How to shoot light trails

When I’m bored and have nothing to do, I simply grab my camera and start walking around my neighborhood. Without any specific goal. I just walk trying to capture scenes unaffected by me so as to show a natural story.

The majority of Street Photography are shots from the chest height of an adult. That may be convenient, but there are usually more creative options. Get as low as you can, and as close as you can safely, to the traffic. If you’re shooting along a busy street, place two of your tripod legs barely into the street so that they are resting against the curb. Lower your tripod as far as you can and point it up. By getting as low and close as I could in the Bangkok image above, the top trails of the bus appear taller than they actually have been.

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What subjects are best for long exposure photography?

If you follow me on IG, you probably noticed that I’m really into light trails. You can create light trail images at night by shooting anything that is moving and emitting light. If you’re photographing a city like Bangkok, you’ll mostly shoot cars and buses, but don’t forget about trains, bikes or even some boats at the Chao Phraya River.

Saturday Night along the Klongs

What camera settings should be used?

Long exposures are ideally shot on Manual mode. If you are not sure how to shoot in Manual mode, you can use one of the other semi-manual modes such as Aperture priority or Shutter priority. Here are some quick pointers on the settings:

  • Shutter speed – depending on the light in your scene, your shutter time will need to be at least a 10 to 15 seconds, or longer if necessary. If you are doing a seascape and the water is moving quickly, then a few seconds may be long enough to make the water look misty.
  • Aperture – you will want to have your aperture set at anywhere between f/8 and f/16. This again, will be determined by how much light is in the scene and how long you want to expose for.
  • ISO – keep your ISO settings as low as possible, ISO 100 is what I use for long exposures.

Chong Nonsi BTS Station

When is the best time of day to shoot long exposures?

It’s normally a good idea to shoot long exposures as the sun is setting, or just after sunset. My suggestion is to be on the scene an hour before sunset. That way you can test some shots, make sure your composition is good and be sure all your settings are correct. Then wait. Personally, sometimes I will simply sit there and enjoy the scene, other times I may listen to some music, but I like to be relaxed and ready for when the light starts to work.

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