Traffic Photography: Capturing Light Trails

Traffic is frustrating when you’re behind the wheel, but when you’re behind the lens it can be much more appealing.

Ever wondered how to capture night time traffic on camera and achieve those colourful light trails? We’ve put together a quick and simple guide to help you master the technique – perfect if you want to capture an impressive entry for CEWE’s Our World is Beautiful photography competition!

The Traffic and Infrastructure category of the competition features some great examples of light trail photography, a few of which you’ll find in this blog post. Follow our tips and you’ll soon be capturing your own portraits of traffic – showing that there truly is something beautiful to be found in every corner of the globe, even on car-clogged roads!

Tip One: Use a tripod

To capture the lights from moving cars, you’re going to need to use a long exposure, and for that you’ll definitely need a tripod. Find a place that’s safe to stand, away from the road but with a good view of the traffic. It might be easier to scope out a good spot during daylight, before returning once it gets dark.

Traffic light trails

Lichtjes in Amsterdam (Light in Amsterdam) – Jorien van Dort

Tip Two: Head out at dusk

The blue hour – or the hour just after sunset – is the best time to practice light trail photography. Not only is there often more traffic, but the light conditions at dusk are much better.

Traffic light trails

Autófolyó (Car Flow) – András Rutnai

Tip Three: Use a long exposure

Set your shutter speed to at least 4 seconds. The longer the shutter, the longer the light trails, so experiment and increase the shutter speed until you get your desired effect.

Traffic light trails

City Lights Going By – Leah Henssge

Tip Four: A remote trigger may be handy

If you have one, use a remote trigger to avoid having to touch your camera to take a shot. This will minimise movement and help ensure your picture is as crisp and clear as possible. Alternatively, use your camera’s timer.

Traffic light trails

Spuren der Nacht (Traces of the Night) – Kay Ludwig

Tip Five: Choose a smaller aperture

You’ll want to get as much of the image in focus as you can, so choosing a smaller aperture will give you a larger depth of field. Try starting at f/11 then experiment going up or down a couple of stops to get the best exposure.

Traffic light trails

Schnelllebig (Fast Moving) – Perry Wunderlich

Tip Six: Select a low ISO

A good starting point is ISO 100. You want to keep the ISO low to avoid noise, and to compensate for the long exposure.

Traffic light trails

Chengdu Square – Luca Mueller

Tip Seven: Consider composition

Remember the basics of composition (like the rule of thirds and finding a point of interest) when framing your shot. Think about where the light trail will begin and end in the shot and frame around it accordingly.

Once you’ve mastered this technique, remember that your images could help you win the holiday of a lifetime when you enter Our World is Beautiful! Click the link below to submit up to 25 of your best images. And good luck!

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