Light Trail Photography: A Beginner’s Guide (+ Examples)

Gentle Trail Photography: A First timers Guide (+ Examples)

a guide to light trail photography

If you want to capture beautiful light trail picture taking, then you’ve come to the ideal place.

Because while beginners struggle to understand how light trails function, it’s actually pretty simple – once you know a few simple tricks.

And that’s what I’ll share with you in this article: The suggestions, tricks, and techniques you need to know for amazing results. When you’re done, you’ll be able to capture images just like this:

how to shoot light trails

Plus, you’ll know how to experiment with various approaches for unique, one of a kind light trail images.

Let’s get started.

What is light path photography?

Lighting trail photography uses a lengthy shutter swiftness to catch car lights as they generate past, for a creative, artistic image.

You can create beautiful light trek photos pretty much everywhere: within the city, in the suburbs, in rural areas, and even in the particular desert. You simply need the suitable equipment (discussed below), as well as a moving car or two!

The best devices for light trail picture taking

Here’s the straightforward light trail equipment listing, though I’ll explain a lot more below:

There is no single camera or zoom lens type that you need to capture lighting trails (these days, you can do light trail photography along with only a smartphone! ).

However , your digital camera must let you control your own exposure settings, particularly those that allow you to choose longer shutter speeds (in the area associated with 10 seconds to 1 minute). Therefore , you need a camera that may shoot in either complete Manual setting and/or Shutter Priority setting . All DSLRs plus interchangeable lens mirrorless digital cameras do offer this functionality, even though certain compact cameras, film cameras, and native mobile phone camera apps do not.

You’ll also need a tripod, as you’ll be shooting with ultra-long shutter speeds. In a pinch, you can perch your camera on a cement railing, the ground, or even a car, but it’s really better to work with a sturdy tripod.

And while they’re not really essential, it’s helpful to work with a lens hood, which will engine block flare from ambient lights, as well as a remote shutter launch, so you can trigger your digital camera without pressing the shutter button and causing digital camera shake. The two-second or even ten-second self-timer is an sufficient substitute for a remote release, but it can be inconvenient to wait for that shutter to fire while shooting, plus it can mess up your own timing.

Neutral density filters – which usually block the light to allow for much longer shutter speeds – aren’t necessary if you’re shooting in complete darkness, but will certainly helpfully elongate your shutter speeds around sunset with dusk. And if you’re venturing out on a chilly night, make sure to bring warm clothes!

how to shoot light trails

Light path photography: the basics

Here’s the simple, step-by-step process for light trail pictures:

  1. Look for a spot with moving cars

    First, you’ll need a good location, ideally one with plenty of cars driving simply by. I recommend shooting on a link or safely setting up near a busy road.

  2. Mount your digital camera to a tripod and determine your composition

    Get out your camera and attach it to your tripod; be sure the tripod is on solid terrain. You’ll be shooting with the ultra-long shutter speed, so complete stability is essential.

  3. Dial in your settings

    You’ll need a shutter speed of at least 5 seconds, though 10 or more is often better. I recommend a filter aperture (e. g., f/8) for increased depth of field (though you can modify this, depending on your shutter speed needs). If possible, keep your ISO at its bottom level.

  4. Await a car, then take the picture

    Be patient. When a car brain toward your composition, press the shutter button just before they enter the scene. Make sure the car leaves the scene before the shot finishes.

how to shoot light trails

Light trail photography recommendations

Now that you realize the fundamentals, let’s look at some helpful shooting recommendations, plus plenty of in-depth discussions!

1 . Think about the light

Light trail photography requires darkness, but what time is most beneficial? Should you shoot just after sunset? An hour after? Or the middle of the night?

That depends on the effect you’re after. If you shoot at midnight, you’ll get a very dark shot with (probably) car-less light trails. This can look nice, but tends toward abstraction:

how to shoot light trails

Personally, I prefer shooting just as sunlight is going down. You’ll capture the light trails along side ambient light in the sky, which can add atmosphere to the composition.

Plus, if you shoot earlier in the evening, you’ll get a little more action, with lots of cars and even people moving through the scene.

2 . Carefully select your composition

It’s not hard to locate light trails. But if you prefer an attention-grabbing shot, you’ll need to put some extra thought into your location, timing, and framing.

For instance, I recommend you try to find creative perspectives – that’s, perspectives that go beyond the conventional, eye-level shots. Instead, get down low and skyrocket, or even find a high vantage point that lets you shoot light trails from above.

Also, locate a location that complements (and highlights) the light trails. You’ll need to pick a place next to a road, but also look for nearby buildings, road merges (where the traffic flows together to create interesting light trail pathways), or even roundabouts (for beautiful circular light trails! ).

how to shoot light trails

Compositional framing can be useful, too. Look for natural frames, such as overhanging trees, railings, fences, and the like to emphasize the light trails. Keep the viewer away from distractions (and if possible, eliminate these from your scene! ).

3. Experiment constantly

The main thing I learned in my early days of light trail imaging? Experiment extensively.

After all, you’re learning a new technique. It’s bound to simply take some fine-tuning, and if you dive in with enthusiasm, you’ll see gorgeous results in no time at all.

So shoot at different times of the evening/night. Try different equipment. Use different focal lengths. And work with different shutter speeds, too!

4. Pick the right settings

While the ideal camera modes, shutter speeds, and apertures will depend on the ambient light and the speed of the cars, I could offer helpful guidelines to streamline your choices.

First, use manua l focusing; that way, you can get your subject sharp, then leave the point of focus and forget about it.

When i discussed above, if you don’t have a remote shutter release, make sure to use your camera’s self-timer. (Also, if your lens or camera offers image stabilization, make certain it’s deactivated. )

As for aperture and shutter speed: While I wish I could give you specific numbers, different situations are just too variable, so there’s no one exposure combination that may work in every setting. I usually shoot at shutter speeds between 10 and 20 seconds, which gives cars time for you to move through the frame. And I work with midrange apertures, starting at around f/8 or so, then stop down or widen the aperture depending on your shutter speed requirements.

Also, you can darken the image by dropping your ISO or brighten the image by raising your ISO – but use an ISO boost as a final resort, because the higher the ISO, the noisier the image will become.

how to shoot light trails

And pay attention to your exposure. You don’t want to blow out any light sources (such as headlights or street lights); this looks bad, plus it draws the eye away from the main subject. Here, the histogram is your friend. After you take your first shot, go ahead and view its histogram on your LCD, looking for peaks pressed against the right-hand side of the graph.

One final settings tip: If possible, shoot in RAW . It’ll offer increased dynamic range, plus more flexibility throughout post-processing for better over all results.

how to shoot light trails

5. Consider Bulb mode

Many digital cameras have a mode on them, called “ Bulb . ” It allows you to keep the shutter open as long as you wish, past the standard 30-second exposure limit of all DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.

Bulb mode can be very handy if you’re shooting in extremely dark conditions or you need a lengthy exposure time to capture an automobile slowly winding its way through the frame. But make sure you use a remote release to stop any camera movement while the shutter is open.

how to shoot light trails

Just how to shoot light trails: conclusion

Well, there you have it:

A comprehensive guide to shooting light trails.

So remember the guidelines I’ve shared. And the very next time you’re out at night, do some light trail photography! It’ll be a ton of fun; I guarantee it.

Now up to you:

Where do you plan to photograph light trails? Got some good light trail shots? Share your thoughts and photos in the comments below!

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