I'm sure that you have seen night photos with mesmerizing light effects which look more like surreal digital artworks than actual photographs made by cameras. Or maybe you have seen the images of ocean or waterfall which look silky and soft, or the images of long roads where cars are turned into long colored lines? These shots are called long exposure photographs and it's a rather easy technique which anybody can use provided they have necessary equipment which isn't that costly (can be as cheap as a smartphone with a good camera).
Both amateur photographers who love traveling and taking pictures and professionals working for National Geographic can use it. This technique is based on using a longer shutter speed to obscure, capture and blur moving elements. That's how water turns to silk, the light turns into red lines, moving trains turn to red ribbons, Ferris wheels turn into UFOs and waves of fog start to look like a huge grey desert. All these miracles are happening due to the long exposure photography.
There are tons of guides on the web on how to make such photos so I won't offer you another guide on how to make your travel shots look great. Instead, I want to show you the best examples of long exposure photography so that it inspires you to learn this technique and make new awe-inspiring shots during your next trip.
25 Real Life Captain America
Doesn't it look like Captain America's shield to you? The only difference that you can see right away is the size of the shield because this one looks much bigger.
Actually, it's just a beautiful interaction of light captured by Kyle Wicks by his GoPro camera.
And it's not the only photo of this kind that this amazing photographer has made. Make sure to look at this Instagram profile to see more long exposure shots like this (you'll need to scroll down a little bit).
No wonder that Kyle has won a GoPro Award for this photo. I would give two.
24 Boeing Meets Aurora Borealis
This stunning photo was taken in Australia. What looks more like a giant falling star is actually Boeing 747 landing at Launceston Airport in Evandale, Tasmania. The northern lights on the background only add up to the magical feeling of this rare shoot.
Considering the fact that this photo was taken in Australia it would be more appropriate to call it southern lights rather than northern lights.
Not many people know about southern lights, so if you're interested in seeing it, you can read more about this ethereal dance of colors here.
23 The Awe of Milky Way
Made by Dr. Christian Sasse, this spectacular shot can raise questions in regards to its authenticity. Although it looks like an incredible fractal geometry artwork created by the digital artist, it's a real shot and you can see the tutorial on how it was made of Christian's twitter page and even try to recreate it provided you have the necessary equipment.
Christian loves astronomy and eagle photography so you can see a lot of excellent photos dedicated to these topics if you follow him on Facebook.
22 Magical Ferris Wheel
You have surely tried a Ferris wheel ride at least once in a lifetime. But I bet you have never thought how would this rotating machine look like if it would be captured in a long exposure photo. Well, here it is! Looking like a giant kaleidoscope, a UFO or a painting, this photo is a perfect example of the miracles which long exposure photography is capable of.
Imagine how other attractions in the amusement parks would look like in this photo mode.
21 Tram to Eternity
Making this photo wasn't easy, because it was necessary to put 30,000 LED lights on this tram in Budapest, Hungary first. As you see can guess from the photo its winter.
In fact, it happened during the Christmas season when the city got dressed up in festive holiday decorations.
Trams also received their costumes, but what's more interesting is what photographers did with these costumes!
Krisztian Biriny saw an opportunity here and transformed decorated trams into ethereal vessels of light with help of long exposure photography. Great idea indeed, Krisztian.
20 Neon Light Waterfall
Even if you want it badly, there is no chance to see a midnight rainbow because rainbows are only possible during the day. However, we have something better for you - a neon light waterfall! This incredible shot was made by Sean Lenz and Kristoffer Abildgaard. One of them dropped high-powered Cyalume glow sticks in the waterfall, while the other was making long exposure photos varying from 30 seconds to 7 minutes. The sticks were then collected so there was no harm done to ecology.
You can see other mesmerizing photos of neon light waterfalls here.
19 Inside the Fire
Nacho Cosio from Spain is an excellent photographer and dedicated traveler and the photo which you see above is a great proof of his skills.
In order to create this stunning shot, he used a long-duration shutter speed to capture the elements of the photo which weren't moving, while obscuring, smearing and blurring the moving elements.
