Creative light trails

Peter Fenech

Shooting light trails is a popular technique for photographers to try – it’s relative simple, you don’t need much gear and the results can be spectacular

Creative light trails

Shooting light trails is a popular technique for photographers to try – it’s relative simple, you don’t need much gear and the results can be spectacular. Usually these images are shot from a street corner or a bridge over a busy road, thereby capturing cars as they pass the camera, but a slightly different idea to try is to shoot from inside a moving vehicle.

This does bring several key challenges, but when done correctly, with a little practise, it’s possible to make unique and eye-catching images. Here are 6 quick steps for setting up your shot and making your photos.

What you’ll need:

  • Camera
  • Wide Angle Lens
  • Tripod
  • Shutter Release Cable

Step 1

To ensure that you can fit the entire front windscreen in the shot, it’s a good idea to attach a wide angle lens to your camera. We took our shot at a focal length of 24mm, but you could always shoot even wider than this for a more dramatic effect.

Creative light trails

Step 2

Switch the camera over to Full Manual mode (M on the mode dial) and start off by setting the shutter speed to a slow exposure – around 15 seconds should be fine. Close the aperture down to f11 and then finally reduce the ISO to the lowest possible setting (usually 100).

Creative light trails

Step 3

Place a sturdy tripod on the back seat of the car, ensuring that the legs are widely spread to anchor it in place and that your camera has a clear view of the front windscreen. Once in place, attach your camera and compose the shot by looking through the viewfinder.

Creative light trails

Step 4

Activate manual focus by turning the switch on the lens barrel to MF. Then, whilst looking through the viewfinder, pre-focus on the windscreen by turning the focus ring until it falls in to sharp focus. Keep the lens set to MF to avoid it from hunting when you take the shot.

Creative light trails

Step 5

In order to minimise the chance of the camera getting accidentally knocked during the long exposure, attach a shutter release cable to your camera. This will allow you to fire the camera’s shutter remotely without having to physically touch the camera, practically removing any chance of camera shake ruining your shot.

Creative light trails

Step 6

Whilst the car is driving down the street, fully depress the shutter release cable to take a shot. Wait for the exposure to complete then review the shot. If it’s too bright, reduce the shutter speed and try again. If it’s too dark, increase the shutter speed instead.

Creative light trails


Try shooting in burst mode to capture a series of images. This way, out of the entire image sequence there is a greater chance of capturing a sharp shot



  • Tell a Friend
  • Our Twitter provides the latest photography news and our Facebook fan page is the best place to communicate with other Digital Photographer fans.