Capturing light trails is no rocket science and once you understand the concept and learn the how’s and the why’s you are just a step away from making awesome light trail photos and that step, of course, is actually capturing the picture. This blog is all that will take to learn how to capture light trails. Once you understand that, it all then depends on how you use your creativity to make amazing pictures. Experimentation is what will make your pictures stand-out.
Equipment’s / Software’s you will need,
- A camera which allows you to click in manual mode (could be a DSLR, mirrorless, point and shoot or a good smartphone). Moreover, it allows you to control shutter speeds, you would need minimum 5 seconds.
- A tripod or any steady surface, however, steady surfaces will hinder your ability to use different angles, so a tripod is highly necessary.
- Remote shutter or a timer on your camera to avoid shakes.
- Lightroom (enough almost all the times) or Photoshop (If you want to make composite images, this is again advanced!).
- ND filters (will discuss this in the advanced section).
So light trails can be made when you allow more light to hit the camera sensor. This is possible only if your camera shutter is open for more time, which means you have to use low shutter speeds (lower than 5 seconds). Now the time really depends on how many light trails you require and also what are the traffic conditions. I prefer somewhere around 15-30 seconds or even bulb mode (where you control the shutter, you can hold it for as long as you want). THUMB RULE Avoid situations where light directly hits your sensor, which creates a star effect. Try taking from far as well as from different angles.
Timing Your shot
So people generally think shooting in the night makes good light trails pictures but try to shoot right after the sun sets. The horizon colours and the landscape will make your picture impactful. This is where ND filters come into the picture.
Step By Step
- Put your camera into manual mode or shutter priority mode, place it on a tripod and switch on the live view, makes the job easier.
- ALWAYS shoot in RAW to preserve sensor information and it also enables you to post-produce a cleaner image.
- You can set the white balance to auto as we can always change that in the post, one of the major benefit of shooting in RAW.
- We won’t really use a large iso to avoid noise and overexposure (too bright images).
- There aren’t really fixed settings for iso, aperture, shutter speeds but a good reference point would be, iso -100, aperture – f/8 to f/10, shutter speed – 15 to 20 seconds. Looking at the pictures you will get a better idea as to what works for what conditions.
- If you wish to use higher shutter speeds you will have to use smaller apertures meaning bigger f numbers like f/20+.This affects the depth of field (area in focus). The smaller the aperture the more depth of field you get. This is where your exposure triangle lessons will help you.
- Now that you have selected all your settings, you need to either start a timer or use your remote shutter so that you don’t accidentally shake the camera after pressing the shutter.
- It’s all about trial and error, practice is what will make you perfect. Also keep experimenting with your perspectives, angles, and compositions.
- You can make composite images using Photoshop to make something creative. By composite what I mean is that suppose you want to have the Milky Way in your light trail photo. Milky Way photos require a large ISO and hence it won’t appear in your light trail photos. So you will have to take pictures exclusively for Milky Way with the required settings. Then you can merge the two images in Photoshop.
- ND filters, these filters are used to reduce light hitting on the sensor. Hence it comes in use when you have to take a photo right after the sun sets. Because during that time there is still a lot of light and using long exposures will make your pictures extremely bright or maybe even completely white.