And judging from the heavy suit on the person in the photo there was a lot of hissing and blasting going on while taking the shot.
The result is worthy of admiration and praise.
18 Burning Wheels
We have already seen a rotating Ferris wheel captured in the mode of long exposure and I have also promised you to show other attractions from the amusement parks captured the same way. Well, here's what they look like!
These wheels of fire are one of the attractions rotating at a high speed, which you can find in amusement parks.
When they look like this, they can be easily compared to the wheels of a giant truck. Photographers can surely have a lot of fun with long exposure shots in amusements parks.
17 Welcome to Another Dimension
Remember Kyle Wicks and his huge Captain America's shield made out of light? He surely has more aces up his sleeve than just that photo.
This winter scene taken at Bruce Peninsula National Park takes the night long exposure photography to a whole new level, just like any other photo on the list. The game of light created by the skill of photographer makes it look like Dr. Strange himself have decided to visit Bruce Peninsula National Park to enjoy the icy landscape.
16 Secret Life of Lightning
It always surprised me how dedicated photographers and travelers manage to take shots like this. Such a tremendous amount of patience and skill is necessary to capture these rare moments of awe which are so fleeting and fragile.
No matter the difficulty, Darren Pearson has completed the task of capturing a lightning hitting a tree. Can you believe it?
Actually, this time you shouldn't because this photo was made with the light painting technique. But don't worry all other photos on the list are real and this one was included just for the sake of being very beautiful.
15 Strangers In The Night
It is we, the people, who formed this huge lightning snake. Long exposure photos of moving vehicles, trains and aircraft is one of the most popular sub-genre of this type of photography, because all you have to do is to find the right spot, set the right adjustments on your camera and just wait for the magic to happen.
With this photo, the spot is just perfect. Standing on the top of the mountain with a view of the spiraling road that goes down to the dark valley and is full of moving cars is a recipe for a brilliant long exposure shot.
14 Lines of Ether
What kind of sorcery is this? The sorcery of masterful long exposure photography is the only kind of magic that we're looking at in this list.
Actually, a combination of ancient ruins and this mind-boggling type of photography is an excellent idea because it allows making incredible shots, just like this one.
I believe we need more photos like this from famous places like Colosseum in Rome, ancient temples in Athens or the Tower of Pisa. They should definitely breathe a new life in the way these world famous attractions are photographed.
13 Secret Life of Fireworks
Fireworks are an excellent object for long exposure photography and you don't have to be a photography guru to understand it. As these charges move towards the sky to give us an entertaining burst of colors, they leave a trail which cameras can capture and that's exactly where long exposure photography can help us. The scene where skies are full of fireworks is a mesmerizing one, but take a look at how a single firework looks like.
That's what our eyes are not capable of capturing. Fortunately, the art of photography can capture it for us.
12 The River of Fog
This awe-inspiring photo was taken by the Italian photographer Lorenzo Montezemolo who traveled to Mt. Tamalpais in Marin County, California to make it.
He was waiting for hours and when the fog started to move he took this phenomenal long exposure photograph.
“I chose to use a long exposure in order to give the incoming fog a smooth, striated appearance as it slithered over the ridge below,” commented Montezemolo for This Is Collosal. “For the past year I’ve been crossing the Golden Gate Bridge several times a week to photograph the beautiful landscapes, seascapes and fog of Marin County, just north of San Francisco.”
11 Ghostly Sea
I don't know if you have noticed this or not but it's the third photograph on the list which was taken during the day. It's because night long-exposure photographs are much more popular than the day ones. The reason for this is that during the night you have much more opportunities to play with different sources of light than during the day. However, the daytime has its own advantages. For instance, you turn the sea into silk.
It's a great idea for travelers and photographers who love the seaside because of long-exposure photography of the seaside results in photos which look more like oil paintings.
10 The Face of Wi-Fi
This is when things get really weird. According to Cameralabs, designer Luis Hernan has created an interesting project which he called "Digital Ethereal" in order to capture the invisible Wi-Fi signals. Hernan used Kirlian Device Mobile Android app to visualize the power of Wi-Fi signal with help of colors. The long-exposure photos which Hernan was able to get with help of this app reminded him of colorful ghosts.
