How to Shoot Light Trails - Digital Photography School

How to Shoot Light Trails

One of the first subjects that I remember trying to capture as a teenager with my first SLR camera (film) was light trails created by cars on a busy road near my home.

I’d seen this type of shot in a photography magazine and was impressed by the eye catching results.

Light-Trails

Light Trails continue to be popular subject matter for many photographers and they can actually be a great training ground for those wanting to get their cameras out of manual mode and to experiment with shooting in low light at longer exposures.

Following area few examples of light trail shots as well as some practical starting point tips for those wanting to give it a go.

To get more tutorials like this subscribe to Digital Photography School.

Light-Trails-Photography

Equipment:

There is not just one particular type of camera and kit that you’ll need to capture light trails – however it is important to have a camera that allows you to have some control over exposure settings – particularly those that allow you to choose longer shutter speeds. This means you need a camera that has the ability to shoot in either full manual mode and/or shutter priority mode (something that all DSLRs and manypoint and shoot cameras have).

You’ll also need a tripod (or some other way to making your camera completely still) as you’ll be shooting with long shutter speeds which will make shooting handheld pretty much impossible.

Not essential but helpful to have with you are lens hoods (to help block lens flare from ambient lights), remote shutter release cables or wireless remote controls, patience and some warm clothes if you’re going out on a chilly night.

Photograph-Light-Trails

The Basic Principle:

At the most general level photographing light trails involves finding a spot where you’ll see the light trails created by cars, securing your digital camera, setting a long exposure setting on your camera and shooting at a time when cars will be going by to create the trail of light. Of course it’s a little more complicated than this – but the general factor behind it is longer exposures that will enable the car/s that create the trails to move through your image.

Photographing-Light-Trails

Experiment:

While there are a lot of tips that could be shared on the topic of photographing light trails – the main thing I learned in my early days of attempting to create these types of images was to experiment extensively. The beauty of digital photography is that you can do this with no extra cost to yourself and can get instant results (unlike when I did it on film and had to fork out for film and processing – not to mention wait days to see my results).

Light-Trails-1-1

Setting Up Your Shot:

Photographing light trails is not difficult – it’s as simple as finding virtually any road with cars going down it once the sun goes down. But getting a shot that grabs attention means putting a little more thought into choosing your location, thinking about timing and framing your image. Here are a few tips on how to set your shot up:

  • Timing/Light – one might think that the middle of the night is the best time for light trail photography (and it can be) – however one very effective time to do it is just as the sun is going down (just before and after). If you shoot at this time you’ll not only capture light from cars, but ambient light in the sky which can add atmosphere to your shots. You also might find that earlier in the evening you get a little more ‘action’ in your shot with more cars and even the movement of people through your shot.
  • Creative Perspectives – some of the most effective light trail shots that I’ve taken and seen from others were taken from perspectives other than at the height of a normal person standing up. Get down low or find a place looking down on your scene that will create an unusual angle.
  • Location – the most obvious thing with location is that you’ll need it to be somewhere near a road – however there’s more to think about than that. Choose a location that adds interest to the shot in some way. This might be one where there are well lit buildings along the road, one where multiple roads merge together to create light trails in different directions, on the bend of a road so that the trails sweep through the image, near a roundabout so the trails create circular shapes, in the middle of dual carriageways (on a triaffic island) so that you get traffic coming in two directions etc.
  • Framing – the normal ‘rules’ of composition apply in this type of photography. Images need some sort of point/s of interest, the rule of thirds can be applied effectively, draw the eyes into your image using lines smartly, foregounds and backgrounds should add to and not distract from the image.

Light-Trails-2-1

Settings:

  • Aperture and Shutter Speed – I wish I could give you shutter speeds and apertures that will work in every situation – but as the ambient light and speed of cars will differ in every situation there’s no one exposure combination that will work in every setting.

Having said this I’ve found that I usually shoot at shutter speeds between 10 and 20 seconds (which gives cars time to move through the frame) and with apertures in the mid range (start with something around f/8).

The key is to start with something in the range above and to take a few test shots to see how the exposure works. You’ll quickly realize whether your shots are under or overexposed and whether the length of the exposure is long enough to let cars travel through the frame in the way that you want.

If your shots are overexposed – close your aperture down (increase the f stop number) or if your shots are underexposed open it up (decrease the f stop numbers). If you want the car’s lights to go further through the frame go for a longer shutter speed and if you want it to travel less through the frame shorten it.

Keep in mind that aperture impacts depth of field. If you need to go with a larger aperture you decrease the depth of field and more of your shot will be out of focus.

Light-Trails-3-1

  • Histogram – One thing to watch out for is letting any light source in your image (whether it be headlights, street lights etc) washing out your image. Lights that burn too bright can cause distractions and draw the eye of your viewer away from focal points – ruining your shot. One way to quickly check out if there’s any area in your shot that is overexposed to this degree is to view the histogram on your shot. If there are areas that are blown out you’ll have a graph with a right hand side that is too high on the graph. Learn more about histograms here.
  • Choose a low ISO setting - this will give you images with as little noise as possible.
  • Shoot in RAW if you have it - this will enable you to have more control in your post production work – particularly in getting white balance right (something that can be important as you’re shooting in a situation with lots of artificial light that can cause all kinds of color casts in your shot).
  • Manual Focus - In low light situations cameras can struggle to get focusing locked correctly. The last thing you want is for your camera to be in and out of focus just as you need to hit the shutter release. Switch to manual focus and make sure your focus is upon a part of your image that is visually strong.

