Normally when I shoot 20- or 30-second exposure pictures, I use a timer--I first focus on a light source and then change the focus towards whatever I want to shoot.

But this technique is not working with an intervalometer that I recently brought. Can someone suggest pointers on how to use an intervalometer to shoot long exposures in Bulb mode?

I am using a Polaroid Shutter Release on a Nikon D5100 and a 35 mm prime lens.

I tried two things to shoot stars in the sky:

  1. Put the exposure on bulb mode, assign a 1 minute long exposure on the intervalometer and click Start.

  2. Assign a delay and follow the same steps as (1).

In both the cases, the timer started the countdown but no picture was taken. I am guessing this is because the camera could not focus on any object.

  • Please explain why this is not working and what intervalometer you are using. Otherwise your question is too vague.
    – null
    Sep 20, 2015 at 0:44
  • 1
    For astrophotography (or fireworks), just use manual focus and pre-focus at infinity (or on a star). Under dim lighting wih just a few bright areas, or moving areas, the focus tends to "hunt". Sep 20, 2015 at 4:00

3 Answers 3


It sounds like you are still in autofocus mode and have your camera set to autofocus with a press of the shutter. Therefore, every time the intervalometer triggers the shutter, it is trying to autofocus and can't. When you are shooting astrophotography, autofocus is not that helpful. There are two possible fixes for keeping the focus:

1) Set autofocus to the back button focus (its next to the "i" button on a D5100. Back button focus has many advantages and by separating the autofocus from the shutter button, you never have to worry about an intervalometer (or other remote trigger) causing a refocus. Do an internet search for "back button focus" to learn more about that. In my opinion, this makes things much easier once you get used to it.

2) Easy way. Get your focus perfected however you do that, then simply switch the lens,or the camera, to manual focus (but it is typically easier to use the switch on the lens, especially with a D5100 as you need to go into the menu to do so on camera). That will essentially lock the focus as you set it. Alternatively, do your focusing in manual and leave it there. Be careful not to bump the focus adjustment on the lens before setting the intervalometer and it will keep the focus exactly as you set it.

Finally, you want to make sure the camera is set in "Shutter Priority" rather then "Focus Priority." Focus priority prevents the shutter from being release if the camera thinks its not in focus. This can be helpful sometimes, but I tend to leave it in shutter priority which means that even if the camera thinks its out of focus, it will still take the picture. I find that if you are trying to do anything creative, focus priority can be a pain. Also, if you are shooting fast action, like sports, it can be really frustrating.

There are other issues with using an intervalometer with long exposures. First, turn off in camera noise reduction. This causes a delay between shots of approximately the same length as the exposure. Fine for quick shots, disaster for a sequence of 20-30sec shots. Second, make sure there is a sufficient delay set on the intervalometer between shots (with in camera noise reduction turned off you will only need a few seconds). If it tries to trigger the shutter too quickly, it will just skip an exposure.

Final note, the D5100 has a built in intervalometer. All the above still apply when using that though.

Good luck!

  • Thank you for the detailed answer Peter. I really appreciate it. I am in travels and i lost my tripod. I am waiting to get a new one once i return home and play around again.
    – user892871
    Oct 9, 2015 at 20:54

You can use manual focus.

With the magnification of live view you should be able to focus precisely at your subject.


Peter is correct - the D5100 has a built in intervalometer so no need for external shutter release. When I shoot star trails, I ensure the lens is in manual focus & image stabilization is off (of course your using a tripod). In camera I simply hit the "i" button twice & scroll to & set focus to "MF" (manual focus. On the lens I wind the focus all the way to infinity & then just back-off a tiny bit. Works for me!

  • With a built in intervalometer, can i shoot for times greater than 30 seconds?
    – user892871
    Apr 23, 2016 at 19:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.