Mar 26 2009

What is the BULB Setting and When to Use It

Published by at 6:04 am under Intro to Photography,TUTORIALS

feus19.thumbnail What is the BULB Setting and When to Use ItI was shooting long exposures the other day in my studio and I accidentally went into the infamous BULB mode while selecting my shutter speed on my D300. As I was getting out of BULB mode, I got a flash (no pun intended)! This would make for a great tutorial! icon smile What is the BULB Setting and When to Use It
vide What is the BULB Setting and When to Use It
So… In this tutorial, I’ll look at what BULB mode is, the equipment needed to get great long exposure shots and some ideas for when to use it. So let’s get right to it, shall we?
vide What is the BULB Setting and When to Use It

What is BULB mode?

BULB mode (or BULB setting) is a shutter speed setting that gives you complete manual control of the duration of your shutter speed. Most often it’s used for shutter speeds of more than 30 seconds. Please refer to your instruction manual on how to set BULB mode. For most DSLRs, you first have to be in manual (M) mode to set BULB. Once in manual mode, dial down your shutter speed all the way to 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, dial it down once more and you’ll find BULB. Once you have it set, you’re ready to go!
vide What is the BULB Setting and When to Use It
In most cameras, BULB works by pressing and holding the shutter release until you’ve had the the desired shutter time (or when you finger gets tired!), then let go to close the shutter. You can image that if you want a 5 minute exposure, you’ll need to find another way.
vide What is the BULB Setting and When to Use It


That’s where remote triggers come in very handy. I showed you a variety of trigger options in my Intro to Macro Photography tutorial but you don’t need fancy wireless options like the Canon LC-5 or the Nikon ML-3. I would suggest a wired option like the Nikon MC-30 or the Canon RS-80N3. Depending on the trigger you purchase, you’ll have the option of locking it so all you need to do is press, go have a double mocha latte mochino cream thing-a-ma-gig, come back and press again to close the shutter. If you don,t have that option, gaffer tape is a cheap alternative. icon smile What is the BULB Setting and When to Use It Another advantage to remote triggers is that they prevent camera shake when pressing the shutter button.
vide What is the BULB Setting and When to Use It
Needless to say that another very important piece of equipment is a tripod. If you’re shooting outside and you’re leaving your camera unsupervised, I would suggest a heavier tripod or adding sand bags… just in case.
vide What is the BULB Setting and When to Use It
One of the downsides of shooting digital is battery life. Long exposures take lots of battery juice. Just one long exposure can drain a fully charged battery! No kidding. So if you’re planning on doing lots of BULB shots, you might consider investing in a vertical grip like the MB-D80 for Nikon D80 or D90 bodies or the BG-E2N for Canon 30D, 40D and 50D. What the vertical grip does it that it lets you put 2 batteries in it for double the juice.
vide What is the BULB Setting and When to Use It

When to use BULB mode?

The most obvious reason to use BULB mode is for exposures of more than 30 seconds like shooting night skies to get the star trails or dramatic moving clouds.

nightsky2.thumbnail What is the BULB Setting and When to Use It

vide What is the BULB Setting and When to Use It
But it doesn’t always have to be for exposures of more than 30 seconds. It could just be for total control of when the shutter opens and closes. Great examples of this are shooting fireworks. The timing needs to be just right to get the best looking “bangs” and “poofs”.

feus12.thumbnail What is the BULB Setting and When to Use It

I had the pleasure once to witness a lighting storm at the cottage one summer evening. Out came the tripod! I used BULB mode, off course. I would open the shutter and once the lightning would strike, I would close it.

night storm 4 1.thumbnail What is the BULB Setting and When to Use It

Another time to use BULB mode is if you’re light painting. Open when you start, close when you’re done. icon smile What is the BULB Setting and When to Use It
vide What is the BULB Setting and When to Use It
There are surely more ways to fully exploit BULB mode. Your only limit is your imagination! I invite you to share you ideas and link to your BULB photos in the comments.



22 responses so far

22 Responses to “What is the BULB Setting and When to Use It”

  1. Vaheeson 26 Mar 2009 at 12:46 pm

    I have Nikon ML-L3 Remote Control Transmitter which is the cheapest and do the job well with my D70. Also it costs only $18.

  2. markon 27 Mar 2009 at 5:45 pm

    just a quick note Yanik, for DSLR bulbers…most digital cameras will only expose for a maximum of 30 secs at a time, longer exposure may fry the sensor.You can of course get away with this by using multiple exposures ;)

  3. Barbaraon 27 Mar 2009 at 11:59 pm

    WOW! Thanks Yanik, I’ve been anxious to try this, I read it in my manual, but it’s complete now that I see what and when to use it for! Thanks!

  4. Mikeon 30 Mar 2009 at 1:08 am

    Any suggestions on aperture/iso settings when shooting something without a set shutter time like the fireworks or lightning?