Light-Trails-4-1

Timing Your Shot:

There is no right or wrong way to time your shot. Hitting the shutter just before a car enters the frame and releasing it just after it leaves the frame can create a lovely unbroken line – but sometimes shooting with shorter exposure times while the camera is in the frame can be effective also. Once again it’s about experimenting with different timings and seeing what effects it has.

Light-Trails-5-1

Using Bulb Mode:

Many digital cameras have a mode on them called ‘bulb’ mode that allows you as the photographer to keep the shutter open as long as you wish. This can be very handy in this type of photography to time your shots with precision. If you use this you’ll want to be using a remote shutter release to stop any camera movement while the shutter is open.

Light-Trails-6-1

Got some good light trail shots? Head over to our forum and share them with the DPS community.

UPDATE: We’ve since followed up this tutorial on shooting light trails with 5 Advanced Light Trail Tips.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • Yedan

    I have played with this style of shot but always seem to end up with a very orange looking picturing, how can I stop all my night shots looking orange?

  • parth

    dude good one!

  • Hannah

    Adjust the white balance.

  • Vignesh Dhakshinamoorthy

    Thank you for writing this. I was about to start out with my camera to experiment this style, but then i decided to read a few articles, get ideas from others, and leave! this certainly helped. Manual focus. RAW format. U mentioned a lot of key points!

  • Dinesh

    My first time hands-on light trail

  • Dinesh

    Few more shots..

  • @ahsan_s

    Downtown, Cleveland, Ohio. Taken on March 14, 2014.
    I waited for a bus to go by before snapping this long exposure shot so I could capture the nice light trail it left behind.
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/ahsan_s/13162516894/in/photostream/

  • @ahsan_s

    Horseshoe Casino, Cleveland. Taken on March 14, 2014.
    The trailing lights left behind by the buses in this long exposure shot do give a surreal look to the building, as if the building itself is in motion!
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/ahsan_s/13162367103/in/photostream/

  • Niza

    My first light trail

  • Dlync

    My first attempt at night photography.

  • Deepesh

    Thanks alot to this guide. I experimented light trail by asking my friend to run my bike and i really got eye chatching results. This was my first attempt.

  • Deepesh

    **

  • Deepesh

    ****

  • Nancyhall18

    That is awesome!! Love it.

  • Michael Owens

    Amazing!

  • Michael Owens

    First attempt? Its beautiful! Well done! The starburst effect, adds to this!

  • Michael Owens

    Not bad at all Niza! Like it! Nice low angle too!

  • Michael Owens

    Fantastic! :)

  • Michael Owens

    Or go with M (Manual mode), where you can set the aperture AND shutter speed independently! Or (B) Bulb mode (which does not limit the shutter speed to a max of 30s)

  • Stuart Giblin

    My first Light Trails shot in Norway and took by accident with a Nikon D3200 after a night of Northern Lights hunting

  • Dlync

    Thanks for your comment. Just new at this, not any easy site to get around/find comments. Much prefer the challenges on Digital Photography Review.

  • Dlync

    Thanks. Was pretty happy with it for my first go.

  • Michael Owens

    Well dude, no one is forcing you to stay! :)

  • http://www.digitalphotomentor.com/ Darlene Hildebrandt

    Dlync – we have a weekly challenge here on dPS, you can find it in the right hand sidebar of the site on pretty much any page, just scroll down a bit. There is also our very active forum which you can join and look for challenges inside there also or get images critiqued. I do hope you stick around.

  • Dlync

    Thanks, Darlene, I really do appreciate that you have taken the time to respond. Is it Latest Assignment that I am looking for?, and how do I find the rules etc? Sorry it is probably glaringly obvious to most, but not me.

    I love all the tutorials that you have on this site, I have gained so much from them. Shall definitely keep reading the tutorials even if I cant master finding the challenges and critiques, lol.

    Thanks, once again.

  • http://www.digitalphotomentor.com/ Darlene Hildebrandt

    Hi Dlync – sorry there are no rules for our challenges just a theme. It’s all about getting out and doing photography, there is no right or wrong and no winners or losers. The latest one is black and white photography. http://digital-photography-school.com/weekly-photography-challenge-black-white/

    Just go down the side of any article and you’ll see the challenge.

    In the forums you can find the assignments here
    http://digital-photography-school.com/forum/digital-photography-assignments/

  • Dlync

    Thanks for that Darlene.

  • http://ducsu.com/ Duc Su

Some older comments

  • Andy

    April 16, 2013 01:58 am

    Aperture obviously not appetite!!! Iphone spell check and bad typing!

