Are you looking for a way to create long, very long shutter speeds to create light trails or shoot the northern lights? Bulb mode, or long exposure photography, is commonly used for shooting these night time photographs. Although your phone’s shutter speed is different from your DSLR camera, you can still recreate long exposures to create stunning light trail images.
You can use bulb mode on your smartphone camera by choosing the manual mode, pro mode, or light painting mode. Depending on the manufacturer, you can choose the shutter speed’s length to use bulb mode.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to bring use a tripod and remote shutter to prevent camera shake.
➤ This post may contain affiliate links, purchases made through affiliate links may provide a commission for smartphone photography at no extra cost. Of course, all opinions remain our own.
Gear used for this post
- Samsung Galaxy S20 FE ➽ available from Amazon
- Huawei Honor 10 no longer available
- Joby Gorillapod 3K ➽ available from Joby Store and Amazon
- Mactrem professional tripod with smartphone mount ➽ available from Amazon
- Remote shutter ➽ available from Amazon for just a few bucks
- Microfiber cloth ➽ 6-pack available from Amazon for under $10 (3-pack under $6)
If your smartphone’s make and model does not allow bulb mode, you can download a third-party app that will allow for longer shutter speeds. Normally, your native camera app will allow a shutter speed of a maximum of 30 seconds. You will need a tripod when creating long exposure images with bulb mode.
How can I access Bulb Mode on my Camera phone?
Every smartphone model has a different native camera app; here are a few common ways to access bulb mode.
- Open the native camera app on your phone;
- Look for manual mode, pro mode, or professional mode;
- Find the bulb mode; it might also be called long exposure, light painting, light graffiti, or something that resembles a long shutter speed;
- Or find the shutter speed settings (S) and see how long you can open the digital shutter. In many cases, there is a maximum of 30 seconds. You can set the shutter speed as long as you would like it to be anywhere from 1/4000 (or even shorter) to 30 seconds.
In our case, we choose the light painting mode. When we release the shutter, it starts ‘recording’ until we press the shutter button again to stop.
Which third-party app should I use for Bulb Mode?
There are many manual mode camera apps for iOS and Android phones on the market, but not all are suitable for bulb mode. Here are a few that can adjust the shutter speed for long exposure photography. Try the native camera app on your smartphone first. It might have better options and features than any of the apps mentioned below.
Android apps for Bulb mode
The Manual Camera app can turn your smartphone camera into a DSLR-like device. You can fully control shutter speed, ISO, exposure, manual focus, and many other features.
iOS apps for Bulb mode
The Moment Pro Camera app is only available for iPhone users (unfortunately). The app gives you full manual control over your smartphone camera. It is even possible to choose bulb mode by sliding the number sequence to the right until you see the button ‘Bulb’ appear. You can decide how long you want the shutter to be open. Try the light trails mode as well.
You can choose any shutter speed with the Slow Shutter Cam for iPhone. Therefore, it is a good option when you want to use bulb mode to create stunning images. You can even see the real-time results of your image while the shutter is open.
It is impossible to use bulb mode with this application, but you can choose a shutter speed somewhere between 1 and 60 seconds. Pretty decent for long exposure photography with your phone.
What is Bulb Mode?
Bulb Mode is the option to choose the length of the shutter speed by holding the shutter open as long as you want to. Depending on the native camera on your smartphone, this can take somewhere between seconds and minutes.
Bulb Mode is mainly used for low-light and night photographs with longer exposures. The biggest advantage of Bulb Mode is that you can achieve shutter speeds longer than the average 30 seconds allowed on most smartphone cameras.
When can I use Bulb Mode?
You mainly use Bulb Mode in low-light situations like night photography. It can be helpful by taking images of moving cars, shooting stars, and the northern lights.
To get tack sharp results, you will need to use a tripod and a remote shutter that allows for bulb mode. Depending on the camera app you are using, you can remotely release the shutter and press it again to stop.
Creative ideas to use bulb mode
You have found different ways to use bulb mode and long exposure photography; you might want some ideas to get you started.
- Create light trails with traffic at night
- Shoot star trails
- Capture the northern lights
- Paint with light (with a flashlight or something similar)
- Create fireworks art
- Capture lightning
- Or turning carrousel by night
Don’t forget to adjust the ISO value accordingly to the scene you want to capture and the conditions you are in. With low-light photography, you will need to boost the ISO value. Don’t overdo it; find the sweet spot of your smartphone camera and prevent too much noise.
You can read more about using manual mode in this article.
Which gear do you need for longer exposure photography?
One thing that is critically important when taking long-exposure images while using bulb mode use a tripod! We talk about using tripods a lot, but it is necessary to have one while using longer shutter speeds. Your smartphone camera will be less subject to camera shake, which greatly enhances your photos’ sharpness.
Luckily a tripod does not have to be expensive or big; they are actually quite handy and lightweight these days. We use different kinds of tripods, but our favorite one is the Gorillapod. It is of excellent quality combined with versatility; this tripod is an absolute winner. We have been using it for many years for our smartphones as well as our DSRL cameras. It is still as sturdy as it was when we bought it 6 years ago. They are actually very reasonably priced on Amazon.
You can find all our favorite and affordable tripods in our recommended gear list.
Another convenient device is a wireless remote shutter. You can release the shutter from a distance without touching your phone. No more camera shake for you! Wireless shutters cost just a few bucks but can greatly improve your images. The one I use pairs easily with Android and iOS is small and lightweight.