How to capture fantastic light trails: 8 tips which help you (2023)

However, it is not always about the city or the roads. In this article, we will tell you everything about light motion photography: it is types, necessary equipment, camera settings, suitable locations, shooting secrets, etc.

Make it move with a light long exposure

How to capture fantastic light trails: 8 tips which help you (1)The main condition for creating cool light photography is a slow shutter speed. So let's start with the simplest and most important.

Long exposure means shooting from a few seconds to several hours, making moving objects in the photo appear blurry. It does not require a specialized camera or lens, and the results will definitely please you. In addition to blurring moving objects, slow shutter speeds allow you to increase the amount of light entering the camera, which in turn allows you to work at a low ISO without sacrificing image quality.

In the 19th century, when photography was just beginning, the light sensitivity of materials was too low, which made shutter speeds always very slow. For portraits, they even came up with special devices that allow you to fix the position of the head so that a person cannot move for half an hour or more until the film is exposed.

Luckily, we don't have to do that much today because any modern camera can take a photo in a fraction of a second. This means that shooting at slow shutter speeds is not an inevitable problem but an artistic technique that can create genuinely eye-catching photographs.

These can be the already mentioned shots of moving cars and photos of the starry sky, in which the stars seem to dance in a circle, as well as any moving light source.

(Video) Shoot Light Trails with smartphone

At the same time, physics, in this case, works in such a way that the object itself is most often invisible to the eye so that in the final picture, you only have a light trail, which looks very cool. So, how to capture light in photography?

The light tracing photography tips

Tip 1. Choose the right equipment for shooting

How to capture fantastic light trails: 8 tips which help you (2)As for the camera, there are a couple of essential requirements. Firstly, it should make it possible to choose a slow shutter speed (30 seconds or more). Secondly, you will need a remote control function because while pressing the shutter to open it, you create micro-vibrations in the camera, which can blur the picture. The third one is the self-timer. This is necessary if you do not have a remote control or want to create a light trail on your own and not wait for a good chance. Luckily, most modern cameras have these three.

The second thing you can't do light streak photography without is a tripod. Since you plan to shoot a long exposure, the camera must be kept still throughout the entire time. All modern cameras and tripods have the same thread. There are many models at different prices. In most cases, their design is almost the same, with the only difference being the strength of the material, so you can pick whichever one you can afford.

It is advisable to have a hood for your lens. This will cut off unnecessary glare to accentuate the light you are trying to catch.

As for the lens itself, there is no single option. However, we recommend using zoom, as it will allow you to choose the correct framing by changing the focal length.

Tip 2. Set your camera

How to capture fantastic light trails: 8 tips which help you (3)For light exposure photography, close the aperture as much as possible. Firstly, this will increase the depth of field, and secondly, it will allow you to avoid overexposure to the sky (you will be photographing not in total darkness but at dusk, but we will talk about this a little later).

A slow shutter speed also allows you to set a low ISO of 100 or 200. This will keep your photo free of noise and give you a more pleasant ambient light.

(Video) NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY - 10 Tips For Long Exposure Photography Light Trails

Due to low light, your camera may not find the focus point correctly, so you are better off using the manual focus mode (usually, the switch is located on the lens). We like focusing through the viewfinder, even at night, but many people find it inconvenient, so you can also focus while looking at your camera's display.

Light trail photography is not difficult, but to use this technique and get great shots, you need to experiment a lot with shutter speed. We suggest this:

  • do not trust the exposure meter and take a couple of test shots first to understand what minimum shutter speed you need;
  • estimate how long it takes the car to overcome the section of the road that you captured in the frame;
  • compare the two values and adjust the exposure if necessary (for example, open the aperture slightly).

The main thing is that the shutter speed is longer than it takes for the light source to travel from point A to point B. This way, you will get a continuous shining line.

Tip 3. Choose your location carefully

How to capture fantastic light trails: 8 tips which help you (4)Speaking about how to shoot light trails, one cannot fail to mention the importance of the shooting location. First, you must be comfortable. For example, if you choose to shoot on a bridge, ensure there is enough room for pedestrians so that no one bothers you.

Second, think about the angle. Most often, cool light photography is shot from top to bottom: this way, you can show the perspective more clearly and capture more details in the frame. A common mistake made by newbie photographers is to shoot at the same level as the light source. In this case, it might be difficult to separate the light trail from the rest of the details, especially when it comes to photographing cars.