  • Andy

    April 16, 2013 01:56 am

    Hi guys. If you would like to take daytime shots or control the depth of field in daylight or dusk just use a neutral density filter to block out the light. A 10x ND will block out sufficient light to keep the shutter open 30 seconds, apatite f 11 to 22 and balance with the iso to get enough light for good exposure. You will then get the beautiful sheen on the water!

  • Pete

    March 21, 2013 11:32 am

    Great tips, you can have good fun and create some cool photos with your own light sources too. Trying using various coloured lights such as torches with coloured gels, you'll get some great shots!

  • Joy Hill

    February 22, 2013 09:49 pm

    This was super helpful - thanks for posting!

  • Chris

    January 22, 2013 06:47 pm

    Really helpful - thanks for the information and tips, I'm out tonight at dusk !

  • Eniola Odurinde

    November 27, 2012 07:07 am

    WOW!!!
    Great tutorial, with gorgeous pictures!

  • andrew

    November 8, 2012 09:25 am

    To help you take better pictures Sony has included features such as intelligent scene recognition and a face detection mode for better portraits. Perhaps a more gimmicky feature is a smile shutter that fires off a shot if the Cybershot DSC T90 detects someone is smiling.

  • Subhash Puri

    October 24, 2012 11:19 am

    It is an awesome tutorial. Thanks for so many informations. I will certainly give it a try.

  • Tommy Self

    February 2, 2012 09:46 am

    What size lens do you use or is the best lens to use. I have a 75/300 and a 55mm

  • RYan

    December 14, 2011 06:34 am

    Hi, I was wondering what sort of filter you used to block out some unwanted light, if any, please let me know!

    Thanks.

  • Daniel Nielsen

    December 8, 2011 08:21 am

    I do some pretty neat photo art with a long shutter. You can see some of it here: http://frozenpanda.com/photographs/art/

    But i have also used it in a portrait... which i think i will use some more in the future: http://photoblog.frozenpanda.com/index.php?showimage=325

  • Edwin Eugene

    September 14, 2011 02:34 pm

    I have seen all the photo in my htc phone is very good.
    Thanks
    Edwin
    14-9-2021

  • PRAVEEN

    June 17, 2011 07:31 pm

    I love this type of photography, and i practice it daily after my school, visiting your tutorial i learnt a few more tips and i will implement those today it self

  • maurers

    May 19, 2011 10:21 am

    Whenever I try and take long exposure shots of things like fountains/rivers etc to make the water look all smooth ;)

  • Giovanna

    May 9, 2011 06:32 am

    heres my light trail taken in front of Big Ben
    6 seconds
    http://www.exploretravelphotography.com/gallery/hac22a47#hac22a47

  • Ragupathy

    April 26, 2011 12:33 pm

    Its really Great to read as am a beginner for DSLR.... Nice ... i eagarly want to try this ...
    until i read this one, i will be thinking i couldnot take like this photos.......
    Thanks once again for your valuable tips.

  • James Rendina

    March 22, 2011 02:16 am

    I consider myself a very serious advanced photographer, Been doing it for some 55 years. Every article, tip and suggestion that comes to me thru your efforts reminds me and re-enforces techniques that hopefully keeps my skills fresh and alive. I do not know of any single source of material that I enjoy and look forward to as much as your timely publications.
    My sincere thanks for the continuing great job you do.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck

    March 20, 2011 05:37 am

    Hi

    Here is another attempt in Traffic

    Uptown from Downtown: http://t.co/WpR66fB

  • Erik Kerstenbeck

    March 20, 2011 05:35 am

    Great article - lots of super tips!
    I tried some techniques...here is the result

    Gas Lamp Quarter: http://t.co/8qMRfcy

  • liaqat

    March 19, 2011 10:46 pm

    great tutorial mate!
    thanks a ton for sharing

  • Kathy

    January 24, 2011 12:43 am

    I have a beginner question about this subject. What should my metering be set at for night shots and day shots to properly blur? Or does that matter? My thoughts are: don't meter with spot metering nor zone but use center weight?? Please advise......

  • ElDavid

    January 23, 2011 06:36 pm

    Tried it today with a tripod an a cable release, set to bulb.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/davidenriquefinol/5380332296/

  • Tasmia

    January 1, 2011 06:08 pm

    This is a great tutorial for someone who knows nothing about photography but I googled it as a friend of mine took some amazing light trail photos..do you know of a good priced camera which includes this function? :)

  • Robyn

    October 5, 2010 04:13 am

    thankyou, this was very helpful, seeing as i'm just going out to try doing this very soon.
    hopefully they'll come out the way i expect them too. (:

  • Robert Frederick

    September 8, 2010 09:22 am

    i've experimented with light streams via 4 different color LED's connected to button batteries temporarily attached to a 3 section fan blade with the fan unplugged, by varying the shutter speed & the speed at which the fan blade was manually spinnned i got some interesting results especially when i varied the shooting incident angle to the fan blade axis & the placement of the LED on the fan blade section[eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/30089437@N05/4895261037/' title='Light Painting' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4094/4895261037_9bb3a490be.jpg'][eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/30089437@N05/4899089053/' title='Lighted' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4075/4899089053_2d0ff54bfe.jpg']

  • osborne

    September 7, 2010 07:57 am

    As a neophite photographer always searching for instructive postings, with solid how-to detail, I find the coverage on light trails simply wonderful and wished there were more posts on taking good pics like this one. You are not only schooled on the topic but assisted with how to go about taking good light trails. Nothing to complain about here from my viewpoint. With this info in hand, I think I can confidently go out there and experiment taking some pretty good shots myself. Muchos gracias!

