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How to use slow shutter speed to photograph car light trails.

The secret to taking fantastic photographs of car light trails is setting your digital camera on shutter priority with a slow 30 second shutter speed or more.

Our best photography tips for taking pictures of car light trails at night

  • Set your digital SLR camera to shutter priority. This is important for all night photography. Shutter priority allows you to set a slow shutter speed so enough light is let in to the sensor. If you don't do this, you will end up with a black image or one that only displays circles of light. 

  • Use a 30 second shutter speed or more. The slower the speed, the more light you'll see in your photograph.
  • Because your taking the photograph with a slow shutter speed, you can now afford to use the lowest ISO setting possible. Therefore set your ISO to 100 (if your digital camera goes that low) to ensure the best quality photo with no grainy pixels or noise as it's also known. 
  • Sit your digital camera on a tripod to miminize the effects of camera shake. The sturdier the tripod the better. If you don't have a tripod handy, then sitting the camera on a nearby object would also work. As long as your not hand holding the camera.

  • Use a camera remote to take the photograph. This stops blurred images that are usually a result of camera shake. Sometimes pressing your cameras shutter button can cause a small shift in the camera when you release it. In normal circumstances this isn't a problem. However, for night photography on slow shutter speed it can be the difference between a blurred photo or a sharp one.
  • Wait for a night where there is no wind. This is especially important if your tripod isn't very sturdy. The slightest shake in your tripod can cause motion blur. 
  • Before you take the photograph, set your lens to automatic focus and focus on a far away object like the sky for example. You do this by pressing your shutter button half way down until you see a red dot flashing on the sky or far off object. Then turn off your automatic focus so it doesn't change from there on. Your now ready to take a perfectly focussed photograph. I have heard many photographers go to the scene they are going to shoot during the day and focus their lens before returning at night. However this seems rather tedious to me.
  • Take more than one photograph. This is particularly important if you're not intending to return to the same spot again. I recently did some night photography taking 3 images of car light trails. Even though I didn't change the camera settings between shots, one photograph turned out much sharper than the other two. This is probably due to camera shake caused by wind as the weather wasn't the best that particular night. 

    photograph of light trails taken with a slow 30 second shutter speed

10 people like this.

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Date Wed, 04/05/2011 - 19:15
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Great instructions, I am going to have a go at this.  I will be over the moon if I can get a result anything like what you have achieved.  Mind you, with the detailed instructions you have laid out, how can I go wrong!!!! Ha ha.  Watch this space.

Thanks again for another well put together and instructive Photo Feature.

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Date Wed, 04/05/2011 - 19:15
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 again another super photo feature will also have to try this thanks

lianne

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Date Thu, 05/05/2011 - 19:09
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Have tried this and it is great fun, some pics in my gallery. Thse are great detailed instuctions well done for putting this together.

http://www.myfinepix.com/gallery/217604

Photography, one of the few jobs where you are allowed to "shoot" people and cut their heads off.

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Date Sat, 07/05/2011 - 10:21
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Nice instructional feature, one point I would add is if you don't have a remote shutter control use the self timer. When I used to use an old SLR I used either a cable release or the built in self timer ( this means you can set the timer press the shutter button and then the camera will take the shot without any movement caused by pressing the shutter.

Wherever you go take nothing but memories, and leave nothing but footprints

http://www.myfinepix.com/gallery/251644 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/emjayaitch/ 

Blogs

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Date Sun, 08/05/2011 - 13:51
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Thank you for this. I hope to try this out in the next week. (o:

Karen

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Date Sat, 16/07/2011 - 20:25
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Great set of instructions.

Tip:  If you don't have a tripod or don't wish to carry one I have used a homemade "beanbag" which can be set on any suitable surface then the camera placed on top and use the self-timer to trip the exposure.  Works like a dream.

 

 

 

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Date Sat, 27/08/2011 - 14:57
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Great advice, I will surely give this a try:-)

 

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Date Mon, 29/08/2011 - 21:36
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Great article I have had a go at this, everything makes sense now thanks Joe

http://www.myfinepix.com/gallery/515960

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Date Mon, 05/09/2011 - 23:10
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how do i get the effect if im using a s2960 ,i dont have an slr

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Date Thu, 15/09/2011 - 16:35
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CARNT WAIT TO GO OUT AND TRY THIS,THANKS

 

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Date Sat, 17/09/2011 - 16:22
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Thank you, I am going to try this tonight.

 

Marion

 

 

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Date Sat, 15/10/2011 - 02:01
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GREAT IDEAS...CANT WAIT TO TRY THIS

 

Sweet

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Date Thu, 03/05/2012 - 04:08
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Just started to get into photography, and looking forward to try this out.

 

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Date Sun, 16/12/2012 - 10:29
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is there actually a camera remote available for the HS10?

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Date Sat, 22/12/2012 - 14:05
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love the you you explained everything,  been wanting to do this for years and just never gave it a go,  I will now... thank you

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