How to Shoot Light Trails

Dubai Rush

This photo was taken by the very talented Daniel Cheong.

He used the Nikon D810 with a 14.0-24.0 mm f/2.8 lens.

This long exposure shot was captured with an aperture of ƒ/22.0. 14.0mm focal length. ISO 100 and a 61 second exposure.

A few tips for capturing incredible light trails…

Light trails are probably one of the first photography techniques you’ll want to experiment with. For both beginners and professionals, this one never gets old.

I personally love that you’re able to capture something with your camera that we’re not able to see with the naked eye.

When photographing light trails, you are capturing what a “trail” of light looks like over the course of 10 to 30 seconds.

Find a safe spot where you can setup your camera. Point it at an area where cars will be moving at night. Set a long exposure (10 to 30 seconds) and watch the magic happen!

Ok… yes there’s a little more to it than than. But that’s the general idea.

Here are a few tips for capturing the best long exposure shots:

1. First, you’ll need a good tripod. This is one of the first things I would recommend if you do any sort of landscape photography. And it’s going to be essential for nightscapes and light trails.

You’ll also need some sort of remote to control the shutter. During a long exposure, the smallest movement (like hitting the shutter button) can cause your photo to blur.

So be sure to use a remote control or cable release to create the best images.

2. What camera settings to use for long exposure photography?

If possible, you’ll want to use either manual mode or shutter priority.

Your shutter speed will need to be at least 10 to 15 seconds. But can go up to 30 seconds or more if necessary. This will often depend on the look you’re going for.

You’ll want to have your aperture set somewhere between f/8 and f/16, depending on how much light is available and how long you want to expose for.

ISO 100 is generally going to be your best bet for long exposures. You’ll want to keep your ISO settings as low as possible.

3. Frame your shot. Anyone can click the shutter button. But creating a truly great photograph, often comes down to the thought you put into it before hand.

Choosing your location. Framing your shot to give it some interest and intrigue. Timing your shot and the light to get the best possible results.

For example, capturing light trails just before (and after) the sun goes down will capture ambient light in the sky – which can add an interesting element to your photo.

My recommendation is to make an evening of the event. If it’s cold, dress up, take some snacks, stake out your spot, setup your equipment, and bring some snacks.

By getting to your location at least an hour before shooting, you’ll be able to plan out your shots. Take lots of shots at different times of the day to see what sort of effects you like best.

4. Experiment! Like almost all photography. Experimentation is key.

Now that we live in a digital age, you can knock off thousands of shots without worrying about the cost of film. This gives you plenty of leeway to experiment with different settings, angles, and lighting.

Play around with different perspectives. Can you shoot the cars from up on a hill or bridge? This will give the photo a different look and feel.

Every angle tells a different story and it’s our job as photographers to find a new perspective and use the camera to tell that story.

5. Choose a location that has a point of interest. Of course, you’ll need to be somewhere near a road where cars are going by. But to create an
interesting photograph, we need some other point of interest that adds to the photo.

This could be well lit buildings in the background. Across a bridge. A clock tower in the background. Or anything else your heart desires.

Every photo is only limited by your imagination.

And that’s what makes this hobby of ours so interesting.

There’s always a new angle. A new outlook. A new story to tell.

Happy shooting!

Two sides of the Westminster Bridge by Giuseppe Torre on

Untitled by Paolo Farinella on

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