  • Tim

    September 3, 2010 04:09 pm

    @ Elliot,

    It sounds to me like your aperture is open way too far or your shooting in light that is way too harsh. A couple of things that may help:

    1. Shoot in S mode instead of full manual, this will allow the camera to adjust the aperture setting for you. You may find that you have to knock back your exposure compensation also.

    2. Try to go back and shoot in lower light conditions such as overcast days or sunrise / sunset.

    3. Full light shots may only require a shutter setting of a half a second instead of starting @ 2.

    Good luck!

  • juarez

    September 3, 2010 02:26 pm

    great tutorial, very interesting! thank you for sharing!

  • Subramanya Prasad

    August 27, 2010 08:56 pm

    Very nice pictures and very good description of the steps, tips and tricks.

    Here's one that I tried.[eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/subpra/4804854129/' title='ZigZag' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4078/4804854129_96c6d20688.jpg']

  • Alex

    August 24, 2010 05:51 am

    Wow! Best one is with bicycle and the mountain road. Do you think it is possible to make this affect on the video or movie clip?

  • moglie

    August 21, 2010 08:21 am

    First try :)
    Having fun

  • Elliot

    August 21, 2010 01:47 am

    Hey. Whenever I try and take long exposure shots of things like fountains/rivers etc to make the water look all smooth, I usually just end up with a screen full of white. I have it on exposures of around 2-8s. and I keep the ISO levels on 100. Is it simply the aperture I need to change?

    (If it helps I use a Canon EOS 300D)

    Thanks.

  • Guess the Lighting

    August 21, 2010 12:52 am

    Nice, in-depth post. If you're interested in seeing how famous photographers light their images, take a peek at GuessTheLighting.com

  • KidRobot

    August 19, 2010 01:48 am

    FIRST time trying this out after reading the article above.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/abrahamrodriguez83/4900542422/

  • Rajev

    July 28, 2010 07:37 am

    The article is WOW! The pics are WOW! Thanks.

  • Darren

    July 26, 2010 09:50 pm

    I took an interesting photo of lights at night. I had the camera set on time exposure, pressed the shutter button manually. The car lights and street lights moved when I pressed the shutter button, but then the softer lights started to filter in eg; house lights. It looked very affective. Cheers.

  • rakesh

    July 25, 2010 04:45 pm

    i have never tried such light trails shot before. i will definately do this following your tips sir. thank you

  • eric diaz

    July 24, 2010 07:31 pm

    here is my firs try on light trails..

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/jeric29red/4773890708/' title='malik fahad ' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4099/4773890708_3f2581bb16.jpg']

  • rezwan

    July 24, 2010 03:18 pm

    great tutorial! thanx a lot! very helpful!

  • Mike Minick

    July 23, 2010 10:40 pm

    Did anyone else notice that, on the Peter Carr shot...last example...one side of the photo is a mirror image of the other side. Just thought that I'd mention it.

  • Mustafa Khayat

    July 23, 2010 07:16 pm

    http://flic.kr/p/81GJLJ

  • Mustafa Khayat

    July 23, 2010 07:15 pm

  • ABG

    July 23, 2010 03:10 pm

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/abernalguarin/4633450872/' title='Gred' url='http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3371/4633450872_4d1c1880b1.jpg']

  • Andy

    July 23, 2010 09:46 am

    Just a tip with using BULB mode. My Canon 400D will only allow you to use BULB mode in the manual setting (i think thats it) definately not in the auto, or semi-auto settings.

  • Alan

    July 23, 2010 05:40 am

    Hello i get these mails regularly and i'm happy to learn New things every time.

    One Question..... Can these light trials can be captured in Digital Still cameras like Sony T90 ?
    if yes how to go about it.

  • Lance

    July 23, 2010 05:13 am

    Funny thing about light is that its like shooting the paint an artist uses rather than the painting itself. I use a several shutter speeds because the effects are very different.

  • Shariq

    July 23, 2010 02:10 am

    Love it! Can't wait to get home and try this tonight!

  • Laura M

    July 22, 2010 01:11 pm

    I absolutely love this - do you have any NYC shots? Would love to see them :) Keep blogging, cheers!

