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  • Writer's pictureWarehouse Media

Light Trails and Long Exposures

Ever seen those pictures with the cool looking light trails? Or even a picture of the Northern lights where they’re all streaked across the sky, well they’re long exposures, and they aren’t as hard to pull off as you’d think. It just plays on one of the 3 main adjustable settings on your camera, the shutter speed. When you’re shooting in the day, or somewhere well lit, your shutter speed is probably going to be something super fast, 1/1000, 1/1250 all the way up to whatever your camera can handle, I think mine is 1/4000. Well, when you’re shooting like that you can freeze motion, capture a birds wings mid flight, great sports images, and we can capture these types of images in lower light with upping our ISO, dropping aperture etc. However, long exposures are the opposite of that. Your shutter speed is going to be far slower, and when the light source passes through or moves around your frame, thats what causes the light trails such as the streaky long Northern lights.

Its pretty simple really, if your shutter speed is 2 seconds, the 2 seconds the light moves through your frame you will see the movement of that light. For example, you’re shooting a building at night in a city, your shutter speed is at 4 seconds, in that 4 seconds a car drives past your camera, you will see the light trail from the head lights and the tail lights, but not the car itself. Why? because the car will be moving too fast to reflect enough light for it to be captured, however, a light source (headlights and tail lights) will be projecting enough light to be captured. That is why for long exposures you can see static objects and light trails and anything moving slow enough to reflect some light, however, those slow moving objects will be blurry, so be careful there.

In order to pull one off, the main and key thing you’re going to need is a tripod, there are no real if’s and but’s here, you need a tripod, even the slightest movement is going to make you’re entire image a blurry mess. So you need a tripod to keep your camera as stable as possible.

Secondly, I’d recommend using a timer to shoot or a remote shooting method, if your camera has wifi shooting, use it! just a couple second timer if it needs to be a timer, but this is because even when you press the button to shoot, you can slightest move the camera and it will come up in your image.

So putting these together to get a long exposure image such as the one below.


  • Ideally be in a low light setting, or use a filter to create a low light setting.

  • Mount the camera on the tripod, focus in on your subject or where you want your focal point to be.

  • Adjust your settings to create a slow shutter speed, best way, keep the ISO low and balance it but pushing that shutter speed longer.

  • Connect your camera up for wifi shooting or change your drive setting for a timed shoot.

  • Shoot, stand back from the camera and let it do its thing.

  • Go look at your cool long exposure image.

P.s. Yes, the northern lights don’t look like the pictures in real life, I am sorry if I ruined that for you. Seriously, google it, bit annoying really.




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