Creating Long Exposure Light Trails

Asking the right questions to determine your camera settings for creating long exposure light trails

  • What is my source of moving light?
    • In this case the Buffalo Metro Rail transitioning from underground to aboveground
      • Subject moves along a fixed path at regular intervals
  • What should I be looking for?
    • Points of light in the scene
      • Lens hoods are recommended
    • Does the subject stop, and if so, where?
    • Distracting elements
      • Streetlights or signs near the edge of the frame
    • Strong compositional elements that support the scene
      • The arrow in the "All Traffic” sign pointing to the light trail created by the Metro Rail
  • How long will the subject (source of light trails) be in my scene?
    • In the case of the example image 10 seconds was appropriate
  • What do I want my exposure to be for the ambient scene?
    • Remember you have already determined your shutter speed so you will control this with ISO and Aperture
      • For this scene an aperture of f/11 was chosen to allow for adequate depth of field and to create starbursts vs. bokeh
      • ISO set at 100 to retain maximum image quality
        • This was possible due to the amount of artificial street lighting in the scene