Pocket Shutterbug

Using Live Photo to Create a Long Exposure Photo


Updated on: 02 February, 2021
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Image by Alexander Fradellafra from Pixabay (Source: Pixabay)

By taking a long exposure photo you can create a dramatic and creative look. Converting a Live Photo to long exposure is a quick and simply process.

The ability to capture a long exposure image was first introduced in iOS 11 back in September 2017. There was little fanfare with its introduction and it is not widely discussed or documented; however, it can be used to take some exceptional and creative photos.

Info Callout What is long exposure? A long exposure photo is one where the shutter speed (the time taken to capture the photo) is significantly longer than normal, causing any motion within the image to appear blurred. A typical shutter speed maybe 1 100th of a second, where a long exposure may be several seconds in duration. Long exposures are typically used to capture images of moving water, clouds or car lights, but can also be used for more creative and artistic images.

Example Long Exposure Photo

Example Long Exposure Photo (Source: Image by sabri ismail from Pixabay)

DSLR and Mirrorless cameras require the use of additional filters on the lens to capture long exposure photos. I use Neutral Density (ND) filters on my Fujifilm X-T2 to capture long exposure photos. These filters reduce the amount of light entering the camera, thereby increasing the time needed (shutter speed) to capture the photo. You are intentionally darkening the image to trick the camera into using a significantly longer shutter speed. Whilst you can buy third-party lens and filters for an iPhone, they are cumbersome and fiddly for everyday shooting. Being able to convert an image to a long exposure after the photo is taken is a quick and simple way of introducing the long exposure style into your photography.

The Subject is Important

Not all photos can be captured and converted to long exposure. They usually require a combination of movement (the area to be blurred) and stationary subjects. As in the first image above, photos containing moving water are a classic subject for long exposure, with the effect of making the water smooth and somewhat ethereal, with the surrounding area, such as a beach, land or rocks remaining in sharp focus. However, you can use any subjects that combine movement with stationary objects, such as with the moving traffic in the photo above.

Example Long Exposure Photo

Example Long Exposure Photo (Source: Image by Michael Kauer from Pixabay)

Long Exposure with an iPhone

To be able to capture a long exposure photo on the iPhone we will be using Live Photo, first introduced with the iPhone 6S in iOS 10 and further enhanced in iOS 11 to support converting them to long exposure photos.

Info Callout - Live Photo - Live Photo is a specific type of photo on the iPhone that also captures a second or 2 of video either side of the photo. When viewed in Apple Photos it is like watching a short video and is great for capturing moving subjects so that you get a sense of movement with the photo.

Stabilising the iPhone

It is important to keep the camera still when taking a Live Photo (as it is essentially capturing a short video), and it is recommended that you support the iPhone using a tripod if you can. Alternatively, holding the iPhone very still or bracing yourself against a wall or solid surface can also help reduce any movement.

Warning Callout - Camera Shake - To avoid camera shake, as well as using a tripod you can also use the self-timer to ensure that any movement when you press the shutter button does not cause the photo to be blurred. The iPhone will detect camera shake and crop the resulting Live Photo as image stabilisation is enabled when taking a Live Photo.

Taking a Live Photo

Once you have decided on the subject to take, position the camera to minimise any movement. You can optionally mount the iPhone on a tripod to reduce most, if not all movement.

Open the Camera app and if not already enabled, turn on Live Photo. Live Photo is represented by the icon in the top right corner featuring a number of circles. If a line is through the icon, then it is disabled.

Live Photo Disabled

Live Photo Disabled (Source: Pocket Shutterbug)

Live Photo Enabled

Live Photo Enabled (Source: Pocket Shutterbug)

You can optionally use the self-timer to introduce a delay before the photo is taken, reducing the chance that the camera moves when it is mounted on a tripod or being held very still. To access the self-timer, you first open up the photo options.

Opening up the Photo Options

Opening up the Photo Options (Source: Pocket Shutterbug)

The photo options are shown below the photo. To the far right is the self-timer options.

Photo Options

Photo Options (Source: Pocket Shutterbug)

Clicking on the self-timer icon will show the available options, the default Off or a 3 or 10-second timer.

self-timer Options

self-timer Options (Source: Pocket Shutterbug)

After choosing either a 3 or 10-second timer, the screen changes to indicate the self-timer is being used.

self-timer is Enabled

self-timer is Enabled (Source: Pocket Shutterbug)

The self-timer has Been Set

The self-timer has Been Set (Source: Pocket Shutterbug)

Tap the shutter button to take the photo. If using the self-timer a countdown will appear on the bottom right of the screen before the photo is taken and the camera flash with illuminate for each second of the countdown.

Converting to Long Exposure

Once taken, the Live Photo will need to be converted to a long exposure photo. This is achieved in the Photos app.

Open the Photos app and find the photo taken. You can also view all Live Photos taken by opening the Album tab and clicking on the Live Photos Media Type.

Live Photos Media Type Album

Live Photos Media Type Album (Source: Source Name)

Here I have selected a photo of some crashing waves at Kiama, south of Sydney, Australia. Note the LIVE icon at the top of the photo to indicate it is a Live Photo.

Kiama Crashing Waves Live Photo

Kiama Crashing Waves Live Photo (Source: Pocket Shutterbug)

Swipe up to reveal all of the Live Photo Effects.

Live Photo Effects

Live Photo Effects (Source: Pocket Shutterbug)

Scroll to the right to select the Long Exposure effect.

Long Exposure Live Photo Effect

Long Exposure Live Photo Effect (Source: Pocket Shutterbug)

Selecting this effect will convert the image to a long exposure image. It might take a second or 2 to convert the image. Note the icon at the top of the image now displayed LONG EXPOSURE, replacing the word LIVE. The Live Photo icon is still displayed.

Live Photo Converted to Long Exposure

Live Photo Converted to Long Exposure (Source: Pocket Shutterbug)

You can edit a Live Photo as you would a video, allowing you to crop the video. You can also edit like a photo by applying a filter or applying adjustments.

There are limitations, however. There is a limit of 3 seconds to a Live Photo, so it is not really ideal in all situations, as the movement within the photo will need to be fast enough to achieve a blurred image in only 3 seconds. If you need to take images longer than 3 seconds, you can achieve better results using a slow shutter app such as Slow Shutter Cam.


I have included a couple of before and after shots that I have recently taken to show what types of effects are possible.

Example 1

This photo was taken with my iPhone 12 Pro Max at Berrara on the NSW South Coast in Australia. I cropped the photo to square and use the adjustments in the Photos app to convert it to Black & White before converting to long exposure. I really enjoy the smoothness of the water in this photo, giving it a more smooth and peaceful look, bring your attention more to the texture of the rocks.

Original Berrara Photo

Original Berrara Photo (Source: Pocket Shutterbug)

Photo Converted to Long Exposure

Berrara Photo Converted to Long Exposure (Source: Pocket Shutterbug)

Example 2

This photo was taken with my iPhone 12 Pro Max at Vincentia on the NSW South Coast in Australia. The photo has had no edits and was simply converted to long exposure. I left this photo as colour as I love the green colours on the rocks. The smoothness of the water brings your attention more to the rocks rather than draw your focus to the crashing waves.

Original VincentiaPhoto

Original Vincentia Photo (Source: Pocket Shutterbug)

Photo Converted to Long Exposure

Vincentia Photo Converted to Long Exposure (Source: Pocket Shutterbug)

Wrap up

As you can see, converting a Live Photo to a long exposure can produce a very different photo.

The next time you are out and about with your iPhone, look around for opportunities to take a photo that can be converted to a long exposure photo.

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