Three steps to shoot light trails

This is the week when most of the world attention is pointed to Melbourne. It is the F1 week. Monday was the last day with Albert Park opened to the traffic. It was the last opportunity for cars to drive on this famous circuit, although with a 50kmh speed limit and the police was there to check. Most definitely a great place to make some photos.

Last updated on August 8th, 2018 at 03:05 pm

Shooting light trails is a great way to experiment with slower shutter speeds to capture fast subjects. Photographing cars moving along a road at dusk is a great starting point, allowing the headlights and tail-lights to blur into long streaks.

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Camera setting: Shutter speed 13 sec at f/10 - ISO 100

In my experience, the easiest way to get great light trail images is to find a bridge over a motorway where you can safely set up a tripod. Dusk is the perfect time, as cars will have their lights on, but you will still be able to capture plenty of detail elsewhere in the scene.

The three-step guide below will give you a good starting point for shooting your first light trails.

Set shutter-priority

With your camera and tripod set up in a safe location, put your camera into shutter- priority mode (S/Tv). Using the finger dial, you can now change the shutter speed.

The camera will automatically work out the aperture value depending on how much available light there is in your scene.

Set shutter speed

You can choose any exposure length you want below 30 seconds, depending on how long you want your trails.

If there are lots of cars, 15 seconds might be enough. or even 5, but if the road is quiet you may need the full 30 seconds to capture enough traffic trails to get the desired effect. Simply experiment for the best result.

The Espy hotel is an institution in St.Kilda. This pub has some of the best bands playing in Melbourne. It is quite grungy, just perfect for some night photography

Camera setting: Shutter speed 20 sec at f/18 - ISO 100

Choose ISO

Start off with an ISO of 100/200, as this is where your camera gives you the best quality images.

Check your aperture setting, and if it’s below you minimum supported aperture (this could be between f/1.4 and f/4) raise your ISO to 400 or 800 and check again.

Ideally, you want your aperture to be around f/8 to f/13, or above, for a wide depth-of-field so that everything in your scene is perfectly sharp.

If these are too many settings for you, just go for Auto ISO and the camera will decide for you

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Travel Photography Stefano FerroStef Ferro is the founder and editor of MEL365, a travel & photography website made to enhance the travelling experience and improve the photography work.

Stef is a professional travel photographer with past experience in the cycling and film industry. 

Stef runs travel photography workshops in Melbourne and around the world. 


Jacky The Techy
Photography is taking me everywhere in the world. I love the technical side of it, how to create my photos minimizing the post-production side of it. More time on the field and less time on the computer.
Ten years of experience and counting. Is it enough? Never! I learn new things everyday.
  1. Reply

    Neat stuff Jacky. I had snapped a few light trail shots via the HDR option on my phone. Good to know how to do it on my camera now.

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