5 More Things to Remember When Shooting Car Light Trails

Images of car light trails are often captured by photographers because they can make for stunning shots. Since this subject matter often entails going out at night or twilight, plus using long exposures, there are quite a few things to consider. We previously listed four important things to remember when shooting car light trails, and here are five more to keep in mind:

Perspective – light trails by themselves are already interesting but add a creative perspective and your image can go even further. Aside from taking the shot at the often used eye-level angle, play around a bit by shooting low or taking a shot from top view instead. See if you can take the shot from an elevated viewpoint such as from the second or third storey of a building by the side of a road, or from an overpass. If you are situated on the side of a straight road and face the road straight on, the light trails will appear as moving from side to side. It might look flat and two dimensional, although it does not mean the image will turn out bad. By angling the camera so that the road has a vanishing point, the light trails created will also appear to have more perspective.

Framing – the basic composition rules still apply when shooting light trails. The Rule of Thirds, balance, leading lines, and the light can all help make the shot more visually appealing. Take note of your foreground and background and see to it that they add, rather than take away attention from the point of interest. The horizontal or landscape format is often used but if you were to rotate your camera and shoot using the vertical or portrait format instead, your image might achieve a more dynamic impression.

Exposure settings – knowing the right exposure settings will be a result of trial and error. Luckily, we don’t have to worry much about taking a whole lot of test shots with a digital camera as compared to film. By reviewing your shots in the LCD, you can already gauge how to adjust a particular setting. Let’s discuss the three settings in more detail:

Shutter speed – a slow shutter speed will allow you to capture the movement of light. Try starting with shutter speeds between 10-20 seconds to give the cars enough time to travel through the frame. 

Aperture – remember that aperture affects depth of field so if you want most of the scene to be in focus, choose an f/number that corresponds with a smaller lens opening such as f/8. Keep in mind that the smaller the opening, the less light enters the sensor and you might need to leave your shutter open a little longer.

ISO – grain or noise is usually most visible in low light scenarios and if you can, try to keep the ISO to a low value such as 100. At ISO 400 or more, there is a bigger chance of obvious grain. 

Use Bulb mode – some cameras have a Bulb mode that allows the shutter to stay open for as long as you want. This is especially handy when shooting light trails. It is ideal to use a remote shutter release when using this mode to avoid camera shake while the shutter is open.

Manual focus – during low light situations, it could be a challenge to get your focus locked in on the point of interest if you are using autofocus.  Switch to manual focus instead to make sure you get the clarity you intend. 

This entry was posted on Sunday, June 12th, 2011 at 9:17 am and is filed under Articles, Lighting, Miscellaneous, Photo Inspiration, Photography Techniques. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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