Light trails: what you didn’t know about this night photography favourite

Light trails: all you need to know for this night photography favourite. Tips on where and when to shoot them, best camera settings and more.

A fantastic subject to get you started in night photography is traffic light trails – long tendrils of colourful light that form wonderful abstract shapes. The great news is that it’s an easy technique to learn and you can produce really eye-catching images with some very basic gear. All you need is an SLR with a wide-angle zoom lens, a sturdy tripod, a remote shutter release and a basic grounding in tried and tested night photography techniques.

For more on general night photography techniques and the best camera settings to use, jump to our in-depth guide Night Photography: set up your camera to shoot anything.

Where to shoot light trails

 

Light trails: all you need to know for this night photography favourite. Tips on where and when to shoot them, best camera settings and more.

The key to shooting successful traffic light trails is to choose a location with appealing surroundings. City centres are an obvious place to start, because they provide lots of interest from buildings, landmarks and street lighting.

But also consider shooting traffic passing through spectacular scenery in rural areas.

A high vantage point such as a bridge makes a good viewpoint, helping to define the light trails and contrast them with the dark road.

To produce interesting shaped light trails you need an interesting road. Winding roads, multiple roads that merge together, traffic islands, motorways or even a dead straight road can all work well.

Pre-visualise how the light trail will look by the way the traffic is moving and pick a busy spot so that you get lots of vehicle lights.

Also, bear in mind that cars moving in different directions will produce different coloured light trails – red if moving away, white if coming towards you (learn more about colour temperature with our free photography cheat sheet).

Often you’ll capture both, but you may want to compose for just one colour if it suits your scene best.

PAGE 1: Where to shoot light trails
PAGE 2: How to expose for light trails
PAGE 3: 3 ways to ensure you get light trails right
PAGE 4: How to shoot light trails at dusk
PAGE 5: 5 tips for getting creative with your light trails

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