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A - Z Of Light Trail Photography Tips

26 photography tips on capturing creative shots with light trails.

|  Creative
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A – Aperture

When it comes to picking an aperture, you don't want to go too wide as this will shorten your shutter speeds so choose an aperture around f/8 or f/11 to start and go from there.




B – Bulb

Using the BULB setting will keep the shutter open until you take your finger off the shutter button (this is when a release is handy as you can keep the shutter open without having to touch the camera). This can be useful for light trails as you'll be able to take more control over the length of the exposure, stopping and starting it more precisely.


C – Compact Camera

If you're an owner of a newer compact camera you may be thinking you won't be able to try this technique but you could be wrong as many modern compacts now offer longer shutter speed ranges.



Even though you can use a compact you're probably still better using a DSLR or an advanced smaller camera that has the power of a DSLR without the body size. This way you can guarantee you'll have the longer shutter speeds needed, plus the option of using Bulb mode (model depending).


E – Exposure times

There's no exposure time that's set in stone for this technique so you'll need to experiment until you find a shutter speed that gives you the results you're looking for. Although, a 10-30-second exposure should capture light trails perfectly.


F – Find A Location

It's often worth scouting for locations in the daytime so you're not wasting time when the sun's setting searching for ideal spots.


Photo by David Pritchard


G – Guide The Eye

Compositional rules still apply here so don't forget the power of using lead-in lines in your shots. The light trails can be used as a line to lead the eye through the image to a point of interest which could be a town, city or building glowing in the background.


H – Height

Find a spot, after the sun begins to set, where vehicles will pass under/by you with their lights on. The most obvious is a bridge but any high vantage point will work. You could also find a spot that looks over a road that winds down the side of a hill so car lights are turned into sweeping s shapes. 



Photo by Joshua Waller


I – In The Car

Give the light trail technique an extra twist by shooting from a moving car. Obviously, you can't drive and control the camera at the same time so you'll need a willing friend to help you with this technique. For more tips on this form of light trail photography, have a read of this: Photographing Light Trails From A Car


J – Juxtaposition

To really create a sense of movement and pace, shoot your light trails in a built-up area where you can juxtapose still buildings, trees and other objects with the light trails created by traffic.



Photo by Joshua Waller


K – Keep Checking The LCD

As you'll be experimenting with shutter speeds you should view your images on the LCD screen after capture to see if the shutter speed you used was long enough. For example, you may find the light trail ends half way through the image rather than carrying on until the car has exited the frame which means you need a slightly longer exposure time to capture the full length of the light trails.

L – Low ISO

Keep your ISO as low as possible (100 if you can) so noise doesn't cause you too many problems.


M – Mount Your Camera On A Support

Due to the length of the shutter speeds you need to use some kind of support. A Tripod's best but you can use a monopod if you prefer.


N – Night

You may think that well after the sun has set is a good time for capturing images of light trails and there's nothing wrong with capturing shots at this time, however twilight and just after the sun has set can produce some rather cracking results. Not only will there be more ambient light but there will also be more traffic around which means more chances to get the shot right.

Light Trail 

Photo by David Pritchard


O – Overexposed

Keep an eye out for spots of light such as street lamps overexposing as these bright dots of light spoil your images.


P – Patience

You can't expect to set-up, press the shutter and have the perfect shot so patience is very important for this technique. You could find yourself waiting a while for traffic to actually pass through your frame or for the ambient light to be just right, plus with the trail and error approach you could be outside a while.


Macro | 0.8 sec | f/16.0 | 135.0 mm | ISO 200

Q – Traffic Queues

Find points in your town where you can guarantee large amounts of traffic will flow through. Crossroads can be perfect as they will create lines that criss-cross and move around each other in various directions.

R – Roundabouts

Instead of straight lines, why not set-up near or above a roundabout which will give you the opportunity to capture circular patterns of light in your shots.


S – Street Level

To give your light trail shots a different twist, don't head for a high vantage point. Instead, take a stroll around the streets, looking for locations where you'll be able to capture light trails from lower angles.



Photo by David Clapp


T – Trigger – Remote Or Cable

To reduce camera shake, trigger your camera without actually touching it via a remote / cable release. If you don't have one, you can use your camera's self-timer on its shortest setting.


U – Underexposed

If you find the shot's underexposed open up the aperture and just make it smaller if it's too bright. Try not to go too wide with your apertures, though, as this will result in more of the shot appearing out of focus. If you find the light trails to be too short you'll need to use a longer shutter speed to extend them through your shot.


V – Very Warm Clothing

Don't forget your warm clothing as temperatures are starting to drop lower as we head towards winter.

W – Wide-Angle Lens

If you're working from a car, you need to fix the camera, with a wide-angle lens on a tripod into the passenger seat well or back seat of the car. This will mean you'll be able to see the whole windscreen through the viewfinder. When using wider lenses out in the field for this technique, a lens hood will be useful for shielding the lens from ambient light.


X – X-Factor

Light trail photography is a great way to add drama and punch to your night-time urban shots and with a little practice, it's rather simple to master.


New York

Photo by David Clapp


Y – You Should Consider Using Manual Focus

Due to the low light level and lack of contrast, your camera lens may end up continuously searching if you try to use auto focus so switch to manual for more control.

Z – Zooming & Panning

Get creative and experiment with zoom or try panning after pressing the shutter to introduce different effects. After all, this is a fun technique, plus you want to capture something original.  



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