How to Make Long Exposures on a Canon AE-1

Written by suzette barnard
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How to Make Long Exposures on a Canon AE-1
The Bulb exposure setting allows enough light into the camera to capture city skylines at night. (city image by Henryk Olszewski from

Photographers use the Bulb exposure setting on film cameras to bring lowlight environments, such as city skylines, to life or to create artist, blurred images of fast-moving subjects. The Canon AE-1 and AE-1 Program cameras are no exception. Using the Bulb setting, typically abbreviated with a "B" on the shutter speed dial, allows the photographer to manually keep the camera's shutter open for extended periods of time. With the AE-1, the slowest programmed shutter speed available is two seconds. By using the Bulb setting, the photographer can force the camera to expose the film for as long as needed.

Skill level:

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  1. 1

    Locate the shutter speed dial. It is the large dial on the top right side of the camera marked with a series of numbers and the letter "B."

  2. 2

    Turn the shutter speed dial to "B."

  3. 3

    Mount the camera to a tripod, and aim the camera at the subject. Press and hold the shutter button, found just to the left of the shutter speed dial.

  4. 4

    Keep the shutter button depressed for as long as you need to expose the film.

  5. 5

    Release the shutter button when the desired exposure time is reached.

  6. 6

    Use the lever on the shutter speed button to advance the film to the next frame.

Tips and warnings

  • To help with exposure, open the lens all the way by selecting the lowest f/stop available. Find the f/stop on the lens ring closest to the camera body and twist the ring until the desired number. The lower the number, the more light the lens will let into the camera.
  • A tripod or other support system is essential to hold the camera steady. When working with slow shutter speeds, even the slightest wiggle of the camera will cause a blurry image.

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