spinning ferris wheel. With Slow Shutter Cam App I can do long exposures up to a minute if I need to photograph a slow ferris wheel or cloud movement.
  • With Slow Shutter Cam app I can manually adjust ISO which is great for long exposures at night because that will reduce noise in the final photo. I’m not yet satisfied with the results of Live Photos at night.

However, the new long exposure effect in iOS 11 is a great way to get used to and experiment with long exposures and I hope Apple will further enhance it in upcoming releases. I’ll continue experiment with that feature and let you know about the results here on the blog and over at my facebook page, twitter or instagram.