  • souravsen

    July 20, 2010 11:48 am

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sourav_sen/4808899057/

  • souravsen

    July 20, 2010 11:48 am

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sourav_sen/4808899057/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sourav_sen/4808899275/

  • souravsen

    July 20, 2010 11:45 am

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sourav_sen/4808899275/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sourav_sen/4808899057/

  • sourav

    July 20, 2010 03:51 am

    Light trails created by flies under a lamp post.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sourav_sen/4808899057/in/photostream/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sourav_sen/4808899275/in/photostream/

  • Kyle Bailey

    July 20, 2010 03:51 am

    Great article as always! I wish I had an opportunity to read it before I shot the picture linked below as it would have made my process easier. I had to take 20 or 30 shots to get my settings right. Keep up the great work!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kylebailey/4805814490/

  • Martin Soler Photography

    July 19, 2010 07:33 am

    Some good tips there. I did my first one here and was pretty happy with it, it is on the street that goes from Paris to Versailles:
    http://martinsoler.com/2009/10/27/la-route-pour-versaille/

    There are a couple of tips I would suggest.
    1. Choose a day with lots of traffic. I kept coming in weekends and there was not enough traffic to make something interesting.
    2. Try to shoot slightly earlier and use an ND filter, then you get the nice blue sky instead of a black or brown sky.
    3. Capture a street that gives a nice vanishing point or eye trail.

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    July 18, 2010 10:11 pm

    great~~!!

  • Wedding Photography Sydney - Thina Doukas

    July 17, 2010 08:38 am

    Thanks for the great information on shooting light trails. Havn't had the chance to get out and practice this form of photography. Your advice is much appreciated thanks again

  • Miles

    July 17, 2010 02:19 am

    Here is my first try at light trails: Bangkok at night.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/milestuttle/4798985321/in/set-72157622992494331/

  • hanifah siregar

    July 17, 2010 12:44 am

    my light trail, running stars; http://www.flickr.com/photos/nipasir/4785941917/ exposure 5 minutes
    and with flashlight (do it alone, with timer, 20 minutes exposure); http://www.flickr.com/photos/nipasir/4530668747/

  • Jalaj Tyagi

    July 16, 2010 09:26 pm

    very informative article......[eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/jalajtyagi/4799052556/' title='light trails' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4116/4799052556_fd6f39b8ae.jpg']

  • MH Media

    July 16, 2010 09:26 pm

    .. and if you're shooting(!) in less-than-desirable areas, take a friend to make sure you don't get mugged!

  • Rob

    July 16, 2010 09:15 pm

    Great. thanks for this. a few extra points I hadn't realised.
    what about monochrome light trails ?
    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/rahsoft/3053453419/' title='IMG_0073bw Roundabout traffic' url='http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3215/3053453419_27d251a289.jpg']

  • Rob

    July 16, 2010 01:31 pm

    As stephen said, using the self timer is important if you don't have a remote. You can set the timer to 2 seconds on most cameras for this very purpose.

  • Mei Teng

    July 16, 2010 10:53 am

    Thanks for sharing! :) I want to try shooting light trails soon. Have not had any success in the past.

  • iTakePhotography

    May 12, 2010 04:08 am

    Many thanks for a very informative tutorial.
    After reading this last-night (10th May 2010) I ended up on a M1 motorway bridge, until 03:00 this morning.

    Mind you, my efforts were far from perfect!

    Keep smiling

    iTakePhotography

  • Colter

    April 21, 2010 01:38 pm

    Really nice tutorial, very comprehensive and easy to follow. I've been constantly experimenting on different objects with the light other than light trails from cars and when done creatively, it really gives an amazing piece of artwork.

  • PoTayTowMan

    November 20, 2009 05:09 am

    AWESOME! Im gonna try all these out NEVER! I knew all this before I even came out of my mothers stomach! I take better pictures then these every 10 seconds for god sakes! Find something youre good at and stop clogging my internets. Kbai

  • Utpal

    May 22, 2009 08:42 pm

    Perfect lesson........cant get that in any class.......well done..........might need more help later

  • Edwin Barreto

    May 5, 2009 02:57 am

    Finally, information that is not just practical, easy-to-follow, but full of excellent insights. Thank you!

  • Georgia T.

    April 26, 2009 10:57 am

    hi, im a year 12 student from Queensland, a friend of mine suggested this site for me because he thought that it might assist me in my art major at school. i can tell you now that i think it will help me greatly and i cant wait to try some of this stuff out, thank you, george

  • Alex

    April 17, 2009 01:50 am

    This is a great post! I've always wanted to take photos like this and now it's great to know how. I posted some of my attmpets in the Forum (Lights Trails in Pittsburgh).

    I do have one question I was hoping someone could answer, my camera (Nikon P90) only allows me to go to shutter speeds of 8 sec., how high to some nicer cameras get?

  • Howard Best

    February 22, 2009 06:13 am

    Is there an inexpensive non-SLR camera that I than buy at Wal-Mart which will allow me to photograph star trails with an exposure length of hours?

  • Mario Lat

    January 27, 2009 12:08 pm

    How I wish i could take pics soon. No camera yet. But this is an encouraging post. And smartly written. Thanks.

  • Martin Lewis

    January 24, 2009 09:20 pm

    Going to give this a go tonight and hopefully post up some cool images. Thanks.

  • guy

    January 24, 2009 05:30 am

    swivel your camera back and forth on the tri pod and you can get some gnarly images...