Third, you must be clear about how much space your lens can capture (even if it's a zoom). Therefore, before you come to the shooting "fully armed," do not be too lazy to walk to the chosen location and take good aim. Light tracing photography is not a matter of one second, so appropriate preparation is needed.

Tip 4. Never Forget Composition

How to capture fantastic light trails: 8 tips which help you (5)Moving light photography is tricky in that you have to work with a bright flow of light when everything else is dim. That is, you will have a very expressive guideline that must not go anywhere. The viewer is supposed to go through this path behind the light with their eyes and clearly understand where it leads. That's the only way this photo will work. In this regard, serpentine roads look very impressive.

(Video) Mobile Photography: Pro Mode Tutorial!

Tip 5. Look for size, or don't even try to shoot

How to capture fantastic light trails: 8 tips which help you (6)It is unlikely that anyone will be surprised by pictures with tiny light lines. No, we want more, as in photographs of night megacities with long luminous trails crossing the frame! In fact, objects will appear much larger if you get closer. You can enhance the effect by using wide-angle lenses. Another option is to shoot the object from below, this will enlarge it visually. It is easy to see that a person photographed from a low point looks taller and larger. A similar pattern applies to light plumes. So, the main rule is to be as low and close as possible. Of course, it's important to keep safety in mind, especially when photographing fast-moving cars and the like. In such cases, the tripod with the camera should be placed as low as possible and in such a way that the legs rest against the curb. This simple tip will help make your light lines much longer and more effective, although this is not the only option.

Tip 6. Light trails don't always need cars

How to capture fantastic light trails: 8 tips which help you (7)As we said at the beginning of this article, contrary to popular belief, you can use more than just glowing car headlights for pictures with original light trails. The main thing is to arrange a photo shoot in the dark and find any shiny object you want to expose. It can be trains, buses, trams, bicycle and motorcycle lights, and even a group of kids waving glow sticks. The rules of composition remain the same, but there will be an opportunity to practice where cars do not go and arrange photo experiments with unusual light.

Tip 7. Don't shoot at night

How to capture fantastic light trails: 8 tips which help you (8)This is another thing that we mentioned earlier. Shooting at night when the surroundings are very dark will not help you get the desired result in light capture photography. The fact is that the outlines of a city, a mountain, a river bank, or anything that surrounds a stream of light should also be read clearly. Therefore, it is better to start shooting when the Sun is already below the horizon, but its rays still illuminate the space. Even if you can't get the shot the first time, you'll have plenty of time to try again.

For some reason, it is generally accepted that post-processing can recover any details lost. However, if there is no information in some part of your frame due to a lack of light (just black pixels), there is nothing you can do about it. And don't worry about the Sun overexposing the photo. This will not happen if you keep the timing.

Trail Photo Processing in Luminar Neo – the best way to make your images look fantastic!

So, there is one more thing that we should discuss. This is the post-processing of photos. You already know how to take light trail pictures, and we are sure you can do it just fine. However, there is no limit to perfection, so we will give a few more recommendations for improving your work.

Since you are taking on a specific genre of photography, you may need to improve the image's color spectrum, as, in the dark, your camera's sensor may not convey the full beauty of the scene. With Luminar Neo, you can do it with just one slider! The Accent AI tool uses artificial intelligence to make the processing process as simple and fast as possible.

On the other hand, this is possible if you want to control each color individually and do everything manually.

(Video) Long Exposure iPhone Photography: Advanced Techniques

Luminar Neo allows you to improve your photos and completely change them to your liking. Turn a cloudless sky sheet into a dramatic and cloudy one, add a mystical-looking fog to emphasize a dark charming vibe of your shots, or completely change the scene lighting if you don't like the original image.

Luminar Neo combines convenience, ease of use, functionality, and complete control over the image. At the same time, you do not need to spend several hours on processing, working for a long time with a brush or erasers. In Luminar Neo, almost everything can be done in seconds. This software is not just another photo editing tool but a full-fledged workspace that gives you many creative opportunities.

The Bottom Line

How to capture fantastic light trails: 8 tips which help you (9)We love light motion photography because it's not a random shot or just capturing a moment. This is a real work of visual art, which forces the photographer to carefully work on the frame, build a composition, select an angle, and sometimes come to the same place several times to calculate everything. It may be strange, but we also like to stand these few minutes (or several hours) near the camera with an open shutter. The feeling of anticipation that you experience at this moment is comparable to the euphoria of a runner who has finished. We hope our thoughts will inspire you and the tips will help you quickly get used to the light trails photography technique. We wish you successful shots and inexhaustible inspiration!

