Taking photo’s of light trails may seem difficult, but it’s rather easier than expected, and is based on a lot of trial and error. Light trail photos are most common found with car headlights and tail lights, but you can also make light trails with stars (star trails) or any other light in motion.
Light trails are basically Long Exposure shots that take place around moving sources of light. There isn’t much you will need to be able to take these shots, but a proper camera, and additional equipment can help, even though some is not needed. I will start to explain the basics.
For a long exposure shot (the basis of this tutorial), you will need a camera that has some control over the exposure settings, such as changing the shutter speeds. Some cameras may allow you to slow the shutter speeds down, while others (such as DSLR’s) will allow you to leave the shutter open for an infinite amount of time until you manually decide to close it, which allows as much light into the camera as you deem necessary.
You will also need a tripod for this, as having a camera handheld with long shutter speeds will make it near impossible to compose a good looking shot, without everything being blurry. I have done long exposures on rests before, such as a bridge overlook, and it worked well. You just have to make sure the camera has minimal movement during the exposure.
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 (such as if you’re around a surrounding city, or with street lights). The remote helps so there is no camera shake when pressing the shutter button. Also, using mirror lock-up (feature on most DSLR’s) will also minimize camera shake. My last tip, which is good for any long exposure, is to use the noise reduction function if your camera has it. But only do this once you know the correct shutter time you will be using. Noise reduction takes the first exposure, which is the shot, then it will close the shutter, and take an equally timed shot, with pitch black, and blends the two shots together to reduce noise. And the reason you want to wait (until you know your proper exposure time) until you enable this feature, is because if you take a long exposure of two minutes or so, then that means you will be waiting four minutes until the shot is entirely complete. home decor Take my word for it, it’s like watching paint dry.
Setting Up Your Shot
For our examples, let’s assume we want to take long exposure light trails of car lights. You will want to find somewhere where there is a lot of fast-moving traffic, and not much ambient light. Although, I must add, having neon signs or other lighting on the side CAN add for cool effect of the photo.Now, find a good perspective that will catch the car lights passing by, and setup your tripod, camera, and get ready!
This is where trial and error come into play. There are no exact “perfect” camera settings. It all depends on the ambient light around you, how fast traffic is moving, etc.
1.First of all, set your camera to a low ISO (film speed) setting. This will reduce the amount of noise in the shot.
2.Next, set your aperture (increase your f-stop number) and take test shots and see how they turn out. This is where the trial and error comes in. I usually set my f-stop around 10 or higher, when I do have it set. But then again, I always use bulb mode.
3.If your shot comes out too dark, increase your aperture (increase your f-stop number). And if your shot is too overexposed, decrease your aperture (lower your f-stop). Aperture will affect your depth of field also. Keep in mind, you don’t have to stick to ISO 100 or 200. Try all different mix match settings and see what works best for you. What I do is use bulb mode, which leaves the shutter open for as long as you want it to be open, in which you hit the shutter button for the second time to close the shutter. On a DSLR, this is usually on the mode dial, marked “B”. I usually set my ISO to 100 or 200, use a remote, hit the shutter button, and wait about ten seconds, then close the shutter. I then look at my shot, and figure out if my shot is too dark, too bright, etc.