  • sgacyr

    January 6, 2009 04:42 pm

    thanks for the tips...i try to use it and the outcome was good... here's my shot http://www.flickr.com/photos/sgacyr/3118015072/

  • BigAshD

    December 17, 2008 10:08 am

    Hi Matt,

    You need to turn the IS off when mounting to a tripod, because the IS senses motion in the camera / lens. When it is mounted to a fixed point, like a tripod, they can get themselves into a tiz, and try to compensate for no movement. This creates a worse effect than if the camera / lens wasn't mounted onto a tripod. Switching it off removes this problem. Some of the Canon lenses can auto-detect that they are tripod mounted, and prevent this, but I ALWAY swtich my IS lenses off when using a tripod, monopod, or bean bag.

    Hope this helps.

    Ash

  • Matt

    December 17, 2008 07:03 am

    Hey,

    I tried some for hire photos with my new Canon 50D. The clients are happy but I think that I can do better. I am an ok shooter but no serious professional. Any suggestions for my shots would be appreciated. I want to make the lights more stream like and I have been told that adjusting the ISO setting shoudl do it alog with using a tripod.

    http://www.teppanvillage.ca/photo-gallery.htm

    http://www.chaletwhistler.ca/photos.html

    One question though. I was told that when I use a tripod I shoud turn off the image stabalization? Any idea why?

    Thanks,
    Matt

  • projectgrfix

    September 28, 2008 11:53 pm

    Looks great! I never knew how its shot. Thanks.

  • wspinaczka

    September 13, 2008 09:42 pm

    Thank you very much for this useful article. I like it.

  • Maritza N.

    September 9, 2008 07:33 am

    Can I use this technique with my Panasonic Lumix TZ1. I'm taking a continued education in intermediate photography course and the professor asked us to do this work. Most of the students has professional cameras and just two students including me has a single camera. If there's a possibility to make it?

    I'll appreciate your response, thank you.

  • MARLA

    August 24, 2008 07:09 am

    GREAT INFO! Im a newbie and it is hard to find this information with basic clarity and easy to understand guidelines the way you have described. Thank You!

  • Stephen

    August 16, 2008 05:04 pm

    Manual settings are great - so many possibilities. One things I'm wondering though; the images that are displayed here (and any other post) - do you simply find them randomly on flickr or are the photos owners directly affiliated with dps?

  • edwin

    August 16, 2008 02:24 pm

    Thanks for sharing.

  • April

    August 16, 2008 10:10 am

    Um, is it just me, or is this entry really familiar? Even the pictures!

    Has this been posted before?

  • SoCalStock

    August 16, 2008 10:04 am

    Thanks for the awesome tutorial!!! I will be testing it out tonight, and will post some examples.

  • Mike Ancient

    August 16, 2008 08:53 am

    Lots of obvious stuff, but stuff that needs to be said about light trail photography, when putting together a tutorial. Good stuff in the comments as well.
    Here's one of mine, from inside the car:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikeancient/2234638415/

  • Ian

    August 15, 2008 03:06 am

    @ Maui the star trails are usu. a result of havaing used a small aperture look here: http://photography-on-the.net/forum/showthread.php?t=538623

  • Benjamin

    August 15, 2008 02:53 am

    Awesome tutorial. Thanks for organizing and posting this!

  • Cinnamon

    August 15, 2008 01:04 am

    Great tutorial, comments, and of course, pics....can't wait to utilize my new knowledge!! Thank you all!

  • Ash

    August 15, 2008 12:45 am

    You can also use an ND filter to enable the required f-stop for depth of field and shutter speed for capturing the required length of trail.

    You can get a rough figure for the exposure by setting the ISO high and metering. Then double the time for each halving of the ISO setting back down to 100. I've done this for long expsoures and it works very well, certainly to get a rough estimate when you can't afford to keep doing 5 min exposures (i.e. because you'll miss the best of the light AND cars).

  • Ajani

    August 15, 2008 12:30 am

    Great article. I will need try shooting in Bulb and with RAW but I did a lot of this stuff.

    I tried night photography a few months ago when I first got my camera. Here are a few examples.

    Shot with a Nikon D60. As you can see, I'm in DC.
    http://picasaweb.google.com/proverbthetruth/NightPhotography/photo#5211946898766036210

  • ziad chatila

    August 15, 2008 12:17 am

    @Maui I know there are star filters that you can use to gain that effect.

    http://www.tiffen.com/star_filters.htm

  • Maui

    August 14, 2008 06:49 pm

    I've been dying to try this for the longest time but you can't just shoot here and there in my country. I have a question though, how do you achieve those starshaped light effect? And do you remove filters when doing night photography?

  • Akshay

    August 14, 2008 06:27 pm

    I tried snapped some pics with long exposures. Here are my samples.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ignoto_someoneski/2643144310/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/ignoto_someoneski/2643127124/

  • Phil

    August 14, 2008 04:44 pm

    What is about light trails made by the sun??
    Like this one: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3074/2758795361_546e05161b_m.jpg

    How does that work?
    Anybody knows?

