Light trails - Long exposure

Light globe at Chuc Bac in Hanoi, Vietnam

Light Trails a popular subject for photographers and a great possibility to get out of  P-mode into manual mode and experiment with shooting in low light at longer exposures.

You can nearly use any type of camera and kit to capture light trails – however it is much easier if your camera gives you some control over exposure settings – particularly for longer shutter speeds. If your camera has the ability to shoot in full manual mode or in shutter priority mode than you are good to go.

A tripod is essential, as you’ll be shooting with long shutter speeds. Not essential but helpful is a remote shutter release cable or wireless remote controls and as in mostly every photographic action – patience.

traffic north of Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

Setting for the shot:

You certainly long for a recipe to have the right Aperture and Shutter Speed – unfortunately there is no valid recipe for shutter speed and aperture that will work in every situation.

Nevertheless I’ve found that I shooting at shutter speeds between 10 and 20 seconds and an aperture starting around f/8 gives you some good basis to start. You might start with the settings given in the range above and take some test shots to see how it works. The main approach now is to see whether the shots are under or overexposed and if the length of the exposure is long enough to let cars travel through the frame.

If the shots are overexposed – close the aperture down, if they are underexposed open the aperture up. When the lights don’t go through the frame go for a longer shutter speed and if you want to shorten the trails shorten the time.

Keep in mind that aperture impacts depth of field. A larger aperture will decrease the depth of field and there will be a bigger area out of focus.

Choose your lowest ISO setting - this will produce as little noise as possible. If possible shoot in RAW - this enables you to have more control in your postproduction work – especially in getting white balance right.

As the low light might get your camera in struggling to get a correct focusing you might want to switch to manual focus and make sure your focus is upon a part of your image that is visually strong.

Photographing light trails is quite easy –simply find a road with cars once the sun goes down. Getting a shot that grabs attention might be a little bit more challenging so think about timing and framing your image and experiment and you will get something which pleases you.  


crazy trafic north of Hoan Kiem Lake

Images at different times

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