My camera has a 'bulb mode,' and several questions on photo-SE refer to using Bulb Mode. A few questions:

  1. What is 'Bulb Mode?'
  2. Why is it called 'Bulb Mode?'
  3. What is 'Bulb Mode used for?

The bulb mode is simply a mode where you control the exposure time by holding down the shutter release button.

The name comes from the time when the shutter was controlled by a rubber bulb at the end of a hose. You compressed the bulb to open the shutter, and it would stay open as long as you held the bulb compressed.

Bulb mode is mostly used when you want a longer exposure than the camera settings allow for. Typically you can set the exposure time up to something like half a minute, so for exposures longer than that you have to control it manually.

Typically you would have the camera on a tripod and use a remote shutter release, so that you don't have to push the button on the camera, as that would cause the camera to move. Some remote shutter controls let you lock the button in the pressed state, specifically intended for bulb mode.

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    I would add, that with today's technology, you don't necessarily have to hold down any buttons. You can enter and exit bulb mode via remote control methods as well. Some of these allow you to hit the button, leave for an hour, then come back to finish, etc. – dpollitt May 13 '11 at 15:24

1) It is a shutter speed where the photographer taking the picture can control the shutter speed manually. So basically you can have a shutter speed from a couple of fractions of a second to hour. Depends how long you can hold that shutter button. But you could also use a remote release to do this job for you.

2) If i remember right its a very only terminology where an air bubble was to be pressed to open the shutter and release of it would close it.

3) Bulb mode is mainly used for shooting long exposures. For example fireworks, light trails, star trails etc. Also a very popular use is for light painting.

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  • You don't use bulb for fireworks but the other examples given are correct – JamWheel May 13 '11 at 12:41
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    You can use - and I have used - bulb mode for fireworks. – NickM May 13 '11 at 12:44
  • Personally my favorite use is those "dreamy" shots of running streams in the woods (of wavy water surface) where water looks like silk. Tripod and a shutter cable is a must have for this type of photography. – Jakub Sisak GeoGraphics May 13 '11 at 13:22
  • Indeed, bulb mode is very popular for fireworks to compose multiple fireworks into one more impressive photo. – Itai May 13 '11 at 13:24
  • Bulb mode can be used for fireworks. You do this by keep your shutter open for any period that you like because with the fireworks you dont get overexposed as most of the time you will be shooting the sky which will not. The advantage of doing that would be having multiple fireworks in the same shot even though they would have not been fired in sync. – Rajat May 18 '11 at 4:26

Bulb mode is for exposures longer than what the camera will meter for, (5 minutes...) and hand-held shots in low light with a handheld external flash. You can open the shutter, trigger the flash once or more, and close the shutter. It's a great tool for multiple exposures.

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