Top 6 Tips for Amazing Light Trails at Blue Hour

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Blue hour is the twilight period after sunset or before sunrise when the sun is below the horizon and the sky turns a shade of blue. Shooting during blue hour will create a calming and emotional tone in your photos. In blue hour photography you can really take advantage of the soft when the sun is below the horizon. One of the most popular types of photos to take at blue hour is light trail photography. Light trails are captured by taking long exposures of moving light sources (like cars) so the light appears in a trail across the photo. Today, we have some tips you can use to take your light trail photos to the next level!

1. Find a Good Location

For a good light trail photo, you will need an interesting view that includes part of the sky, and somewhere you can compose the light trails to work with the scene in front of you. The best options for light trail photography are cityscapes with long roads, or even rural areas with winding roads. In a city you will have more traffic and therefore more light, which will create a different effect, but both rural and urban areas can produce great light trails. Experiment and see which area you like best!

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2. Shoot from Slightly Higher than Ground Level

When taking your photo, shoot from a little bit higher than ground level – from a footbridge, for example. By being slightly higher than the lights you are photographing, it will be easier to capture the light trails in an interesting way. It will help your composition and allow you to shoot more dynamic images as you are above the moving cars.

3. Curvy Roads will Give a More Pleasing Result

Compared to light trails shot on straight roads, those shot on curvy roads often look more pleasing. This is not a hard and fast rule, but definitely something to keep in mind. If you are going to shoot light trails in a straight road, make sure you have enough in the rest of your composition to create an interesting image.

4. Headlights, Taillights, or Both?

When possible, focus on capturing headlights, or a mix of headlights and taillights. Headlights tend to be more visually striking in photos than taillights and will create stronger images.

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5. Take Multiple Shots of the Same Scene

When photographing light trails, take multiple shots of the same scene. When you are taking the photo, it can be hard to tell exactly how it is going to turn out. Also, as the traffic is constantly moving, each shot is going to look slightly different and have a different light trail as a result. By taking multiple shots, you give yourself options and you can choose the one you like best in the end.

6. Get the Settings Right

This is perhaps the most important tip. Even if you have flawless composition, and a great location, all of that can be lost if your camera settings are incorrect. Generally, when shooting light trails, you want a long exposure time, but how long this is will depend on how long you want the trails and how much traffic is available at the time. The longer your exposure time, the longer your light trails will be, and the more traffic you have, the more light trails will appear in your photo.

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Make sure you are shooting in RAW, and in manual mode. It is important to shoot in manual mode, as the low light can cause your camera to go out of focus if you are trying to use auto focus. The next step is to set your ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. Set your camera to the lowest ISO value possible, and an aperture between f/7 and f/16 depending on your lens’s sweet spot. If you have changed the settings on your camera, and still find you need a longer exposure time, you can use a mild neutral density filter to help extend that.

You will also want to make use of a tripod and remote shutter release. Since your shutter speed will be slow and you are working in low light, you are at high risk for blurry images if you hold your camera in your hand. Using a tripod ensures your camera stays stable and your images come out clear!

 

It may take some trial and error to capture the perfect light trail photo, but it will be worth it! Keep experimenting with locations, angles, and camera settings until you capture your dream shot!

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