How to capture fantastic light trails: 8 tips which help you (10)

How to capture fantastic light trails: 8 tips which help you (11)

(Video) 7 Cool DSLR Tricks for Beginners

Experience the power of Luminar Neo

Try freeTry free


How do you capture light trails? ›

Put camera settings together for the best light trail image.

Shooting on a higher ISO with longer shutter speeds and wider aperture settings will let enough light pass through your lens to create a visible light trail. Start with ISO 800, a shutter speed of five seconds or longer and an f/8 aperture.

How do I take light trail photos on my Iphone? ›

Capture Light Trails at Night
  1. Launch Slow Shutter Camand tap the settings icon (it's the gear in the bottom left corner of the screen).
  2. Tap Light Trail and move the shutter speed slider all the way right until it says Bulb. ...
  3. Frame your photo. ...
  4. To end the capture, tap the shutter button.

What is the process of capturing light? ›

Simply put, photography is the process of capturing light to create an image. This is executed through the use of a camera, either film or digital. The practice of capturing light to create images is used for various purposes.

What shutter speed for light trails? ›

Typical shutter speeds used to take photos of vehicle light trails are between 5 and 20 seconds. Aperture – The size of the opening in the camera lens when a photo is taken is referred to as the aperture.

How do you take pictures of lights without lines? ›

A larger aperture, like f/2.8, lets more light into the camera and will force you to use a faster shutter speed to expose the shot correctly. A faster shutter speed won't produce light trails. An aperture of between f/8 and f/11 works well on most lenses (you can push it f/16 if you're shooting on a full frame camera).

How do you shoot long exposure? ›

8 Tips for Shooting Long Exposure Photography
  1. Use a tripod. ...
  2. Use bulb mode for long exposures. ...
  3. Look for images with motion. ...
  4. Choose kinetic backgrounds for static subjects. ...
  5. Learn the 500 rule. ...
  6. Regulate the amount of light that enters the camera. ...
  7. Try a few test shots. ...
  8. Adjust long exposure images in post.
Jun 7, 2021

How do you take good motion pictures in low light? ›

Lucky for you, there are several things you can do in order to get excellent shots in low light situations without the need for your camera's flash.
  1. Increase ISO Settings. ...
  2. Use Slower Shutter Speeds. ...
  3. Adjust the Aperture. ...
  4. Reduce Camera Shake. ...
  5. Use Other Light Sources. ...
  6. Use a Faster Lens. ...
  7. Adjust the White Balance. ...
  8. Shoot in B&W.
Oct 9, 2019

What is the best way to shoot in low light? ›

7 top tips for low-light photography
  1. Use a wide aperture (low f-number) to let in as much light as possible. ...
  2. Increase the ISO setting for greater light sensitivity. ...
  3. Keeping your images sharp. ...
  4. Make the most of white balance options. ...
  5. Lighting effects. ...
  6. Try burst mode. ...
  7. The best cameras for low-light photography.

What settings should I use for Star Trail photography? ›

A good starting point for star trails photography is ISO 800-1600; f/2.8, or the widest aperture on your lens; a shutter speed between 30 seconds and 1 minute; and a total of between 100 and 500 shots, depending on how long you want your trails to be. These are the absolute basics.

Where should catch light be? ›

Mess around with different angles to determine the perfect positioning of the catchlight. Many photographers suggest viewing your subject's eye as a clock, and positioning the light at either 10 o'clock or 2 o'clock. Early photographers found this looked best but it isn't required.

How to do loop lighting? ›

Loop lighting is a lighting pattern that creates a circular shadow on the subject's face just under the nose. You can achieve this by placing the key light 45 degrees to the side of the subject and raising it just above their eye line.

What is the art of capturing light? ›

Photography is the art of capturing light with a camera, usually via a digital sensor or film, to create an image.

How do you manipulate natural light? ›

No Lights? No Problem—Four Ways to Manipulate Natural Light
  1. Negative Fill. The easiest way to light a scene is to reduce illumination with a negative fill. ...
  2. Bounce light. Unlike negative fill, bounce adds light to a subject. ...
  3. Diffusion.
Sep 7, 2021

What is the best time for daylight photography? ›

The last hour before sunset and the first hour after sunrise are coveted by professional photographers. Referred to as “the golden hour” or “magic hour,” these times provide the perfect light to capture stunning photos. Learning to harness the power of the golden hour is a tool every photographer can use.

Can you capture light particles? ›

Quantum mechanics tells us that light can behave simultaneously as a particle and as a wave. However, there has never been an experiment able to capture both natures of light at the same time; the closest we have come is seeing either wave or particle, but always at different times.

