How to use your camera's bulb mode?

You may have seen the letter "B" on your camera's shutter speed settings. Have you ever wondered what "B" or Bulb mode stands for?

No, it does not mean Beautiful, but once you master how to use your camera's bulb mode, your photos will be beautiful - better yet, majestic.

You are in luck if you haven't explored this camera mode yet. I am here to guide you and tell you what you need to know about your camera's bulb mode.

What is the Bulb or "Bulb mode" on your camera?

Bulb mode refers to the settings wherein your shutter speed is open for as long as you press the shutter button. Once you let go of the shutter, the sensor stops taking in light, and your image will be processed.

You will use this mode if you want to take photos for longer than 30 seconds - the usual long exposure limit on most cameras.

This mode also gives you better shutter speed control if the default shutter settings cannot achieve your intended exposure.

Fujifilm Bulb mode

Why is it called "Bulb" mode?

The term "Bulb" mode dates back to folding cameras. These cameras have a bulb that serves as a shutter release. It looks similar to the sensor cleaning pump, except it controls how long the shutter remains open.

The old camera bulb works by opening the shutter as long as the bulb is squeezed. Once the air is back in, the shutter closes.

How to access Bulb mode from your camera?

 Camera manufacturers have different methods for implementing the Bulb mode. Some manufacturers, such as Fujifilm, have a "B" label on the shutter speed dial.

You must set your camera to Manual mode if you use a different camera model.

Head to the shutter speed settings and go past the 30-second option, and you will see B or Bulb mode.

However, there are cameras without this feature. Unfortunately, some entry-level cameras lack this feature, and you are stuck with the default camera options.

When should you use Bulb mode in photography?

There different instances wherein Bulb mode is perfect to use. Here are some of them.

Shooting Fireworks

Fireworks by Sami Anas

Fireworks are unpredictable.

Hence, Bulb mode is the perfect setting to take photos of them.

All you have to do is to set your camera to Bulb mode and press the shutter release button. Hold the shutter until the whole firework sequence is done. Let go of the shutter after.

Since you are using Bulb mode, your photo will include the whole fireworks streak.

There is another trick you may use, though. It involves using your hand or a black card to cover your camera.

You have to shoot a fireworks sequence and then cover the lens until the following firework sequence starts. Remove the cover and continue shooting the fireworks.

The results will be an image filled with multiple fireworks. Do this technique instead of stacking numerous photos into one.

 Take a picture of Star Trails

Star Trails by Garvit Jagga | Pexels

Star trails are challenging to shoot yet fulfilling. Your skills and patience will be put to the test when taking photos of them.

One way to successfully take pictures of star trails is by using your camera's Bulb mode.

Set your camera to Bulb mode and open the shutter for more at least 20 minutes or depending on how long you want the star trails to be. 

The problem with shooting star trails this way is your camera's battery life. Make sure you are fully charged since this method will drain your battery quickly.

Do Light Painting

Light painting by Aidan Roof | Pexels

Light painting is where you take a flashlight or any illuminated object and draw on the air like a canvas. The result will be captured by the camera and will be included in the photo.

You may set your camera to Bulb mode and opening the shutter while drawing objects in the air. Close the shutter or release the shutter button once the drawing is done.

Make sure to try this in a dim area. The image will be overexposed if it is done in a well-lit place.

 Shoot Lightning Strikes

Lightning by Nick Kwan

Lightning images are fascinating and striking (pun intended) since they showcase how scary nature is.

Bulb mode is your friend if you want to add a lightning photo to your collection.

The first thing you have to do is to set up your tripod. Put your camera in Bulb mode and open the shutter.

Your camera will then take photos continuously, and if you are lucky, lightning will strike within your frame.

Do not overdo your exposure, though or else the lightning will overlap each other and it will not be pleasant to look at.

Reduce crowd in landmarks or monuments

Long exposure of people by Kai Pilger

Using the bulb mode will allow you to reduce the number of people in a photo frame. 

Crowded parks, monuments, or landmarks, such as The Bean in Chicago, are difficult to shoot since there are a lot of people passing by.

However, using Bulb mode to reduce the number of people seen in the frame is a neat trick. You need to have an ND filter, though to make this work.

Use an ND filter to underexpose your image if shooting in daylight. Set up your camera and use Bulb mode. The long exposure image will reduce the number of people seen in the frame since they are constantly moving.

This trick will not work, though if there are people who stay still while you are pressing the shutter button.

 Can you use Bulb mode during the day?

River long exposure by Chris Larson | Pexels

Yes, definitely! But it will be tricky, and you need a neutral density (ND) filter to lower the overall exposure of your photo first. You may use bulb mode during the day if you want to shoot silky smooth rivers and other trails.

Depending on the setup of your ND filter, you may go for quick shutter presses or hold it for 30-seconds or more. Do not be afraid to experiment with your setup and see which ones achieve the best result.

Why do you need a wired or wireless shutter release?

Camera remote shutter

Using bulb mode without a wired or wireless shutter release means that you are in direct contact with the camera at all times. This will introduce micro camera shakes and will blur the overall image.

The movement might be too small when viewed through your camera's screen. However, if you zoom in, you will see that the vibration of your hands has affected the image.

A wireless shutter release will also allow you to press the shutter and lock it in for as long as you want. This frees up your hand to do something else instead of it being tied down to the camera.

What's next?

Time to head outside and practice your Bulb photography skills. Do not forget to have fun while shooting! 

November 08, 2022
Tags: Guides

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