Tips & Tutorials

The Long and Short of Exposure

Every photograph is a moment of light in time captured, forever preserved. While taking a photo is often as simple as picking up your camera and pressing the shutter, capturing a beautiful shot involves understanding how exposure works. So get ready to learn about the top 5 occasions to use long or short exposure for your photos, and how to achieve the intended effects!

Still by Mariana Bisti/ EOS 5D/ EF28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM

But first, let’s get the basics right. Getting that perfectly exposed photo is a science that often involves lots of complicated jargon – so to begin with, what exactly is exposure?
An ideal photograph skillfully manipulates exposure such that there are no accidentally overexposed areas (where the image is blown out and details are lost), nor underexposed ones (where the darkest bits fade into a pool of black).
Excited to start experimenting with different types of exposure tricks? Let’s see what the Canon EF135mm f/2L USM can do!

Long Exposure Shot #1: Motion

Kinetic by John/ EOS 5D Mark II/ EF135mm f/2L USM/ f/2.5, 1/10sec/ ISO 200

Most of the time, motion is frozen using fast shutter speeds and sufficient light – this technique is common to sports, and nature photography. But what about dramatising motion? This is where long exposure comes in: the photo above uses a combination of wide aperture and slow shutter speed, allowing more light in and capturing motion when it is most dramatic. The ethereal motion blur emphasises the dancer’s movement.

Long Exposure Shot #2: Waterscapes

Swirling Sea by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ EOS 5D Mark III/ EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM/ f/22, 8secs/ ISO 100

Another great opportunity to use long exposure is when photographing waterscapes. In order to depict the dynamic, swirling waves, the photographer decided to keep the shutter open for eight seconds leading to a beautiful long-exposure shot.

Long Exposure Shot #3: Light Trails

Evening Road by Carle Drogue/ EOS 5D/ EF135mm f/2L USM/ f/16, 8mins/ ISO 100

And now of course, everyone’s favourite long exposure technique – light trails! With a camera set to long exposure, tiny aperture, and mounted on a tripod, you will be able to achieve this breathtaking effect. As with the previous two techniques, your secret weapon, the trusty tripod, will ensure that motion blur happens only where you want it to.

Short Exposure Shot #1: Animals


Måke (Seagull) by Bjarne Stokke/ EOS 500D/ EF135mm f/2L USM/ f/2.8, 1/1000sec/ ISO 100

Animals are constantly afoot, so short exposure is necessary to capture them without unnecessary blur. Here, the photographer uses a fast shutter speed to freeze the seagull in the frame. At the same time, the wide aperture results in a shallow depth-of-field, which softens the background into a creamy bokeh-like effect.

Short Exposure Shot #2: Motion

EDance by John/ EOS 5D Mark II/ EF135mm f/2L USM/ f/2.8, 1/500sec/ ISO 2500

Short exposure can also be used to show tension in motion. In order to freeze the dancers’ movement mid-flight on a dimly-lit stage, the photographer chose to crank up the ISO as high as possible, so as to be able to accommodate a quick shutter speed.


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