Light trails are the pulse of the city night, they have the power to bring a picture to life! Photo’s like these are inspiring and far less difficult than you think. Check out these tips for photographing light trails:

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So, light trails are basically long exposure photo’s taken around moving light sources, most commonly headlights/taillights. There really isn’t much equipment you’ll need to take create a picture with light trails. This technique relies a bit on trial and error, so lets get started.

First things first, take your camera out of Auto Mode, and drop it into Manual Mode (even if you have a point-and-shoot). Auto Mode doesn’t allow you to have the really long shutter time needed to get a shot like the ones above or below, we’re gonna need 3 to 5 seconds. In some cases, you’ll keep the shutter open for up to 30 seconds for DSLR’s.

Tripod, “that’s what they call me”. You’ll need one, “That’s what she said!”

OK next, you’ll need a tripod for this (or some other way to make your camera completely still) shooting with long shutter speeds will make shooting handheld impossible, if you want to compose a good shot.

Two more things that can really help but are not needed, are a remote shutter release, and also a lens hood, which can help block surrounding ambient light (like the surrounding city lights). The remote helps prevent camera shake when pressing the shutter button, but you can always set the timer to take the shot hands free (I use the timer).

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The Setup:

At the most basic level, photographing light trails involves finding a spot where you’ll see the light trails created by a light source like car lights, by securing your camera using a tripod (or some other way to make your camera completely still), and setting a nice long exposure setting on your camera while shooting at the moment when cars will be passing in front of the camera.

Trial and error enter stage right: There are no exactly perfect camera settings to get a good shot. It all depends on the ambient light around you (city lights), how fast your light source is moving (traffic) and your settings.

  • First, set your camera to a low ISO anywhere from 100-400 setting. This will reduce the amount of noise (grainy pics)
  • Next, set your aperture (increase your F-Stop number, ex. f/8) and take some test shots and see how they turn out. Begin trial and error.
  • If your shot comes out too dark, increase your aperture size (by lowering your F-Stop number). And if your shot is too overexposed , decrease your aperture size. Try to mix and match setting and see what works best for you.

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Experiment, be patient and enjoy!

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