what is a bulb exposure setting
(and how to get the best results in bulb mode)

Set your camera on bulb mode using your camera menu

So why would you ever want to use a bulb exposure setting and how is it different from the other exposure modes?

There are practical uses of using a bulb setting as well as an infinite number of creative uses as well.

But first we need to understand what an exposure in bulb mode is. The Bulb Setting on your camera lets you manually hold the shutter open for any length of time you want.

Instead of the camera deciding on an exact amount of time such as 1/30th of a second or perhaps 2 seconds, the shutter will stay open as long as you hold the shutter button down.

One of the practical applications is simply when you need to make an exposure that is longer than the camera's slowest shutter speed setting(which is often 30 seconds). This is almost always a situation when you are doing night photography.

how to set bulb mode on your camera

You can set your camera to make a bulb exposure either by setting it on your camera dial on top of your camera or by visiting the settings within your cameras menu. It's real quick and easy to set on DSLR cameras and higher quality point and shoot cameras that have the exposure dial on top of the camera like the one shown above.

three tips for the best results in bulb mode

1. Use Manual Exposure. This is highly recommended although not mandatory. In most situations you will want to check our your photograph on your playback and make adjustments to shutter speed or aperture using a manual exposure mode.

2. Use a tripod. This is a must do tip needed to avoid massive blurriness in your photograph.

3. Use a cable release or remote release. Unless you are creating some kind of creative motion blur on purpose, you must have either a cable release or a remote shutter trigger to engage your camera's shutter.

The pressure from your finger depressing the shutter will cause a lack of sharpness or blur which will be magnified on long exposures. You can pick up a cable releases for for many cameras on Amazon. Some releases have a lock that allows you to temporarily let go of the button and push a second time when you want to shutter to close. In the old days, we called that a Time Exposure.
Camera on tripod with cable release

what to photograph when making a bulb exposure

Fireworks. Probably the most wide used situation for long exposures. This allows you to wait to just the right time when the fireworks are exploding to open and close the shutter perfectly.

The Night sky and the movement of the stars. A locking shutter release is very valuable because your exposure will be minutes or even hours long.

Traffic. The key to great traffic and moving-light subjects is finding the best vantage point to have the resulting streaks of color move in an interesting direction.

Lightning. This is one of the most challenging types of night photography because of the super quick duration and unpredictable nature of lighting strikes.

Painting With Light. I had a blast with this when I was only about 15 years old and first experimenting with creative photography tricks. We opened the shutter for several minutes and "painted" using the light from sparklers, road flares and electronic flashes fired through red cellophane. You can also use flashlights or any other artificial light source and "paint" while your shutter is open and you are in a very dark location.

Water Photography during the day: This is one of coolest tricks you can do using bulb exposure mode. You will need a good neutral density filter as explained in this video:


(let me know if the video link above stops working)

Digital photography offers the ease of trial and error to shoot a photo, check the results, make an adjustment and shoot again when doing bulb exposures.

Happy Shooting
Bruce

p.s. Use a low ISO setting whenever you are shooting in bulb mode. It gives you the least digital noise and best quality for Nighttime Photography.



Back from Bulb Exposure Setting to Photography Definitions and Terminology

Go to Digital Photography Tips Home Page