  5. Yanikon 30 Mar 2009 at 7:40 am

    @ Mike

    There’s no set formula for aperture/ISO. I always start at my camera’s lowest ISO setting and an aperture of around f8. then I adjust accordingly. :)

  6. Gabosson 01 Apr 2009 at 11:29 am

    Hey guys, yesterday i read an article with an information you might not know yet and might find it interesting. You can use a software that comes with your camera to set a Bulb exposure time and control it on your computer. So you wouldn’t need any “expensive” remote controllers or anything. This could be useful if you plan to shoot something or when shooting at own garden or anywhere you can/want take your laptop to.
    And Yanik, THANKS for all your tutorials, i’ve read them all and they’ve been quite helpful. I came here a month ago and i’ve been looking forward to your new tutorials since then. Keep it going ;-)

  7. Yanikon 01 Apr 2009 at 11:35 am

    @ Gaboss

    Great! What’s the software and where can we get it?

  8. Gabosson 01 Apr 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Well, i didn’t get too deep, but your software from CD, that you got with your camera, should do the magic. There was also said that just new models are capable of it, but i don’t know what models/manufacturers. I have a friend, who has Nikon D80 and he told me, that he has the oportunity to set it on PC.

  9. Azrion 07 Apr 2009 at 10:41 am

    Yanik, tq so much 4 all ur tutorials. it’s like magic 2 me. ;-)

  10. Dongleon 27 May 2009 at 7:03 am

    How can you be sure to not over or under expose the shot? I have a D80 and am new to photography, so usually use A or S modes so that I control 1 setting and the camera calculates the other.

  11. Aon 06 Jan 2010 at 11:56 am

    I have accidently got into bulb setting on my NIkon D80, can anyone please please tell me how to remove this setting.


  12. Yanikon 08 Jan 2010 at 3:29 pm


    It has to do with your shutter speed dial. Make sure you’re in S or M mode and turn your shutter speed dial.

  13. Aon 09 Jan 2010 at 6:38 am

    Thanks, I have tried this. For some reason, I can lower the shutter speed, but it will not take it off bulb setting, when I take the shutter speed up it just goes up to bulb setting.

  14. debbieon 21 Jan 2010 at 9:07 pm

    im right with you.. I have the d90 and can’t change it!!! help!!!!

  15. Aon 22 Jan 2010 at 5:43 am

    I ended up rining the Nikon helpline, they were very good and managed to talk me through the steps. Th person that I spoke to told me to press the 2 bottons on the camera near the on/off control with the green dots ie. the AF and +/- simultaneously until the display screen goes blank, this basically re-sets the camera. I had tried this before without success, this time it worked! so I am now off bulb setting.

    I hope this helps.

  16. sydneyon 09 Apr 2010 at 4:54 pm

    very informative, and this may be a dumb question,but what shutter speed should we use for a ightning storm,etc.?

  17. vinnyon 30 Apr 2010 at 9:16 am

    I shoot in bulb mode tonite for the first time for 45 mins I think it was to long for startrails any tips I use a canon rebel xsi the photo came out bright white then when I did just 30 sec exposures my star trails were just dots not trails any help would be great ! I read your post but still not working for me

  18. Tusaron 26 Jul 2010 at 10:05 am

    @Yanik: Liked your article. I was googling for some information on Bulb setting and hit your site. It is nicely narrated here.

    @Vinny: 45 mins in Bulb mode !!! It is OK, but there is a triangle rule, that is regarding ISO, Shutter speed and aperture. Slower shutter gathers more amount of light and wider aperture allows more amount of light while Higher ISO makes the sensor more sensitive to dimmer lights. So when you decide for a longer exposure, keep your ISO to the minimum say 100 or 200. Keep the aperture narrower than f/8 , you may choose f/11 for example. Then decide. And before going for the long exposure and spoiling your image, try this same settings with a 30s photo. It should come dark, else you have reduce the aperture further, for example to f/22. When you are satisfied with a darker 30s shot, exploit your camera to go to bulb mode. Remember, it eats out the life of your sensor, so use it judiciously.

  19. Antony Pratapon 08 Jul 2011 at 5:03 am

    Very very useful information. I’m going to try this out, thanks for sharing!

  20. Jackie Son 07 Oct 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Totally good info! I always wanted to know what and when to use that setting.
    Great job! Thanks for sharing this tutorial!

    I will be back for more… Or should I say, I will be searching for more tutorials on your site!

  21. Gourab Rahmanon 12 Jun 2012 at 8:18 am

    thanks for the nice tips!….getting a bulb on top of my head (ideas)!!

  22. Naveed Bhaton 30 Sep 2012 at 1:57 pm

    I have canon 1000D and i have the Bulb as shutter speed and i want to change it back to normal.

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply