Long Exposure Photography and the Square Format

Long Exposure Photography and the Square Format


Square format black and white photograph

The rise in popularity of digital cameras over the past decade has coincided with the emergence of a new genre of photography – long exposure photography. Long exposure photography involves using shutter speeds of anything from one second to five minutes or more while using a tripod to keep the camera still. The result is a landscape or architectural study characterised by still elements, such as rocks or a building, contrasting with moving elements, such as water or clouds in the sky. Most long exposure photographers use neutral density filters to obtain long shutter speeds and would probably aim to use a shutter speed of at least thirty seconds to obtain their effects.

Digital cameras greatly assist with long exposure photography because there is no reciprocity failure with digital and the instant feedback provided by the LCD screen lets photographers see right away how effective the composition is.

Square format black and white photograph

If you are familiar with the work of some of the more well-known long exposure photographers then you would no doubt have noticed that many of them choose to work in both black and white and the square format. Why is this?

Let’s start with black and white. Monochrome is the medium of choice for many fine art photographers. It’s moody, timeless, evocative and expressive. Removing colour from the composition concentrates attention on texture, contrast, line and light – the visual building blocks of powerful imagery.

The square format is different from other aspect ratios because of its balanced shape. The four sides of a square are equal in length and encourage the viewer’s eye to move around the frame in a circle, rather than side-to-side or up and down. The square frame lends itself to compositions that contain strong shapes, lines or other graphic elements. The strong shape of the square frame seems to emphasise other shapes that appear within it.

Not all long exposure photographers work exclusively in black and white or the square format, but many of them do. The heavy emphasis on simplicity led composition in the long exposure photography genre marries well with the compositional strengths of the square format.

Square format black and white photograph

Long exposure photographers

Looking at the work of other photographers is an excellent way to learn more about the creative side of photography. The following is a list of some of my favourite long exposure photographers. Each photographer in this list works predominantly in black and white and the square format. You will learn a lot from their work.

I have interviewed many of these photographers on my website. You can work your way through the interviews here.

Photographer Nathan Wirth has also interviewed some of these photographers on his blog Slices of Silence.


I hope you enjoyed looking through the work of the photographers listed above. If you’d like to find out more about long exposure photography, then Joel Tjintjelaar’s website BWVision is an excellent place to start. The tutorials page has plenty of information to get you started.

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Andrew S. Gibson is a writer, photographer, traveler and workshop leader. He's an experienced teacher who enjoys helping people learn about photography and Lightroom. Join his free Introducing Lightroom course or download his free Composition PhotoTips Cards!

Some Older Comments

  • Lauraslittlethings September 10, 2013 05:58 am

    Really useful and interesting blog. I have tried long exposure a few times and i quite enjoy it. I have wanted to use longer than the maximum of 30 seconds but I cannot and I don't know if it is a limitation of my camera.

  • Colleen August 21, 2013 04:12 am

    Appreciating the persistence you put into your blog and detailed information you provide.

    It's great to come across a blog every once in a while that isn't the same out of date rehashed information.

    Wonderful read! I've bookmarked your site and I'm adding your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  • dz August 10, 2013 05:33 pm

    another interesting set of long exposure , i happen to know this chap and he's shoot are excellent as well.

  • Ben Leser August 9, 2013 01:29 am

    you ought to include 2wenty in that list of long exposure photographers!!! his long exposures include light paintings, the best light paintings i've ever seen!

  • marie August 5, 2013 02:15 pm

    Never have I used my bulb for anything - great photography tips here!! I'm so going to have to play around with my camera. I've never tried long exposures for anything!

  • Barry E Warren August 5, 2013 02:21 am

    I liked reading this, Been about two years or so since I done any of this. Thank for the inspiration to get back into using my Bulb mode .

  • Pieter August 5, 2013 12:48 am

    A few great interviews on your website Andrew! Thanks for sharing!


  • Shawn McBride August 4, 2013 07:06 am

    Cool stuff! I've been experimenting with creating long exposure images lately. It looks like there will be lots of good information and inspiration to be had in the links you provided.