Long Exposure Portrait Photography

Portrait photography and long exposure photography are two topics that are not usually discussed together. But Tony & Chelsea Northrup present some creative long exposure portrait photography ideas that can be done easily indoors without a studio:

The motive of this tutorial is to allow you to think outside the box and take some creative portraits. Here are some tips.

Use manual mode or shutter priority (S or Tv) mode

Since we are aiming for long exposure, you will need to slow down the shutter speed and select the aperture and ISO in a way the subject will be properly exposed. If you are in shutter priority mode, use the exposure compensation (+/-) setting to have the subject well exposed. Also, using the ISO at the lowest setting is recommended; it enables you to further cut down on light and expose for a longer time without blowing out the subject.

Use a timer

Since long exposure photographs are prone to camera shake, enable the timer in your camera so that the photo isn’t blurred by the camera shake caused when you press the shutter button.

Get in the shot and get creative

After the shutter is triggered, get in the frame behind your subject and get creative with your hands. Move your hands around and make gestures to make the photo look more interesting.

long exposure portrait photo

Use black backgrounds and wear black clothes

Using a black background will make the subject stand out more. It doesn’t need to be wrinkle free and perfect, as the blacks can be crushed in post to hide the flaws. Also, the person who will be making the hand gestures can wear black clothes so that they can easily disappear into the photo.

Avoid bright lighting

Since the shutter will be open for a longer duration, it is not a good idea to use bright lights, which will overexpose the subject.

Use proper movements of the hands

While a quick movement of the hands will create a blur, quick but small movement followed by stops will create a crisper image. There are no rules on how the hand gestures should be. Be sure to experiment with slow and fast movements and see what works best for you.

Keep the subject as still as possible

Any motion of the main subject will cause the image to look blurry and unattractive. Therefore, the subject should stay as still as possible. This is again not absolutely necessary as later below, Chelsea shows a good example of how the subject’s movement can make the image look more interesting.  Also, be sure that the person performing the hand gestures doesn’t move the subject either.

Don’t seek perfection

One interesting aspect of this project is that you need not be perfect in nailing focus and getting sharp results. Even slight movement by the subject can be used creatively, as demonstrated by Chelsea in the video.

long exposure portrait photo

The image looks surreal even with the subject moving.

And that’s about it. It’s that simple. Feel free to experiment with shutter speed, expressions, and hand gestures and see what kind of photographs you end up getting.

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One response to “Long Exposure Portrait Photography”

  1. Nella says:

    Thank you for the idea. It’s an other way to practice the long exposure and have fun with my camera.

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