Rodney Campbell's Blog

Photographing Light Trails…

by on Mar.05, 2011, under Life, Photography

I’ve been planning to try some evening light trails (car lights) images for some time so on the weekend my eldest daughter and I travelled down to the Gore Hill Freeway here in Sydney to take some images at sunset and twilight.

We’d previously scoped out a likely position on an overpass close to the Channel Nine tower (which we’d planned to have in the shot as well).

The basic process for taking photographs of light trails (car lights) is to:

  • Use a Tripod – we are going to be dealing with long exposures so we need stability
  • Use a remote/cable release or self timer – as above we want no camera shake – I used my Nikon wireless remote
  • Use a low ISO – we are going to have long exposures so we want to limit noise by using a low ISO
  • Manual Focus – it will be dark so it might be easier to manual focus – my autofocus worked fine with my fast f/2.8 lens – except when I was using the 10 stop ND
  • Use a Shutter Speed of at least around 10 to 20 seconds – this provides enough time for the lights to move through the image producing lines of light (the trails)
  • Use an Aperture setting in the f/8 to f/16 range for good depth of field – if you want even more of a starburst effect from any fixed lights in the image (e.g. streetlights) then use a smaller aperture like f/22+
  • Watch your Highlights to ensure important details don’t get overexposed

Note: These images (especially the wider shots) look much better when larger – so click any of the images below to see larger versions in an inline overlay gallery viewer.

This shot is facing west towards the sunset at 7:28PM – truth be told this shot was my daughters idea 🙂

All that is Golden

NIKON D90 + 17.0-50.0 mm f/2.8 @ 40 mm, 1/200 sec at f / 11, ISO 200

This image was taken facing east away from the now set sun using a 10 stop ND filter (which reduces the incoming light by 1000 times) which allowed the excessively long exposure time at sunset – I actually had to open up to f/8 because I didn’t fancy waiting for an 8 minute exposure.

Dark Trails

NIKON D90 + 17.0-50.0 mm f/2.8 @ 17 mm, 221 sec at f / 8.0, ISO 200 + ND3.0

This image was taken using a variable neutral density filter at perhaps only a couple of stops of light reduction after sunset (7:53PM).


NIKON D90 + 17.0-50.0 mm f/2.8 @ 17 mm, 30 sec at f / 11, ISO 200 + FaderND

Finally the culmination of our efforts – this image was taken towards the now set sun (8:06PM) and it was now dark enough to take a normal exposure without filters.

Twilight Trails

NIKON D90 + 17.0-50.0 mm f/2.8 @ 25 mm, 10 sec at f / 16, ISO 200

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