  • William Owens

    August 14, 2008 09:13 am

    Years agom the early 70s, I Held the camera down on my dash board and got a decent shot of fast moving traffic on th San Diego Freeway in LA. Take real care if you are dumb enough to try it.

    In the mid 1950s I suspended a penlight from the ceing, placed the camera on th floor undethe light, then spun the string to catch a myriad of circular light tracks.

    Ain't light wonderful

  • Jim McDosh

    August 14, 2008 08:37 am

    Wow dude, those are some totally awesome photos! Love it.

    Jt
    www.Ultimate-Anonymity.com

  • DrCord

    August 14, 2008 07:52 am

    Thanks for the great tutorial! Very helpful!

  • Garrett

    August 14, 2008 07:13 am

    I haven't done much with car lights, but I tried to do this by putting a headlamp around my dog's waist two days ago. You can see it here:

    http://comfortabledog.com/index.php?showimage=24

  • ziad

    August 14, 2008 05:44 am

    Awesome. Here is a time lapse video I did at night that includes traffic zipping by:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldiXOI3b_MQ

  • Krazd

    August 14, 2008 05:33 am

    Great article, I always wondered how these shots were captured... Time to get a better camera.. Dugg!

  • Audrey Snider

    August 14, 2008 04:52 am

    This is fantastic? I love it. Photography has always been something I've wanted to do but never was much good at it. Keep up the good work.

  • ChrisH

    August 14, 2008 04:33 am

    While still being new to DSLRs, this is one of my favorite techniques. Here's one of my first shots with it. I love how the stationary car is facing the blurring lights of the moving cars.

    http://picasaweb.google.com/chrishofmann/PlayingWithTripod/photo?authkey=asil-OGT8lE#5226764923592270546

  • Embassy Pro Books

    August 14, 2008 04:22 am

    I love the last photo. What was making the light trails?

  • Chris Ostermann

    August 14, 2008 04:19 am

    Sorry for the double post, but one more, just to note that it doesnt always have to be a strong source of light.

    http://flickr.com/photos/chrisostermann/2454230422/in/set-72157605204921983/

  • Chris Ostermann

    August 14, 2008 04:18 am

    Diggin the posts from the crowd. Take it a step further and manipulate the source of light you shoot.

    http://flickr.com/photos/chrisostermann/1283502674/in/set-72157605204921983/

  • DavyJones

    August 14, 2008 03:54 am

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/hockeymandave/2008309074/

    Shot over the 405 Freeway bridge by South Coast Plaza in Orange County, California

  • evano

    August 14, 2008 01:54 am

    Great tutorial! I've only gotten shots like this before accidentally.

    As to the suggestions from Dave above (#comment-20691) about moving the camera to shoot in clubs: Thanks! Now I have an excuse for all the shots I've taken in concerts and clubs which I previously called "lousy". Now I can tell everyone they were done on purpose! :)

  • Martin Wolf

    August 14, 2008 01:40 am

    Thanks a lot for your advices. Good tips and nice photos!

  • Pete Langlois

    August 14, 2008 12:31 am

    I was trying to shoot Perseid Meteor showers the other night but wherever the camera was pointed the showers weren't.

    http://www.petelanglois.net

  • missy

    April 18, 2008 09:43 am

    I have been shooting long exposures at night from 15 mins up to one hour and have been getting a lot of red and white dots (different than typical digital noise). I am shooting a canon digital rebel. I was using an iso of 100, and aperatures from f8 to f22. I was told that this could be due to overheating of the sensor. Any thought on this? If this is the case, how can you do a long exposure with a digital camera?

  • victoria

    April 11, 2008 09:16 pm

    You dont have to use a digital camera to capture these type of photos. I take lots of light trail photos with my black and white film EOS and have alsways been happy with the results.

  • Bill

    April 9, 2008 06:58 am

    Great tips. I am going to try it out tonight.

  • Matthew

    March 22, 2008 11:40 am

    I was just looking at the photo taken by Tricky and noticed that it's taken right where I worked a few months back. I thought the road layout looked familiar. I still drive that way to my new office every day.

  • rogerhaus

    February 15, 2008 02:45 am

    i like so much the nocturnal photography.
    I'll try to take the pictures on RAW mode like you explained. I'm used to take the pictures in JPG mode, and i'll try in RAW. :P
    Thanks, byez!!!!

  • J.B.

    January 30, 2008 12:57 pm

    I enjoyed the article and gave it a try this past weekend.
    http://photos.jbchurchill.com/?q=gallery&g2_itemId=979

    Thanks !

  • lolwut

    January 21, 2008 07:13 am

    how do i shoot web ?
    _ _
    (O_o)

  • Rune

    January 15, 2008 11:54 pm

    Thanks for some great tips. They came into use on New Year's Eve! And I've also started using histograms to my advantage.

  • Joey Rico

    January 15, 2008 09:28 pm

    wow great shots!!!!!!! this is really what i'm trying to learn how to do!!!!!!!!

    here are some samples of what i took...

