4 Things to Remember When Shooting Car Light Trails

Light trails are a popular subject matter among photographers and not only can they appear dramatic in an image, but it also gives you good practice on how to shoot at low light with long exposures. 

When shooting light trails, you will be looking for a location where cars pass by. Set up your camera and compose the shot to make sure the framing covers the area where the light trails will appear due to the long exposure. The road will give you a good idea of how the light trails will curve and travel through the image. It’s normal not to get the shots you want during the first few tries. When photographing light trails, you might end up experimenting heavily with your exposure settings, the position of the camera, and so on.  Here are great tips on how to capture great looking light trails in your image:

Consider the time of day – you can shoot in the middle of the night since this is the time when the sky is at its darkest (unless there is a bright moon) but it could also mean fewer cars. Shooting just after the sun goes down is another option; there is still just enough ambient light in the sky to show the scene without taking away the brilliance of the light trails. A lot of cars may also be on the road at this time, giving you many chances of shooting the trails. 

Equipment – there is no special gear you need to have to capture light trails but you do need a camera that allows you to adjust exposure settings, especially shutter speed. This should not be a problem since nowadays, all DSLRs and most point-and-shoots have a manual mode or a shutter priority mode. Shooting handheld will most certainly cause camera shake with during the long exposure, therefore a tripod is needed. If you don’t have one, you can place the camera on a secure and stable surface instead. Other accessories that you might find useful are remote shutter cables and a lens hood to block out ambient light flares.

Location – there are a lot more things to consider aside from knowing you will be setting up your camera near a road. Try to include something that would add interest to the shot, such as building or structure that is also lighted at night. You can choose an intersection or a curving road so that the trails created will have a different shape compared to a straight line. Make sure the spot where you are shooting from is safe and there is no chance you will be hit by a car or be robbed while you are engrossed with taking shots. 

Histogram – in a shoot like this, it is easy for shots have blown out highlights or washed out areas because of too bright lights such that coming from a nearby street light or a car headlight. These lights could ruin your shot because of overexposure and would also lead your viewer’s eye from the point of interest. Use the histogram to have a quick check whether your lens is capturing strong light. 


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