How and When to use Bulb Mode

Clicking at night on high ISO sensitivity just to avoid shake might give you photo full of grains. It is always better to mount your camera on a tripod and slow down your shutter speed, instead of increasing the ISO sensitivity of your camera. This allows you to get sharp and less grainy photos. But what if you want to expose your frame for more than 30 seconds (which is the maximum shutter speed available on your DSLR camera)? Use the Bulb Mode.

What is Bulb Mode?

The bulb mode allows you to expose the camera sensor for more than 30 seconds by increase the duration of the shutter speed as per your need. The camera sensor will keep recording your image until you release the shutter button.

Using a shutter release remote helps you to sit back and relax while your camera exposes your frame, all you need to do is press the shutter release button on the remote once to open the shutter and press again to close the shutter.

To access the bulb mode, make sure you set your camera on Manual mode. Then start reducing the shutter speed and just after 30”, the word BULB would appear on your camera screen. Bang, you would now be able to expose your frame for as long as you wish (till the time your camera battery does not give up).

bulb mode
Image courtesy: gags9999/Flickr

Can we use the Bulb mode to capture an exposure of less than 30 seconds? Sure, another benefit of using the Bulb mode is that you are not bound by the denomination of seconds mentioned in the camera system. Using Bulb mode, you can capture a frame exposed for 6 seconds, whereas your camera system allows you to either exposure for 5 seconds or 10 seconds, nothing in between.

When to use the Bulb mode?

You can efficiently use the Bulb mode to capture the following scenes:

  1. Star Trails

Shooting star trails is challenging and fun too. While shooting stars at night, you need to bring more light into the camera sensor to record the colors correctly. Using the bulb mode, you allow the camera to gather details from your frame by exposing for more than 30 seconds.

  1. Light Painting

You must have seen images with names and shapes captured using a torch/light. There is no rocket science behind those images, all you need to do is set your camera on a tripod and set it to Bulb mode. Using a shutter release, open the shutter of your camera and once you are done with making the desired pattern/name, close the shutter by pressing the shutter release button.

bulb mode
Image courtesy: markwalker/Flickr
  1. Fireworks and Lightning

Using the same technique mentioned above, you can capture the colorful fireworks in the sky. I would love to share a small tip here, cut a piece of black paper, which can completely cover the camera lens. While your shutter is open and exposing for the fireworks, your can place this black card in front of the lens for the duration when there is no firework in the sky. This way you can get a correctly exposed image with captures multiple fireworks.

You can use the same method to capture lightning in the sky.

Things to consider while shooting in Bulb Mode

  1. Use a Tripod

One of the most important things to be taken care of while taking photos on Bulb mode is to ensure that there is no shake or camera movement while the shutter is open. Ensure that you mount your camera on a steady tripod placed on a flat surface.

  1. Shutter Release

After setting your camera on a tripod, you further need to make sure that there is no camera movement while opening and closing of the camera shutter. To do so, try and use a shutter release remote to command your camera to take long exposure shots. If you do not have a shutter release remote, the best alternative is to use the built-in timer functionality.

  1. Manual Mode

Your camera will not allow you to use the Bulb mode on any mode except for the manual mode. Manual mode gives you full freedom to play around with the light that enters your camera. It might take some time for you to get the proper exposure for your shot, but great shots do not come that easy.

  1. Minimum ISO

After putting in so much effort, you would surely not want to capture a grainy image. Make sure to set the ISO value on your camera to not more than 200 to get a sharp and clear image.

Bonus Tip:

Make sure that you turn off all the image and noise reduction mechanisms on your camera and lens as these can cause slight vibrations in your camera, thus resulting in shake in your final image.

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