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/alienscream/1511408634/

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/alienscream/1511408606/

  • Phill Price

    January 13, 2008 09:07 am

    Thanks to the motivation from this ost I got this on my journey home yesterday

    http://www.zooomr.com/photos/phillprice/4113517/ - used a giant tree pot as the tripod - 30 secs F29 :)

  • Angela

    January 12, 2008 07:28 am

    Oh my gosh, I actually did it. I said I'd try and I actually got one.
    It's not nearly as gret, but I captured a light trail!

    http://i6.tinypic.com/71e7evp.jpg

    - Angela

  • lee

    January 12, 2008 06:27 am

    Nice article. I've made a number of long exposure photos over the years using film. Digital photography has opened a whole new way of my making exposures. I recently captured this image by taking advantage of the existing low light and the slowness of the shutter:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/16402697@N07/1780781174/

  • pao

    January 12, 2008 03:08 am

    thanks for the tutorial! very helpful.

  • hafiz mus

    January 12, 2008 12:39 am

    useful info. :)

  • Barney

    January 11, 2008 04:04 pm

    Nice intro article. Would have been nice to see something about possible sensor [over-]heating issues with longer exposures and work-arounds.

  • Jeff

    January 10, 2008 06:52 am

    Stephen,
    I don't think the self-timer won't work for this method? If you're doing bulb photography, you need to hold the shutter button down for an extended period of time.

  • Jack Sadler

    January 10, 2008 06:49 am

    Excellent information! I read your e-mals every day with graet interest.

  • Jenny

    January 10, 2008 03:48 am

    I have always loved these kinds of pictures. But I have no idea how to take them myself. :( But they're pretty awesome.

    And I gave you a thumbs up on stumble :)

  • Susanne

    January 9, 2008 07:37 pm

    This is one of the most useful explanations of how to photograph with long shutterspeeds! Keep them coming - I will definitely keep an eye out for them!!!

  • Stephen

    January 9, 2008 12:35 pm

    Also try using the self-timer on your camera to initiate the shot. By doing this you will ensure that there is no additional camera movement inadvertently caused by pressing the shutter button.

  • Darren

    January 9, 2008 11:48 am

    Great shot Charlie - welcome to DPS.

  • Ramesh

    January 9, 2008 10:18 am

    Does Nikon D40x has this feature?

  • Charlie Tyack

    January 9, 2008 07:24 am

    Hey I was wondering why my photo started getting lots of hits!

    Great tutorial :D

  • Jeff

    January 9, 2008 06:52 am

    Something to keep in mind when choosing a white balance is that although you're shooting outside, your primary sources of light tend to be either tungsten or florescent.

    Of course shooting in RAW as you mentioned would negate this problem.

  • Angela

    January 9, 2008 04:34 am

    Awesome. (:

    I ove the last shop. Maybe I'll be able to take a great shot like these one day.

  • Rob Hawkes

    January 9, 2008 04:28 am

    This is a great post.

    Night time, especially light at night, is my favourite time for photography. I just love the way you can manipulate and play with the light. Light trails in particular is a big interest of mine.

    You can see some of my past traffic trail shots from the M25 and M3 motorways in the UK here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fruitycube/sets/72157603214516259/

  • Nuno

    January 9, 2008 03:21 am

    Very good tutorial, I don't know if my Sony Dsc N-1 can do that!

  • Pete Langlois

    January 9, 2008 01:44 am

    I experimented with long exposures and sparklers this summer. You can check them out here.

    http://www.petelanglois.net/gallery/3113839

    Pete

  • david

    January 8, 2008 09:47 pm

    i like your tutorial. it's good for users to get their head around some novel ways of photographing at night.

    thanks for sharing

    cheers

    david
    http://www.davidsmeaton.com

  • jennifer

    January 8, 2008 05:37 pm

    Yay, I just got a new camera for my birthday~!

  • Dave

    January 8, 2008 01:41 pm

    Instead of a tripod and moving lights, try using a flash and moving the camera. In a dark club the flash will freeze your subject and the camera motion will make any point lights streak out into light trails.

    If you move you camera upside-down and mirror image from what you're expecting, you can trace the lights into whatever shape you want.

    Here's some hearts: http://www.flickr.com/photos/davematthews/1432163100/in/set-72157602130996812/

  • TiE23

    January 8, 2008 12:54 pm

    Bah, I knew about this technique without ever being told. But still, should be great for those who never could figure out light trails even with the right equipment. And those photos are beautiful.

    If you'll allow me, here is a photo of me striking a flint.
    http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v123/Tie23/DSLR/P7235472.jpg

  • Frito

    January 8, 2008 09:10 am

    http://flickr.com/photos/sparktography/382281735/

    Something seemed oddly familiar about this shot when I realized it's from right here in Seattle and I pass that spot so much - but thankfully not in rush hour traffic.

  • AC

    January 8, 2008 08:32 am

    This is a great article - the accompanying photos have been beautifully shot.

  • pienose

    January 8, 2008 05:20 am

    this is great, I've always wanted to shoot a shot like this and now I know how. I must have a go!

  • Ted Winder

    January 8, 2008 02:38 am

    Great tutorial, I'll be trying this some time very soon!

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