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How I Got the Shot – Light Trails

Several years ago I was with a group of friends at Photoshop World in Las Vegas. After class, we decided to photograph the strip. We took the usual Vegas photos the Vegas sign, Luxor and surrounding hotels. As it got later, we focused on long exposures, capturing brake lights of cars passing by. This created beautiful light trails. Well, when the cars didn’t stop they do! A buddy of mine showed us a cool trick. She held her hand in front of the lens to prevent light from passing through. I asked what she was doing. She said, Shhh. Im counting! After she was done, she taught me her technique that lead to how I got the shot.

Controlled Long Exposure

Putting your hand or, better yet, a piece of black foam core in front of your lens prevents light from coming in. This will help you control long exposures when photographing light trails. In the Las Vegas example I mentioned, we were in a spot that had stop-and-go traffic. By controlling the long exposure, I was able to photograph only moving cars. Using a tripod, I set my aperture to f/11 with an ISO of 200. This gave me a shutter speed of about 5 seconds. I took a quick test shot to see how it looked, then I put the shutter into bulb mode.

Using a remote trigger, I followed these steps:

  1. I waited for the first car to drive by.
  2. When the car was about to pass, I trigger the shutter and started to count.
  3. As the car passed, I stopped counting, placed my hand in front of the lens and kept my thumb on the remote trigger.
  4. I repeated the process until I reached 5 seconds, then I let go of the trigger.

Although it took about 19 seconds, the camera only recorded about 5 seconds of light passing through.

Fireworks with Light Trails

I applied the same concept while photographing fireworks at Disney as boats passed by.

For more “How I Got the Shot” articles, click here

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