Project Light Trails


The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.” – Elliott Erwitt

The idea that stuck in mind:

I always wondered what it takes to capture those amazing streak of lights traveling from one end to another during night time. The art of capturing light trails is surprisingly a little more than simply setting up a camera on a tripod and pressing the shutter. It involves taking the time to plan your locations to arrive at the appropriate time, which will then allow you to make the most of the ambient light in addition to the long exposure. Sometimes, you might want to shoot when it is incredibly dark in the middle of the night; other times, you will find more benefit in shooting with more sunset or dusk light.

Before I visited Scotland, I promised myself to try out the long exposure shots in the streets of the old town and observe how the long trail of lights from traffic creates the composition of an image.

Execution:

So, I started my late evening photo walk in the old town of Edinburgh and reached a busy traffic lane in front of St Giles Cathedral. Though being alone in a foreign country was making me quite hesitant to pull out the tripod and set up the camera but then I thought and realized nobody cares about what you are up to and are minding their own business. After setting up the tripod and camera with settings required, I started taking some test shots to see how the images were coming out. While I was busy getting a good frame and light trails, some passerby were humble and kind enough to wait for me to take shots as they thought they were coming in the frame. After spending around 30 minutes or so near St. Giles, I was able to get some favorable shots, and later I went towards Grassmarket area to capture traffic there too and called off the night.


The next day, in the early morning around 7, as it was still dark, I went around the Royal Mile area where I could see tourist buses going around and picking up passengers. The plus point around buses is that they provide more height for the lights to travel and creates a nice trail of light in the image. Though it was a winter morning, I managed to set the camera and got some nice trails of bus lights thereby making it a good learning experience considering the first time attempt.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind for long exposure shots:

My camera settings:

  • Set the image type as RAW.

  • ISO value set at 100.

  • Set the aperture between f/4 to f/11 range;

  • Set the shutter speed at 10 seconds initially.

Equipment required:

  • DSLR with a wide-angle lens with a focal length around f/3.5-5.6 preferred.

  • A sturdy tripod that’s capable of handling 8kg of weight or so.

  • Remote Shutter to avoid camera shake.

  • Graduated and ND filters optional

Steps that would help:

  • Scout the location where you see good traffic movement and make sure you are at a safer distance too.

  • Setup the tripod in the moving direction of traffic.

  • Put the focus on the stationary objects like buildings, shops, or anything that’s not moving and once the focus is set, change the focus mode to Manual.

  • Set the Aperture value between f/4 to f/10 and shutter speed initially at 10 seconds and later can be increased.