How to edit long exposure photos on a smartphone

In the previous part of the long exposure photography tutorial I was showing how to use Lightroom to take actual shots with slow shutter speed. Now it’s time to know how to edit long exposure photos since straight out of camera results may not impress you.

Basic editing in Lightroom

As soon as we got a picture of beautiful scenery, it’s time to make your image shine. I mentioned earlier that I prefer slightly underexpose my images to have more control during post-production.

Basic editing in Lightroom usually includes exposure adjustment, white balance, contrast, sharpness. Those are essentials almost for any picture you take. Sometimes it’s enough to tweak the mentioned settings, but if you want to make a more impact with your image you have to be more creative.

Below you can see default settings and the initial shot. I usually start to work with exposure (the sun icon), gradually revealing all details in the shadows, increasing or decreasing the whole brightness of the scene, adjusting highlights, etc. The idea behind any adjustment is making an image as flat as possible for further creative actions.


Lightroom mobile editing tools

Notice how drastically the image has changed! With the following settings, I completely recovered dark areas on this scene while having all highlights preserved. Each shot is unique and there’s no universal recipe that suits every single image. Play with each slider and see what’s changing, this is the way I do when working on any image (though keep a close eye on what sort of effect you exactly getting. Sometimes less is more). 

Lightroom mobile editing tools

On the image below you can see how powerful RAW format is. So many details are hidden in shadows and can be revealed using Shadows or Blacks sliders easily. General slider Exposure also can make the whole scene much brighter, just use it in a more subtle manner.

Lightroom mobile editing tools Lightroom mobile editing tools

On the next step, you can adjust the white balance. Lightroom has a pretty neat feature to set up it manually if you have grey or white areas on your image. First of all, switch to the Color tab (thermometer icon) and pick the dropper tool under the Mix circle. 

White Balance setup in Adobe Lightroom
White Balance setup in Adobe Lightroom

All you have to do is simply tap on the zone where you want to get a color for white balance correction. You can always additionally tweak Temp slider for your own preferences. Also, don’t forget to try presets, sometimes they save time and you don’t have to mess with settings for a long time.

Effects tab in Lightroom mobile

Going futher to the next tab, Effects (square box icon), you can fine tune micro contrast using Texture and Clarity sliders.  

Sharpening adjusting in Lightroom

I usually put sharpness adjustment at the very end of my workflow. I found that a small Radius amount (0,5 – 1 values) and a relatively aggressive Sharpness parameter works best. Again, it really depends on a certain image and you have to experiment with those slider.

Don’t make basic corrections too complicated, if you feel that editing goes in a wrong way – simply start over again, because you can reset every single parameter by simply double-tap on that. Or completely reset all settings. Lightroom allows you to work in a non-destructive manner like you would do it in Photoshop on a PC or Mac. 

Lightroom editing instruments

You can also turn on Remove chromatic aberrations and Enable lens correction options.

Export settings in Lightroom mobile

Lightroom has various export optins. You can share your image instantly on different social media channels, open the image in another app. 

Also, you can find different formats (JPG, TIF, PNG, DNG) if you’re willing to edit your image on a PC or Mac by choosing Export as…

Export settings in Lightroom mobile

Editing in Snapseed



Let’s continue to edit the shot in the Snapseed app. It’s come pretty handy when you don’t want to pay for Lightroom subscription, for example, or you just prefer to edit your shots exclusively in Snapseed.

The Selective instrument allows you to make local adjustments on certain areas of the shot, such as Brightness, Contrast, Saturation and Structure.

Snapseed app, main window

All you have to do is simply click on the plus button and tap on the screen. A vertical swipe allows choosing the four mentioned instruments. After you added a dot, you can also adjust the size of the mask ie make the area which will be affected smaller or larger. 

Snapseed app, Selective instrument
Snapseed app, Selective instrument
Snapseed app, Selective instrument

For my own shot, I simply increased brightness and structure a bit. I darkened the lower part of the shot to make the contrast more noticeable. You’re free to add as many dots as you want, just make sure it makes sense. At the end, the idea is to make subtle adjustments to enhance the visual message.

Snapseed app, Selective instrument

Check the before and after image to see the difference


Another powerful instrument in the Snapseed app is called Curves.

If you’re familiar with Photoshop or Lightroom on PC or Mac, you definitely heard about it. You can precisely adjust the contrast and color balance of your image using that great option.

In my case, I created a classical S-type curve (increase brightness of mid-tones) with a shifted black point to the up. Thus I got a soft feeling and smooth transitions from dark to bright areas. Do not overdo it, it’s easy to get washed out effect in the shadows and high contrast simultaneously which is not the main goal of our editing. Experiment with presets in Snapseed to see the difference between various curves.

Curves adjustments in Snapseed app
Curves adjustments in Snapseed app


Curves adjustments in Snapseed app


Hint: long tap on the photo shows “before” while working with any instrument in Snapseed

Curves adjustments in Snapseed app
Curves adjustments in Snapseed app

There’s a possibility to adjust each RGB channel. You can do it for some creative purposes as I did for my photo. To get access to it, tap on the icon next to X. I adjusted a blue channel in a manner you can see above. Shadows got subtle toning while mid-tones and highlights being almost unaffected.


Brush tool in Snapseed application

Brush tool is another super-handy instrument. It works exactly like a brush and provides an opportunty to paint over your image. There a few options available:

  • Dodge & Burn
  • Exposure
  • Temperature
  • Saturation

I chose the Exposure brush to make stones more noticeable. Subtly making highlights a bit brighter and dark areas darker, we can increase local contrast on the areas we want. This technique is known as dodge and burn, but I prefer to use Exposure brush instead of Dodge & Burn for that type of work since I found it more precise and less destructive. It’s easy to overdo things especially working on a smartphone, sometimes you can’t spot mistakes.



Brush instrument in the Snapseed
Brush instrument in the Snapseed

As you can see above, I simply paint over some areas to make them brighter. An eye icon allows you to see where the brush was applied, thus it’s easy to see where you exactly applied the brush tool.

Snapseed application Snapseed application
View edits option in Snapseed
View View edits option in Snapseed
Snapseed application

You can review each edit you made by tapping on a layer stack icon (near the info icon). Then choose View edits. Moreover, it’s possible to adjust every single instrument or completely delete it. This is really amazing option similar to layers structure in Photoshop. It provides plenty of space for flexible editing, for example, if you changed your mind about a certain action you made.

I edited the images below in a similar manner, except for one thing, obviously. I turned them black and white at the end. Despite that, the whole editing process was pretty similar to a described in this article.

Show your versions of long exposure shots in Instagram using a tag #phomogram 

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