A spooky experiment, isn't it? Want a try it with your Android phone?
9 A Plane to Wonderland
Another impressive long-exposure shot taken with a GoPro camera. What makes it special is that it was taken high in the sky over San Diego by Duffy Fainer.
And if many of the photos on the list can be recreated by fellow travelers and photographers, then this one would be quite difficult to replicate because of the altitude on which it was taken.
The plane of Duffy Fainer's mesmerizing photograph looks like it's flying alongside the huge portal that's bound to take you to another dimension.
8 Crushing Beauty
I've called this photo 'Crushing Beauty' because it shows fire in the woods of California. Events like this are never associated with the word beauty, but I think that before reading that it's a huge forest fire, you, just like me, also thought that it is beautiful.
When something like this happens, people join their forces to help eliminate the disaster and help other people avoid it, but it is photographers who are able to show us the beautiful side of this deadly happening.
7 It's a Kind of Magic
You will be surprised to know that this impressive 'light painting' was made not by an expensive camera, but by a smartphone with a 13-megapixel main camera. For many travelers who love to make photos this kind of camera may be enough to satisfy their needs and save a considerable amount of money on an expensive DSLR.
It proves that you don't need to have an expensive gear to make light paintings like this and long-exposure photos which were already featured in the article. What you will certainly need is a skill.
6 The Red Ribbon
Of course, it's not a red ribbon, but long exposure photo makes it look just like one! We have already mentioned moving cars and aircraft so now it's about time to take a look at the train photo.
There are many other photos of fast-moving trains and vehicles like this, but the reason why I included this shot on the list is a landscape.
It's the combination of natural beauty and long-exposure photography which makes this photo so exceptional.
There's nothing that can be added to or removed from this picture. It's just perfect the way it is.
5 Festival of Lightning
Did you know that there's actually a place on Earth where you can see a view like this without long exposure photography? Catatumbo lightning is an atmospheric event in Venezuela when lightning hits which such frequency that you feel like you're on another planet.
With this photo, long exposure technique was used and several photos were combined into one in order to create such a staggering effect. The result is so impressive that you might think that it's Zeus himself decided to pay us a visit.
The impressive work of Dave Allen, which glitters with an instantly recognizable style, was featured in print media and television by National Geographic, The Discovery Channel, Backpacker Magazine, Disney and many more. Without any exaggeration, his portfolio is just a collection of shining diamonds. Dave's photo to which I want to draw your attention was taken on Edisto Island in the United States.
This lonely tree standing in the middle of nowhere looks dramatic and thoughtful and stands in perfect harmony with blue sky above and a sea of grey ether below.
3 Riding the Light
Another thing which looks impossible, but is, in fact, possible when you actually understand how it was created. This snowboarder isn't actually riding the light. He rides a backlit snowboard while being photographed by one of the world's most renown action photographers Dave Lehl. Looking at this photo I clearly understand that those who say that mankind is running out of creative ideas have simply lost touch with reality.
2 When Day and Night Meet
Since our childhood, we've heard stories that day can never meet the night and when we become grown-ups we start to realize that it's true. However, the advancements in technology made it possible to make day and night meet for once, at least in the photo.
The impressive series of landscapes where Japanese photographer Ken Kitano uses a long exposure to capture the movement of the sun from sunrise to sunset is completely unique.
It looks surreal and shines with creativity. With his works of art, Ken wants to remind us that we're only a tiny part of the vast universe.
1 The Tree of Life
I want to end this article with a symbolic picture by Vitor Schietti, talented Brazilian artist and photographer who traveled a lot and explored the beauty of many places. In his series “Impermanent Sculptures” he uses fireworks to create dancing patterns and images of illuminated trees. To create these images he sets up little fireworks near the trees during twilight and switches on his long exposure camera on. Sometimes he overlays several light paintings to obtain one photo and sometimes a single photograph is enough. Apart from layers and adjustments of brightness and contrast, the photos remain untouched.
I encourage you to start reading long exposure photo tutorials to bring unforgettable pictures from your next trip. It's not that difficult and the results are awe-inspiring.