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Long Exposure vs Short Exposure in Photography

Published: 03/10/2022

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If you are capturing moving subjects in poor lighting, you might wonder whether to use long or short exposures. The following long exposure vs short exposure guide will help you know how the exposure duration affects the image quality and the right exposure for your situation.

Long Exposure vs Short Exposure Overview

Exposure refers to the duration the camera shutter opens, and the camera sensor is exposed to the light entering through the lens. This time is measured as shutter speed, the speed at which the camera shutter opens and closes.

Usually, the exposure duration or shutter speed can range from fractions of a second, like 1/2000th, to minutes or hours, such as 4 hours.

A house with a brown roof and white garage doors with a scenic view of tall trees near an empty street

Long Exposure

Slow shutter speed is used in long exposure, and the camera sensor is exposed to light for longer. Keeping in mind that standard real estate photography uses a shutter speed of around 1/125th of a second and above, long exposure is when you use slower shutter speeds than this.

Since most cameras don’t allow exposures longer than 30 seconds, most photographers consider speeds of around 1/50th of a second to be a long exposure. However, for professional photographers with advanced cameras, this can be from 30 seconds to hours.

Short Exposure

Short exposure is when you use faster shutter speeds and limit the time the camera sensor is exposed to light. Since standard real estate photography uses shutter speeds of around 1/500th of a second and below, you can consider shutter speeds faster than this to be short exposures.

However, the fastest shutter speed you can use depends on the camera. For instance, standard cameras with a mechanical shutter have a maximum shutter speed of around 1/4000th of a second, while advanced DSLRs and mirrorless cameras with an electronic shutter can achieve a maximum shutter speed of around 1/32000th of a second.

Comparing Long Exposure vs Short Exposure

Keeping in mind that short and long exposure is all about the shutter opening duration, they are related to camera settings and have the following similarities and differences.


Although the exposure settings can significantly affect the image sharpness and brightness, both long and short exposures have the following effects on the depth of field and image quality.

  • Image quality: You can capture bright, crisp, and high-quality images using both exposures
  • Depth of field: You can blur the subject background when applying selective focus techniques in both exposures
  • Exposure compensation: Both exposures rely on the exposure compensation feature when shooting in trying lighting
  • Tripod: You can use a reliable tripod when shooting using short and long exposures


Since the shutter opening duration affects the amount of light the sensor captures, you can expect the following differences when using long and short exposures.

Battery Life

The battery life refers to how long the battery can last on a full charge, usually indicated as the number of shots per full charge. Battery life varies widely depending on the quality of the battery, the camera settings, the LCD brightness, and whether the camera is using an electronic or optical viewfinder.

However, since the exposure time affects the number of shots per given time, it also affects the battery life. Typically, long exposure means the shutter is open, and the camera sensor is powered to capture the image for longer, draining the battery.

On the other hand, fast shutter speeds mean the sensor is powered for fractions of a second, saving the battery power. As a result, you might only capture a few shots on a full charge when using slow shutter speeds and hundreds of shots with faster shutter speeds.

Flash and Filters

Using a highly recommended camera flash helps to produce bursts of light to illuminate the subject when shooting in poor lighting. Keeping in mind that a fast shutter speed exposes the camera sensor for a limited time, it creates the same effect as shooting in poor lighting.

That means you might need to enable the camera flash or use a Nikon SB-800 AF Speedlight to help boost the lighting when using fast shutter speeds. On the other hand, slow shutter speeds mean you expose the camera sensor for longer, which can result in overexposure.

Nikon SB-800 AF Speedlight
  • It works great with the Nikon Creative Lighting system that achieves multiple exposures using a single shot
  • It uses an advanced D-TTL flash performance technology
  • Has a high speed mechanical shutter of 1/ 250
  • It is less weighty making it easily portable
  • It has a minimum amount of flushes approximately 150
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Unlike fast shutter speeds, where you will want to boost the light, you will need to limit the amount of light. That means you might need to use neutral density filters to help reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor.

Image Noise

Image noise refers to the image's graininess effect when using high ISO settings. Usually, the camera sensor tries to amplify the available light to produce bright images. Since fast shutter speeds create a low-light effect, you might need to use high ISO to shoot bright photos.

As a result, photos shot using short exposures tend to be grainy and pixelated. On the other hand, using a slow shutter means the sensor can collect enough light to capture bright photos even without increasing the ISO.

As a result, most photos shot with a slow shutter speed are bright and clear, like they have been shot with a higher resolution camera. However, it doesn't necessarily mean they are sharper than those shot using a faster shutter.


It takes longer to take a photo using a slower shutter than a faster shutter. Technically, the shot will span for fractions of a second when using a faster shutter and span for several seconds, minutes, or hours when using a slow shutter.

Also, long exposure photography might need camera gears such as remote shutter releases, a tripod, filters, and specific camera settings such as the bulb mode. Usually, it takes longer to assemble the camera gear and set up the camera.

A big brown house with an expansive front yard near tall tress under the starry sky

Major Distinguishing Factor

The major distinguishing factor between long and short exposure is the image blur effect. The camera sensor tends to capture everything when the shutter is open. Since a slow shutter exposes the sensor for longer, it captures any movement during that time, leading to blurring.

The blurring is more common when shooting handheld due to the handshakes or when capturing a moving subject. That means you might need to use a tripod and a remote shutter release to prevent camera movements.

On the other hand, a faster shutter speed doesn't give time for the sensor to record movements, resulting in sharp and crisp images.

When to Use Long Exposure

Since long exposures can help you collect enough light even in poor lighting, it's the best to use in the following situations:

  • When taking real estate interior photos in bad lighting
  • If you are shooting a fast-moving subject such as water in a waterfall, and you want to show the motion effect through blurring
  • If using a low-end camera where raising the ISO can lead to significant degradation of the image quality

When to Use Short Exposure

Keeping in mind that short exposures limit the shutter opening duration, it's the best camera setting to use in the following circumstances:

  • When capturing real estate exterior photos in good ambient lighting
  • If you want to freeze and capture sharp images of a moving subject, such as raindrops 
  • When battery life is an issue and you want to maximize the number of shots
  • If you are shooting handheld and the camera doesn't have an image stabilization system

Which Exposure Duration Is Better?

Short exposure is better as it allows you to capture sharp and crisp images even without camera gear such as tripods and filters. However, you can consider using slower shutter speeds if you are shooting in bad lighting.


With the above long exposure vs short exposure guide, you will know the correct exposure depending on the lighting condition and whether the subject is stationary or moving. Slow shutter speeds are great when shooting in poor lighting, while faster shutters are suitable for moving subjects.


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