How are light trails made? ›

A light trail photo involves taking a long exposure at night when vehicles are passing the camera, which results in capturing an image showing the movement by light. Due to the camera capturing a photo that lasts several seconds, it causes every passing vehicle to create colourful light trails of the path taken.

How do you capture low light? ›

7 top tips for low-light photography
  1. Use a wide aperture (low f-number) to let in as much light as possible. ...
  2. Increase the ISO setting for greater light sensitivity. ...
  3. Keeping your images sharp. ...
  4. Make the most of white balance options. ...
  5. Lighting effects. ...
  6. Try burst mode. ...
  7. The best cameras for low-light photography.

How do you capture blue sky? ›

  1. 4 Secrets to Create a Dark Blue Sky Effect in. COLOR Photography.
  2. Turn your Lens Away From the Sun. ...
  3. Photograph at a 90-120 Degree Angle to the Sun. ...
  4. Avoid Mid-Day Photography (if Possible) ...
  5. Bracket Your Exposure for Less Light. ...
  6. Use a Polarizing Filter.

How do you capture the red sky? ›

Just point the camera downwards and capture more of the foreground. By placing the horizon in such a way that the blue sky is no longer in the frame, the sunrise or sunset will look more intense. If there is too much blue sky, pointing the camera downwards can help.

How do you capture sunset rays? ›

Choose a reasonably small aperture (high F number), because the sun rays are not that close to you usually and you need them to be in focus as well as your subject (most of the time trees in the foreground ) and not become blurred out. If you have your lens set to F4 or F2. 8, the rays will become very vague.

What crystals trap light? ›

Photonic crystals are artificial periodic dielectrics that trap light with manifold consequences. In basic science, they provide a way to engineer light–matter interactions at will. Light trapping in photonic crystals allows tailoring of the fundamental electromagnetic force.

Can you capture light in a box? ›

Could you design a box that could trap light inside of it? Of course you can. In fact, you likely have a device in your home right now that not only traps light and stores it—it keeps it cold, too! That's right, your humble refrigerator: Open the door and violà, light.

Why do I see light trails? ›

When the vitreous gel inside your eye rubs or pulls on the retina, you may see what looks like flashing lights or lightening streaks. You may have experienced this sensation if you have ever been hit in the eye and see "stars." These flashes of light can appear off and on for several weeks or months.

What are light trails called? ›

Creating light trails in photography is also referred to as 'light painting'. Star trails, a form light trail created by taking a long exposure of the night sky.

Is f2 8 good for low light? ›

Ideally, the lens aperture should be f/2.8 or greater. Many zoom lenses have a fixed aperture of f/2.8, such as the 16-35mm f/2.8 or 24-70mm f/2.8. Although they are pricey, they are well worth the extra cost due to their flexible zoom range and their ability to shoot at f/2.8, which is ideal for shooting in low light.

What aperture is best for low light? ›

What's the best aperture for low light photography? I recommend using the widest aperture available to you, which is generally either f/2.8, f/4, or f/5.6. If you need a narrower aperture to capture a sweeping landscape-type image, then a tripod is a necessity.

What is best ISO for low light? ›

A high ISO value (e.g. 800, 1600 or higher) means a high sensitivity to light. This helps in low-light situations where you need the camera to capture more light for a better-exposed image.


1. The Fastest Maze-Solving Competition On Earth
2. 8 tips for 100-mile trail races - from Anton Krupicka
(Wild Ginger Trail & Ultra Running)
3. How to take CREATIVE LONG EXPOSURE photos
(Jamie Windsor)
4. How To Take Sharp iPhone Night Photos
(iPhone Photography School)
5. Top 20 Google Maps Tips & Tricks: All the best features you should know!
(Kevin Stratvert)
6. Tutorial: Night Long Exposure photos using a Galaxy phone // #shorts
(Demas Rusli)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Amb. Frankie Simonis

Last Updated: 06/26/2023

Views: 5769

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (76 voted)

Reviews: 91% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Amb. Frankie Simonis

Birthday: 1998-02-19

Address: 64841 Delmar Isle, North Wiley, OR 74073

Phone: +17844167847676

Job: Forward IT Agent

Hobby: LARPing, Kitesurfing, Sewing, Digital arts, Sand art, Gardening, Dance

Introduction: My name is Amb. Frankie Simonis, I am a hilarious, enchanting, energetic, cooperative, innocent, cute, joyous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.