How I made this light trails photograph in 12 simple steps

I dont often do this type of photography, It's not really the sort of thing I go for but it is winter and so the early evenings make it a good time to do some night or blue hour photography.  I spotted this location a few months back and thought it was a great location for a light trails shot.  Here are my 12 tips for a successful light trails shoot...

Glasgow Photography Traffic Light Trails
  1. Scout a great location - light trails can look great by themselves by combine it with the right location and you are on to a winner.   I visited this spot a few months back and what grabbed my attention was the curve leading from the bottom left and through the image to the office blocks.  I keep a folder in Lightroom for future ideas and stored the image here as I knew I would return here when the nights were shorter and I could do some shots in the ‘blue hour’.
  2. Arrive early – I arrived about an hour before sunset.  This gave me time set up the shot, find the composition I wanted.
  3. Use a tripod - obvious really.  The camera needs to be as steady as possible for an extended period of time so a tripod is a must.
  4. And a shutter release – helps to minimise camera movement meaning no unwanted shake.  I have tried using my cameras self-timer in the past but to be honest it is far too fiddly, and shutter release cables are available pretty cheap.
  5. Stay warm - bring along a hat, gloves and warm clothes - I was shooting in late November in Scotland so I knew it would be cold but no matter where you are  when the sun goes down it gets cooler so plan for it.
  6. Take test shots - another reason for my early arrival is that it was easy for me to set focus point and check test shots.  Once I knew my focus was sorted I then switch to Manual focus to lock the focus in.  Many cameras struggle to focus in low light (my own included) so it is worth spending a few minutes setting this up beforehand.
  7. Set your shutter speed - this varies for each and every image but if you are shooting in blue hour around 10 seconds is a good starting point.  That said nothing is set in stone so feel free to experiment
  8. Aperture - again this can vary.  The shot I took is set at f16 but again depending on what you want your shot to look like will affect all of your settings
  9. ISO - as low as possible.  Creating images in low light can mean unwanted noise in an image and one way minimise that is to set your ISO to the minimum. 
  10. Take more images than you think you need - I took around eighty images and used maybe twelve or so.  It is jut the nature of the beast and there is a bit of luck involved.  You will probably spend a fair bit of time working your way through images, deciding which ones you like and are useable in your final composition.
  11. Edit in Lightroom and Photoshop (or whatever you use) - I use Lightroom and Photoshop, despite the fact that Lightroom drives me insane due to its sluggish performance and crashing.  If you are not using Photoshop you will definitely need an image editor that allows you to use layers and masking.  The chances are you will be combining a lot of images into one composite.
  12. Here is a fantastic step-by-step Lightroom and Photoshop editing guide.

So what do you think?  Are light trails something that you may consider shooting?  Or do you have any other tips you like to share?  Please comment below.

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