Night Photography – Shooting Car Trails

Posted: March 3, 2011 in Blog
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Venceslav's Square at night

So after some time I’m here with a small photography tip. Now something about shooting at night.

What Do I Need?

Of course for any photography you need a camera. As you move on in your photography you will have also gear moving on with you. This kind of shots will make you even small compact camera. Sony has some nice ones and their exposure will go up to 8″, that is quite cool.

But I pretend you have a camera so the really first thing you need is a tripod. And not just any tripod you’ll find in Wallmart or any of those kind of stores for $30. Those suck! And I mean it, believe me, it will be pain to use. You are buying camera gear, putting it on a tripod and want it to fall down? Or to take soft images? Get a good tripod!

Another thing you might need is a cable release. You can use timer on camera to take pictures without touching it and get sharper images. But cable release is better. Why? You can shoot in BULB mode and that is important for night photography. What if cityscape isn’t your subject, but stars and their trails? If you shoot with something wide like Canon EF 14mm f/2.8, you have to keep your shutter opened for at least 50″ to see trails. Without cable release your camera will get stuck at 30″. With release you can shoot until your sensor melts 🙂

Camera Settings

Venceslav's Square shot in BULB mode

Camera settings are quite easy. You can shoot in Aperture priority, Shutter priority or Manual. It depends on your style of photography. Of course, set the lowest possible ISO, for my Canon it is ISO 100.

What about aperture? With small apertures (big aperture numbers) you will get star effect from lamps as you can see in the photo on the left. But you will have longer exposure. This depends on you and your preferences.

Shutter speeds should be in seconds, generally at least 2″ or more. It depends on situation, position, lighting, trafic and other stuff. And of course on aperture.

And manual mode? It is combination of both modes and you have total control of your aperture, shutter and ISO. Many people say this is the only real way how to shoot but I don’t agree. There are many great photographers that shoot in Aperture priority or Shutter priority. It is just up to you how you will choose.

For these images I was in manual, because when cars were moving towards me, exposure was changing. If I used Aperture priority, in this case it wouldn’t take correct reading and some images would end up bad.

Another thing … cameras are looking for grey and if they cannot find it they will “convert the exposure to grey”. What I mean with it? When the scene is black it will think “OK, there isn’t any gray so I have to make it lighter to get some gray”. So it will overexpose your scene. For night photography I’m usually down to -0.5EV, sometimes even -1EV. Depends on the situation.

Really important is White Balance. This thing is usually broken so you have to set it up. And choose Tungsten or Fluorescent white balance, it will make your pictures look better. You can check your live view to see the final image you’ll get using that setting 😉 That is just a cool trick 🙂

Also start focusing manually, because autofocus will not work in 99 %. It might say it is in focus, but check it on your own and do not believe camera in these types of situation. And have fun shootin’!

Venceslav's Square


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