BULB Mode Explained for Beginners : How to do Time Exposure Photography

Here in this article BULB Mode Explained for Beginners and we will also see How to do Time Exposure Photography.

Our camera is full of settings, sometime we wonder how and when to use these settings ? How do professional remembers all these tiny details of each thing and actually uses it on time. Its really hard for Amateur photographer to replicate all this thing in real life. Well one thing we need to remember, Everyone starts from Amateur and gradually becomes professional. And this is true for everything, almost everything. One of those setting is BULB MODE, we must had listen this thing and often read it somewhere too but never actually knew what it is. 

BULB Mode Explained for Beginners:

Normally our camera allows shutter speed to be as low as 30 sec, you can not go below this number. Then How is it possible for photographers to use shutter speed in several minutes or sometimes in hours ?

This is where they use Bulb Mode. BULB MODE is something which allows the camera’s shutter speed to go below 30 sec like 1 min, 30 min or even 60 min. In Bulb shooting mode camera can take really long exposure photographs beyond 30sec maximum exposure allowed with default setting.

Bulb mode is useful when we shoot in low light condition or light trails or when we want to shoot star trails like below image :

BULB Mode Explained for Beginners

Star trails forms due to rotation of earth, so in short span of 30 sec earth rotation is not going to create any trails for stars. It needs at least 30-45 min to form trails. This is the perfect example where we need to use Bulb mode instead of 30 sec of shutter speed.

So in simplest of terms, we can say Bulb mode keeps the shutter open as long as the remote is triggered. Camera will keep taking a picture until your finger comes off the shutter button.

How to do Time Exposure Photography:

How to do Time Exposure Photography
Exif: Nikon D3300, Aperture: Æ’/13.0 @ 35.6 mm, Shutter speed: 30 sec, ISO: 200

Bulb mode is only possible when you set your camera to manual mode. Once you change shutter speed and pass to 30 sec then your camera LCD should display Bulb Mode. Here nothing is automatic because we are using manual shutter speed so you need to set everything on your own like exposure, aperture or ISO.

As a starting point for landscapes photography use an aperture of between f/8.0 and f/11 and an ISO of 100. For shutter speed, it depends on situation and lighting condition. Similar way for shooting star trails you should start with f/8.0 and ISO 100 and change shutter speed accordingly. It might take some time for the adjustments for first shot and once this is set, you just need to press the shutter and camera will do the rest.

Once your camera is in bulb mode, it will work one of two ways:

  1. The shutter will stay open for as long as you hold the shutter button down

  2. The shutter will open when the shutter button is pressed (and stay open). It will close on a second press of the shutter button

Since, we are working with exposures over 30 sec hence this is called long exposure photography and definitely this can not be done handheld. So there are 2 requirements for this. 

1. Tripod:

I doubt if we are able to hold camera for 40min – 60min stand still without any shake until we are robots. A general rule of thumb to use tripod whenever your shutter speed goes below 1/60 like 1/30sec or 1sec or 1/2 sec. The tripod needs to be durable and should  able to hold camera with long telephoto lens without any problem and it should also be not affected by little wind.

So tripod is absolutely essential for Bulb Mode.

2. Use of Shutter Release Remote:

I hope you are not planning to hold the shutter button for that long period. Even if you think this will not create a camera shake, then zoom-in and see how much shake just pressing shutter release button creates.

Here you need one simple functional remote shutter which can be wired or wireless. This is used to press the shutter button. When you press it first time, it will open the shutter and it will keep open it until you again press the remote to close the shutter.

There are few remotes which also shows the number of shots taken by camera and has the timer control as well. but a basic remote shutter will also do the job without any issue. 

Setting Correct Exposure :

Guessing the correct length of time to hold the shutter open for a good exposure can be a bit of trial and error. I’m sure if you used bulb mode regularly though, then you’d be able to make a good guess on correct settings based on your previous experience. There is a good reason for calculating exposure using test shots instead of just trying different long exposure settings until you get an exposure you like. Taking test shots with high ISO first allows you to get the exposure settings right, but without having to wait a long time to see the result of each test. So you can find the optimum exposure settings quickly.

Conclusion :

Hope you clear now What Is Bulb Mode in DSLR Camera !!

This is mainly used for long exposure photography where you need to expose your camera for more than 30 seconds like car trails, low light situations and seascapes etc. Although we can also use bulb mode for shorter exposures but selecting desired shutter speed would be more relevant and easier too.

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5 comments

    1. Hi Rishi,
      Personally, to get started I like below 2 option for tripod. These are under 4k and good for telephoto lenses up to 1.8 kg :

      Vanguard Aluminum Tripod Espod CX 203 AGH
      Vanguard CX203AP Espod Tripod Aluminum

      If you are tight on budget, this one good too for normal purpose :
      Benro T600EX

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