Outdoor Long Exposure Photography Ideas

Exposure is a cool creative option to explore when wanting to take your photography to the next level. With outdoor long exposure photography, there are lots of different options and ideas to try. Whether you like landscape or something else, there is something for you!

Outdoor Long Exposure Photography


There are a few different options when it comes to light painting. Both involve using light to “paint” parts of the photograph. This can be done with colored light tubes. For example, a glow stick. Or it can be done with a flashlight.

Outdoor Long Exposure Photography

The 2 photos above are examples of outdoor long exposure photography with a light stick. In this case, we were in the middle of a street (look both ways kids) and the shutter speed was between 20-30 seconds. YES! 20-30 SECONDS! We’re talking long exposure. Then, when the shutter was open, the person behind holding the light stick moved with the light stick in front of them to make cool swirls and lines that blur together. As with all outdoor long exposure photography, keeping the light between the camera and the light holder is incredibly important. If the light is ever behind whoever is holding the light, the light holder will appear in the photos. If done correctly, the light holder will not appear in any part of the photograph.

The photo above is a different kind of light painting that uses a flashlight instead of a flashlight as opposed to a light tube or glow stick. With this option for outdoor long exposure photography, we were in the middle of a random field with lots of old potential abandoned cars. These are excellent subjects because those sick rides weren’t going anywhere soon. When trying to capture a still subject in outdoor long exposure photography, it is important that the subject is perfectly still. Perfectly. (Spoiler alert: We’ll talk about this more when we get to Astro.)

For this specific photo, I happened to merge a few different light paintings together. Although you don’t have to do this, keep in mind that you are in fact outdoors with outdoor long exposure photography. And the great outdoors couldn’t care less if you’re trying to get the perfect photo. In this case, I had a favorite part from each photo I took and I wanted to piece them all together. Each photo started by setting the scene. In this case, I moved the bike in front for a cooler shot although the truck by itself was pretty awesome. I hit the button, opened the shutter for 15-30 seconds, and then ran around like a madwoman “painting light” with a flashlight on the parts that I wanted to show up. Maybe I wanted the headlights to show up a little more so I would hold the flashlight there longer. Maybe I wanted to see this part of the truck but just barely. Quick swoop, a swipe of the flashlight. If my scene is the canvas, then my flashlight is the paintbrush.


Astrophotography is perhaps the coolest opportunity one has when it comes to outdoor long exposure photography. Astrophotography works to capture the stars! It makes for beautiful photography and a hard challenge.

Outdoor Long Exposure Photography

Astrophotography works best when there is absolutely no light. The only light is the stars. The exception to this is possible lightly light painting foreground objects. You can see that done here, very lightly, on the trees. Once there is no light, you have to work with the light for the right exposure. How much light is too much light and how long is too long for a shutter speed? If your shutter is open too long you’ll start to get light trails across the sky from the stars moving. Not long enough, and you won’t have enough light to work with to even see the stars.

Once you have figured out the light, it will be the biggest challenge to make sure you are in focus. The biggest pitfall of outdoor long exposure photography is forgetting to focus. That often means shining a flashlight before taking your shot to make sure you are focused. But! You can’t shine a flashlight at the stars. It just doesn’t work. So here is the trick. Focus on an object 30 feet away and lock your focus. Don’t change a thing. Don’t bump it too much. That is the secret to in-focus stars.

Now that you know more about outdoor long exposure photography, what are you going to try? Let me know in the comments below!

You can also check out this article from Expert Photography to learn more!

If you want to take your long exposure photography indoors, check out my article on indoor light painting!