A place for experimental photographers

Capturing Car Lights

Continuing my previous long exposure related posts Painting with Light and Painting with Light (continued), this time I decided to write about capturing car lights in long exposure. Make sure you also read the posts mentioned above for general understanding of long exposure photography.

The basics behind these pictures are fairly straightforward. Passing car lights will often create various patterns and trails if captured in long exposure.

What you need is: a DSLR camera and a tripod.

Simply place your camera on a tripod and compose the picture. Try focusing on static objects which are closest to your camera, instead of focusing on moving cars. You may also lock the focus or switch it to manual mode. That way the camera won’t have to refocus automatically every time you release the shutter. Also, if your lens is equipped with Vibration Reduction, it’s recommended to take advantage of this. Additionally, you may shoot with the Mirror Lock-up mode, if your DSLR has this mode, and release the shutter with an IR controller. All these are necessary to limit your contact with the camera to avoid shake, which spoils the focus and produces blurred images.

The above pictures were shot with ISO 200, 6-10s. shutter speed and f/8 – f/10 aperture. The trickiest thing in this kind of photography is to get the exposure right. The light meter in your camera will constantly change due to the car lights shining in your lens. As always, little experimentation and a couple of test shots will get you there. Just remember, keep ISO to minimum (little noise), use fairly small apertures (keeps the light trails sharp) and slow shutter speeds (depending on how many streaks you want to capture). If you want to take longer or shorter exposures, always change the aperture and shutter speed, instead of adjusting the ISO. Alternatively, you may also use ND (Natural Density) filters or a polariser in order to limit the amount of light to achieve extremely long exposures. Personally, I never had to resort to using them as f/22 aperture allows you to keep the shutter open for a significant amount of time.

Visit the following Flickr groups for inspiration:

Car Light Trails at Night

Moving Lights

Night Car Lights

Car Lights

Thanks for reading and good luck with your photography.

Once again, special thanks go to my brilliant assistant Patricia.

Please see the ‘About’ section for copyright information.


7 responses

  1. Hi! Very cool topic and clear tips. Thank you for sharing your knowledge ! Keep on!

    April 19, 2011 at 12:39 am

    • Grzegorz Rogala

      Thanks Sergio. I’m glad you like it.

      April 19, 2011 at 12:42 am

  2. Hello there, just became alert to your blog through Google, and found that it’s really informative. I am gonna watch out for brussels. I¡¦ll be grateful if you continue this in future. Numerous people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

    June 12, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    • Grzegorz Rogala

      Hi there. I’m glad you like and I hope you will find something for yourself. I’ll be regularly updating it with new pictures.

      June 12, 2011 at 9:56 pm

  3. Pingback: Light Painting with Zoom «

  4. Pingback: Stacking Long Exposures in Photoshop «

  5. Pingback: Long Exposure Photography (inside a car) « Shutter Experiments

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