August 12, 2017

How to Create a Long Exposure Video Effect in After Effects

Pulling off long exposure photos is relatively easy, but doing so with video is another story.

One of the first still camera "tricks" you learn as a photographer is how to create light trails using long exposures. All you do is crank up your shutter speed to five or six seconds (or whatever works), adjust your aperture accordingly, and boom, you've got some nice light trails streaking all along some random freeway. But can you achieve the same effect with video? Totally, but you'll need to head into post to do it. 

Photographer/cinematographer Dan Marker-Moore, known for his iconic time-slices, created a video for Toyota that employs this interesting long exposure video effect, and in the tutorial below, he shows you how he did it using nothing more than standard Adobe After Effects tools—no plug-ins required.

And here is the completed ad for Toyota so you can see the effect in real-time:

This isn't the first time this effect has been used, but the reason I like this particular tutorial and think it's helpful is because you don't need any third party plug-ins or additional software to pull it off. (And that means potentially saving money on a tool you may only use a few times.) 

Marker-Moore shows you two approaches you can take to create this effect:

  • Set your blending mode to "Lighter Color," then duplicate the layer and stagger the video clips by one frame
  • Use "Echo" on your video or adjustment layer and set to maximum
Here's what Marker-Moore's timeline looked like as he started stacking and staggering each clip.Credit: PetaPixel

Once you've finished duplicating, staggering, or adding Echo, then sit back and enjoy the longest render of your life (maybe). Marker-Moore's render time was 48 hours, but it may be more or less depending on how many layers you add and how many other effects you include.

Also, he doesn't talk about it much in the video, but the process of tracking the car in post played an important role in making his Toyota video nice and sleek. Luckily, he explains it a little bit in a response to one of his viewers. (Heads up: this approach does require a plug-in.)

I used Adobe's camera cracker plug-in and choose to render the tracker points. By doing this I fixed the trackers to the scene. I then adjusted their color and luminance and then fed that entire scene through the Long Expo video technique. Those tracker points then created even more streaks for my scene.

This long exposure video effect is cool as hell and has plenty of applications: dream sequences, experimental films, or trippy ass music videos. How would you use this effect in your own work? Is there an easier/better way to pull this off? Let us know down in the comments!      

Your Comment

4 Comments

Love this effect, and there are some good tips on the video.

If you want to avoid the break up of lights that Dan mentions at around 4.20, then shoot with a 360 degree shutter (say 1/48s if shooting at 24 fps).

There's a way to do this in Premiere (without plugins), some details here:
https://vimeo.com/65375941

August 13, 2017 at 6:13AM, Edited August 13, 6:13AM

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Lights in long exposure pics never travel ahead of the source as shown here. In reality, it is more like a shooting star with its train (behind).

August 13, 2017 at 2:07PM, Edited August 13, 2:07PM

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JeffreyWalther
Steadicam Operator
1407

The trails can go forward or backward depending if time offset is positive or negative, further, the echo effect can also be changed from positive to a negative time offset as well. It's an aesthetic choice... and for me this time I wanted to move forward.

August 14, 2017 at 12:46PM, Edited August 14, 12:46PM

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Dan Marker-Moore
Photographer
6

Have you already tried it? ;-)

August 14, 2017 at 1:09PM

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JeffreyWalther
Steadicam Operator
1407