Denise Silva Gets Creative with Handheld Long Exposures

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BASED IN: Virginia, USA
KNOWN FOR: Creative landscape, wildlife, and travel photography, as well as being a key member of Road Runner Photography Tours
SHOOTS WITH: FUJIFILM X-H1 Camera, X-T2 Camera, FUJINON XF16mmF1.4 R WR Lens, XF56mmF1.2 R Lens, XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS Lens, XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR Lens, XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS Lens, XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR Lens


In her previous technique article on long exposures, Denise Silva explored tripod-based photography using filters and remote shutter releases to create dreamy landscapes that transport the viewer into the scene. In this article, Denise gets a little more creative with her long exposures, discussing handheld techniques that can be extremely useful for creating a host of interesting effects.

Denise Silva

The beauty of handheld long exposure photography is that no additional gear is required, so you can get out and give it a try right away. And with no tripod to tie you down, you benefit from greater freedom and convenience.

The two most common handheld techniques are panning and swiping. Panning is moving your camera to follow a subject, capturing its motion while maintaining focus. Swiping is intentionally moving your camera across your subject, resulting in the entire image being blurred.

These techniques take patience and practice, and you should expect a high failure rate, but once you get the hang of it, they can be a ton of fun to experiment with.

FUJIFILM X-Photographer Denise Silva Gets Creative with Handheld Long Exposures
1 sec at F8, ISO 200 | Photo © Don Rosenberger
FUJIFILM X-Photographer Denise Silva Gets Creative with Handheld Long Exposures
1/4 sec at F11, ISO 200 | Photo © Don Rosenberger

Setup and Preparation

To capture handheld long exposure images with your FUJIFILM camera, first you need to ensure it is set up correctly. In general, the camera should be set to manual mode, so you can control the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Before beginning, make sure you take some practice shots to determine the right settings for what you are trying to create.

Generally, these images are captured with shutter speeds of less than one second in length. If the shutter is open too long, the blur in the image will not feel deliberate, turning your shot from an interesting photograph into an obvious mistake.

To determine the proper exposure for creating an appropriate amount of blur, you will need to experiment a few times. In general, for handheld techniques, using shutter speeds of 1/15 sec and 1/30 sec works well, but ultimately this will be dictated by the conditions of the scene.


First, let’s look at panning. To capture this type of image, initially you must pick up the subject as it is heading towards you, get your focus and then move the camera in the subject’s direction of movement for the length of the shutter, using the motion illustrated in Figure 1.

This creates an image that captures the subject in relative focus, while letting the background or foreground blur to show motion. Mornings on any boardwalk provide great opportunities to practice this technique.

Panning technique
Figure 1: Panning technique

Car Panning

In this form of panning, the photographer is the one moving while the subject remains still. The ideal way to practice this technique is to be the passenger in a car, shooting out the open passenger window. The goal is to grab a subject (in this case, a flag) and keep the subject in focus as the car starts to pass by it.

In other words, the photographer will pick up the subject with the camera facing toward the front of the passenger window and then use the panning technique to follow the subject as the car passes until the camera is facing toward the back of the passenger window.

The end result is an image that has a bit of curve in the blurred background, with the subject mostly in focus. This technique takes a lot of practice and a very patient driver, but once mastered, can be extremely rewarding.

FUJIFILM X-Photographer Denise Silva Gets Creative with Handheld Long Exposures
1/15 sec at F13, ISO 200
Vertical swiping technique
Figure 2: Vertical swiping technique


Another handheld long exposure technique is the swipe. Swipes can be made either vertically (Figure 2) or horizontally (Figure 3), depending upon the subject. Trees for example, are great subjects for vertical swipes.

FUJIFILM X-Photographer Denise Silva Gets Creative with Handheld Long Exposures
1/8 sec at F6.4, ISO 200

Landscapes lend themselves to horizontal swipes. This technique can enhance an image that might otherwise be dulled by an unattractive sky or foreground, as seen in the below image. The spectacular sunset was tarnished by a dozen contrails, which can be distracting. By swiping, simply the beautiful color of the sky was captured.

You can develop these techniques even further by combining the horizontal and vertical swiping motions to follow a zigzag path, or alternatively by moving the camera in small circles. Both can be used to striking effect and allow you to create images where your imagination really is the only limit.

FUJIFILM X-Photographer Denise Silva Gets Creative with Handheld Long Exposures
1/45 sec at F9, ISO 200
Horizontal swiping technique
Figure 3: Horizontal swiping technique

Practice Makes Perfect

All of these handheld long exposure techniques require patience and practice. It may take a dozen or even a hundred images to get the shutter speed set properly to nail your swipes or master your car panning. Just remember, practice, practice, practice, because after all, practice makes perfect! The more you try these techniques, the more creative you will become at using them.

Denise Silva is a FUJIFILM-compensated professional photographer.

To see more of Denise’s work, visit her website.

To explore the full FUJIFILM X Series lineup, visit X Gear Chooser.