Light trail photography is great fun. The trails show something we don’t like, traffic, in a much more interesting way. Light trails can even add to a building image by adding an extra element, potentially making your image stand out from the crowd. Here are tips and techniques for taking light trail pictures.
- Tripod: Set your camera up on a tripod so that there won’t be any handshake. MeFoto offers great tripods. See my MeFoto Tripod review for more information on my main website.
- Lens: 24-55 is normally good for a wide shot. If you are quite far from the action you may need to zoom in accordingly. The lens I use is the Canon EF 24-105mm so that I have a good range.
- Camera Mode: Aperture Priority (AV Canon, A Nikon) – This is so you can control the Aperture (for depth of field). I always shoot in Aperture Priority and have always got well exposed light trail images.
- Shutter speed: As your shooting in Aperture priority, the camera will set the shutter speed. It’ll likely be between 10-30 seconds. Go Manual if necessary for more control or to extend past 30 seconds.
- Aperture: F4-F16. Note, a narrower aperture (F16+) will also create bigger star busts from street lights, whilst a wider aperture (F4-) will reduce that or create no starburst. That’s something worth bearing in mind as large starbursts can sometimes be distracting but it’s personal preference.
- ISO: 100 (To keep noise to a minimum).
- Focus: Manual Focus using LiveView if you have it. I often focus about two-thirds of the way into the image on a sign or road markings.
- White Balance: Auto is normally fine. If you shoot raw you can change this later if it doesn’t look right.
- Use a Timer Remote Shutter Release Control, or self-timer of either 2 or 10 seconds.
- Set Mirror lockup, this reduces any vibration from the camera moving the mirror up at the start of exposure.
- Image stabilisation (IS Canon, VR Nikon) off (This is because when set to on, the camera will try and find movement that doesn’t exist.
Taking the shot
1. Compose your shot, think about where you want the light trail to start and end. Vanishing points are good and bends in the road. Also keep an eye on the traffic, I don’t like it when I have quiet patches on the road where there isn’t much traffic.
2. Press the shutter release, preferably on your remote or using a self-timer.