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  • Writer's pictureDave Pidgeon

What to love about long exposure photography

We often gravitate to one form of image making or another.

It can be hard to understand why. And maybe we don't need to understand. Maybe we should just go with it.

So it is for me and long exposure photography.

A river flows under a bridge while clouds flow over top at sunset.
There's a lot to love about long exposure photography

We are a world in constant motion. Whether it's a waterfall or street traffic, wildflowers in the wind or a storm front slipping by overhead, so long as this globe spins and hurtles in a constant lefthand turn around the sun, motion is constant.

As photographers, we can freeze that motion. Or show it.

There's a craft to long exposure photography, a requirement to (ironically) slow down and plan the shot.

That's not to say the craft of long exposure photography is greater or more difficult than any other. But what's special about it is how long exposure photography requires intention.

That is what's so attractive about it.

Intention. Timing. A process. Mindfulness.

When you arrive at a beach and you want to showcase the motion of the water, you don't just whip out an iPhone and start hitting a button.

A black-and-white image of Boulder Beach in Acadia National Park
Low tide laps the stones of Boulder Beach in Acadia National Park, Me.

You see the scene, you consider framing, you set up your tripod, you screw a neutral density filter onto you calculate how long the shutter should be open, you test and retest and adjust until the image is as you want it to be.

That takes not only time. It takes being present.

Long exposure images also create an illusion to the eyes, so that even though it's a still photograph, our eyes and our minds immediately sense something is in motion.

And that's pretty cool, imho.

Evening scene of a taxi passing along the Brooklyn Bridge.
A taxi moves along the Brooklyn Bridge with Manhattan in the background.

As if something that is still (the image in print or on a screen) is alive.

The motion of a waterfall or cars on a highway draws us into the image, it causes us to question where what we're seeing is from and where it is going.

It's like a story in media res. We wonder about the preamble and the destination but cannot see either, just the beauty of the moment in between the two ends.

There they are - the reasons to fall in love with long exposure image making. It's about intention, about bringing a still image alive, about the curiosity of where something has been and where it is going.

Dave Pidgeon is a seasoned photographer and writer from Lancaster, Pa. You can reach him at

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