Not too long ago, I had an a-ha moment. I photograph a lot of real estate and sometimes that leads into nighttime photography. I always shoot in Manual mode for maximum control. Because I shoot at narrow apertures like f/8–f/11 to get everything in focus, that will often require long exposures.

The problem with this is that most DSLR and mirrorless cameras have a maximum 30-second time limit in standard modes. However, most cameras do allow for something called Bulb mode.

What is Bulb mode?

Bulb allows you — via remote control — to determine the length of the exposure. This usually requires an additional remote for purchase or via an app on your phone or tablet device. This isn’t always an optimal solution.

In practice without a remote or an app, in Bulb mode you have to physically hold down the shutter button the entire time. Not only does this get exhausting, you can also cause unwanted camera shake, resulting in a blurry image.

Enter Time mode on many Nikon cameras

For those of you not in the know, on many Nikon cameras, there’s another mode. It’s called Time. As you rotate the mode dial to determine the length of exposure, the max time is 30 seconds, then there’s Bulb, then there’s Time.

I was made aware of this completely by accident. Time mode works much the same way as Bulb mode. The main difference is you only need to press the shutter once and wait, and when you want to stop taking the image, you simply press the shutter again. There are two important considerations when you’re doing this:

  • You’ll want to have a stop watch to know how long your shutter is open. Most phones have a stopwatch in the Clock app, or you can find other versions on your phone’s App Store.
  • When depressing the shutter for the second time to stop the exposure, you’ll want to take extra care when doing so to limit camera shake.
When shooting in manual mode when you go past the 30-second time limit, the next option is Bulb and after that is Time.

Avoiding camera shake

Camera shake can ruin your image and you’re going to want to avoid that. I found the best way to do this is to make sure you have a stable tripod and head. I use the Really Right Stuff Ultralight Tripod TFC-33 MK2 or the iFootage 65″ Carbon Fiber Video Tripod. My tripod head is the Really Right Stuff BH-55, a masterfully crafted and extraordinary ball head. I’ve found the combination of both work very effectively — along with a very steady hand — in reducing and in most cases eliminating camera shake.

I’m not aware of the Time mode on other camera systems, perhaps it’s unique to Nikon. If you’re aware of how to do this on other camera systems, please share your experiences by commenting below!