Want to try light trail photography but don’t know how? Here’s 6 helpful tips to get you started with capturing light trails.
1. Use the right camera settings
ISO: 100 or 200
ISO is a measure of light sensitivity. The lower the ISO, the less sensitive the camera sensor is to light. If you use a higher ISO, you will have a grainier image.
For light trail photography, you want to use a low ISO to keep the picture looking sharp. For this photo, I used an ISO of 200.
Aperture: around f/11
One thing the aperture controls is how much light is allowed into the camera. A larger aperture, such as f/1.8, will allow a lot of light in. A smaller aperture, such as f/16, will allow a smaller amount of light in.
For light trail photography, I’ve read that it’s recommended to choose a mid-range aperture. An aperture such as f/11 or a few stops above or below should work for your photo. I used f/13 for this photo.
Shutter Speed: At least 10 seconds
Shutter speed determines how long the camera shutter is open, and, along with the aperture, determines how much light is caught by the camera sensor.
It’s really up to you to experiment with what shutter speed works best for your light trail photos. Generally, 10 seconds is a good starting point. I used bulb mode and had the shutter open for 11 seconds.
2. Use bulb mode
Bulb mode is a very useful setting on many DSLR and mirrorless cameras. It allows you to control exactly how long the shutter is open.
Bulb mode is often signified by a “B” when looking at shutter speed length. It usually comes after the 30 second option.
I pressed the shutter down right before cars entered my frame and let go right as they left. This enabled me to capture only the light that I wanted.
3. Shoot in RAW format
If your camera has the capability to shoot in RAW format: DO IT!
Shooting in RAW is the best change I’ve ever made.
RAW image files have not been processed and compressed (like JPEGs). This allows you to make more dramatic changes to your photos while still preserving the quality.
The best part about RAW files for light trail photography is that you can easily adjust the exposure of the photo. I used this to slightly increase the exposure for this photo so the bridge could be seen better.
4. Use a tripod
If you own a tripod, now is the time to use it!
A tripod will keep your photos from being blurry during the long exposure.
If you don’t own a tripod, see if there’s anything that could be used as a makeshift one at the location or bring something from home to set your camera on.
5. Use a remote shutter release
Even if your camera is on a tripod, there’s still the possibility of motion blur from pressing the shutter.
I purchased this remote shutter release for whenever I am using a long exposure. I chose one with a cable because I didn’t want to rely on a Bluetooth or WiFi connection. There’s a little bar that can slide over the shutter to hold it down for you if you are doing really long exposures, like with astrophotography.
If your camera has an app where you can remotely take photos, that could work too.
6. Find the right time and location
Time: when it’s dark
Light trail photography is best done at night, but early mornings or early evening may work as well.
If there’s too much light, it will be very hard to capture a light trail without the whole photo being overexposed.
Location: wherever there’s cars
Obviously, you need a location where you can see cars going by. Depending on the direction the cars are coming from, you can either capture red light trails or yellow/white light trails, or both.
Almost all of the cars in my photo were heading away from me, so I captured the red lights of their tail lights.
Be sure to stay safe when shooting around cars at night! You may want to wear reflective clothing or accessories.
I was on a sidewalk right before the bridge. If you have access to a tall building or a bridge in a city, that would provide a different angle. I’d like to try shooting from the higher levels of a parking garage at night. If I get around to it, I’ll add my photo below with my settings.
I hope you found this guide helpful!
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