Long Exposures on an iPhone: No Tripod Needed

Long Exposures on an iPhone: No Tripod Needed
I always have my iPhone with me (it's an iPhone 15 Pro Max), and I've been able to capture some excellent images when I'm without my usual gear. But there are times when I'd like to do some long exposures, and without a tripod, you're up the creek with just an iPhone.

Enter Spectre. Basically, it's an AI-powered shutter for your iPhone. The app has been out for a few years, and it's had some updates improving the app. The authors also did Halide, generally considered one of the best photo apps for the iPhone.

What Does It Do?

Spectre has three novel features. First, it can make crowds go away. How many times were you shooting a great landscape or some architecture, and people were in the way? With Spectre, if the people are moving, you can eliminate them. Frankly, if that's all the app did, it would be enough for me.

In this picture, I wanted to get this bridge, but there were three or four people strolling across it. With Spectre, I set a nine-second exposure. Since everyone was moving, Spectre had enough data to eliminate the pedestrians and just leave the bridge.

In the first image in the Live picture, you can see the people.Then a few seconds later, they begin to fade.

(In fact, one person at the end of the bridge wasn't moving, so he's still there.) As mentioned, the photo uses Apple Live Video, so you can play it back and see the people fade away, but at the end, you're left with a people-free image. Brilliant.

At night, using AI scene detection, the app switches modes to get you light trails for city photography or for light painting.

Spectre also can smooth water. Nice for fountains, the ocean, or soothing ripples on a lake. Sure, you can do this with any time exposure capable camera and a tripod, but bringing this to the iPhone, handheld, is very slick.

To make it all work, Spectre uses scene detection, intelligent exposure adjustment, and auto stabilization, so you can get away without a tripod.

Using Spectre

Using Spectre, I was surprised just how steady my images were using this app. Everything seemed well exposed. The camera controls were pretty obvious to use; you won't have to dig into an onscreen manual to get nice images.

On a recent trip to central Arizona, I was surprised how easy it was to get useful photos from an app I'd never used. The elimination of people in scenic shots was my favorite feature. It also worked well on water running in a stream, giving me blurred water while the rocks and background remained sharp.

I don't see my iPhone replacing my mirrorless camera and other gear anytime soon, but for times I'm without my usual equipment, Spectre can do things my iPhone simply could not do before.

Will It Work on My iPhone?

Spectre works on iPhone 6 and newer and requires iOS 11 and up. Spectre’s smart Automatic Scene Detection requires iOS 12. AI-based stabilization features are only available on devices with a Neural Engine (iPhone 8 and later). On iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, Spectre captures in lower resolution.

What's the Price?

There's a free version that lets you expose up to three seconds. If you buy the app, it's a one-time $4.99. No subscriptions, that's lifetime use and, for the increased capability for your phone, it's an absolute bargain.

Any Negatives?

It's not perfect. I had a couple of problems with moving water which blurred, but so did the stream bed. It took a few tries, but it finally got it right. I wasn't discouraged. Spectre helped me get some photos that were impossible to achieve on the iPhone without this software. I give Spectre my highest recommendation. If you try the free version, you'll be hooked.

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