Shooting Car Light Trails

Week 26′s image was captured above Brisbane’s Riverside Expressway from an overpass. Adding the interest of car light trails into your landscapes may seem like a hard task but with the correct equipment and planning you will be hooked on it. The idea behind this post is to explain the process and give you a few pointers as to what locations work best.

Canon 40D @17mm, f22, ISO200, 30 seconds.

Equipment - For light trail photography you will need a camera that allows you to control the shutter speed for periods of 10 seconds and more.  Some point and shoot cameras have built in light trail functions.

Because the exposures are taken over a long period of time it is important to make sure the camera doesn’t move during the shot. By using a tripod or sitting the camera on a seat or ledge will yieled the best results. To also help reduce movement you should use a cable release or set a 2 second timer.

Camera Settings – You will want to set your ISO to relativity low like 200. This will help keep the noise down in your shot.  Set your camera to manual and dial in an aperture of about f11 to f22. Then set the shutter speed to say 20 ‘seconds. After that it is really a matter of trial and error. Increase your shutter speed if you aren’t capturing enough lines of light. If your images are overexposed decrease your aperture (E.g. Go from f11 to f16), however if your image is too dark increase your aperture. (E.g. 16-11 ). Remember that changing your aperture will affect your depth of field.

Tips to Success – When looking for locations try bridges or lookouts that overlook major roads. The best time to shoot is when you know that a particular road will be at its busiest. No good shooting at midnight and having no traffic. As for compositions try to get a mix of headlights and brakes lights in your image. Symmetrically composed shots also look great.

Canon 40D @17mm, f22, ISO400, 30 seconds.