Amazing Light trail photography ( On DSLR and Mobile)

Share your love

If you are interested in doing light trail photography on DSLR or your mobile then you have come to the right place.

Light trails photography is one of the most intriguing and interesting creative photography technique. It also one of the first that everyone tries their hands at.

Its not as simple as clicking the shutter button and taking a picture but also not very complicated. All you need is a camera of some sorts and a tripod !

Light trails

Light trails photographs look amazing. They show a sense of movement and capture the viewers instantly. Capturing light trails effectively is a difficult task though.

What is a light trail ? What is light trail photo ?

Light trails are trails or lines of moving light source photographed by using slow shutter speeds. The slow shutter speed fails to freeze the movement of the light source resulting in trailed light in the photograph. Below image shows an example of light trails.

You can see headlights of cars trailing on one side of the road and taillights of cars on the other side.

Light trail photography
What is light trail ?

Light trails are something that you can capture practically anywhere. Your backyard , roads , sky , city area almost any place where there is a moving light source , you can do light trails photography.

If you do not have a moving light source , you can create one yourself using small led bulbs , candles , mobile flash. Using these sources you can do light trail photography at home as well.

Light trails photography is essentially night time photography and belongs to long exposure photography technique. This is different than motion blur that we are looking for in waterfall photography.

How do you make light trails in photography ?

You can create light trails in photography by using very slow shutter speeds. As the shutter is open for long time, the light from the moving light source is captured throughout its movement in the frame and that’s what gives you light trails.

You will need to use anywhere from from 5 seconds to few minutes to capture the light trails correctly. You can refer our shutter speed chart to look at right shutter speed for various photography situations.

Light trail photography on DSLR camera

DSLR or even the mirrorless cameras gives us an inherent freedom to choose the shutter speed that we want. Putting the camera into manual mode or shutter priority mode allows you to select the right shutter speed for the purpose.

This is really important to us when it comes to light trail photography or in general long exposure photography.

It all comes down to the right settings and use of tripod. Yes, using a tripod is almost a must ( unless you can keep your camera on some steady object for long enough) for capturing light trails.

Light trail photography on DSLR

Light trail photography settings

You can make light trails in a photograph by using following settings. Apart from these settings you of course need tripod and a good lens. Any prime or zoom lens will work as log as you can frame the scene properly.

  1. ISO : Use the lowest ISO setting possible on you camera for light trail photography. For night sky or star trails photography this will be different so do not confuse. Always use ISO 100 or something close to that for capturing light trails correctly.
  2. Aperture : Generally you are trying to capture lights moving through a wider scene and you need good depth of field in your image. You can use anywhere from F8 to F22 for night trails. F11 is a good starting point for aperture.
  3. Image stabilization : Keep the image stabilization on camera or lens switched off. Since we are going to mount the camera on a tripod IS will try to stabilize the image when it does not need to and this will create blurry images.
  4. Focus mode : If possible always try to shoot in manual focus mode. Setting the focus manually ensures that camera does not try to adjust it during as the light source moves through the frame. In most cases setting it to infinity or longest distance possible works well for most situations. This is more true for capturing night trails on long winding roads , cityscapes etc.
  5. Shutter speed : This is the most important setting for light trails photography. Set the camera in manual or shutter priority mode. You will need to use anywhere from 5 seconds to few minutes to get great light trails in your photograph. In most cases 5 to 30 seconds is the range , however in some specific cases such as light painting or roads with less traffic you can extend it beyond 30 secs.

Light trail photography tips

Light trail photography is an art as well as technique , mastering both will give some fantastic results.

Tip1 : Use a tripod or keep your camera on a steady object.

Always use a tripod for light trail photography. Its impossible to hold it in hand for long enough time and your photo will turn out blurry. If you do not have a tripod then find a secure place where camera can be kept steady without any micro movements.

Using a set of books , window sill , tabletop are some good places. Ensure to keep your camera safe if you are not using a tripod !

Tip 2 : Find a vantage point

If you are trying to shoot cityscapes with night light trails then you need to find the right point. Someplace high up is generally gives good results.

Try to frame a large object using rule of thirds and light trails moving around. It will give eye pleasing results. Using popular monuments or buildings also gives good results.

For car light trail photos , capturing the traffic on both sides of the road gives very good results. You will get yellow trails on one side and red on the other side. Standing in the middle of the roads ( on a road divider possibly ) gives very interesting car light trails.

Tip 3 : Experiment with the shutter speed

Though 5 to 30 seconds is the range you still need to find the sweets spot for your photograph. Try and capture the essence of the movement or landscape that your are trying to capture.

Using very less or very large value for shutter speed can give dramatically different results for the same light trails photography scene.

If the lights are bright and movement is fast may be 5 seconds or sometimes even a little lower value can give good results.

If the lights are dim or far away and movement is slow , then you will need much longer shutter speed value.

light trails

Tip 4 : Use creative ways to create movement of light

In some cases you have no control on the light movement in the scene but in other you can create you are own movement and hence control it as well.

Creating different letters, shapes of light etc. are effective in creating stunning light trails. Using different color lights is also a good idea.

Painting a steady object using lights is also a wonderful way to create some good light trail images.

Light trail photography tips

Capturing the movement of light against a quiet landscape also gives dramatic results.

If you are not interested in shooting light trails on mobile phone then you can skip to light trails photography ideas directly. If you have some more time just read on !

Light trail photography in mobile

The basic idea of light trail photography remains same whether it is a DSLR camera or a mobile camera. Light trail photography in mobile is no different.

If you mobile camera default app has a fully manual mode then voila , you do not need anything else. Just follow the settings and you are good to go. Of course a tripod is still a must.

In most cases though especially on budget phones , mobile cameras do not allow you to adjust the shutter speed the way you want. In that case you will need to use an app that can help you to shoot slow shutter speed images on mobile phone.

Lets see what such an app does and how it shoots light trails. We will also see some apps for android ad iOS

Light trail photography app

A light trail photography app adds the possibility of shooting at slow shutter speeds in your mobile camera. Some apps use the native camera capabilities with a software layer on top to control the actual shutter speeds.

Some apps such as Slow Shutter Cam takes a series of continuous long-exposure photographs in quick succession and then stitches them together into a single image showing the continuous trail of light.

This is why keeping your camera still ( on a tripod !) important. Ideally, the shots overlap at the same location within the frame so that the result looks like a nice and clean single shot.

Light trail photography android

Light trail photography on android phones is easily possible these days. Most mid range or expensive android phones such as One Plus or Samsung or google Pixel have manual camera mode already available.

Manual camera mode allows you to have complete control on the shutter speed. You can select up to 30 seconds of shutter speed. This can easily give you beautiful light trails.

In case your android phone does not have the manual mode you can use apps on Google Play store to download apps which can help you with this. Here is a list of few free and paid apps for light trail photography on android phones.

  • Manual Camera : DSLR – Camera Professional (Paid App) : This Manual Camera DSLR app will turn your phone into professional camera like, with fully manual camera control on ISO, shutter speed, exposure, manual focus and another features like a professional camera, which can bring your mobile photography to the next level. Take the best capture of your photo and even record your video in 4K UHD resolution.
  • Long Exposure Camera 2 ( Free App ) : This app allows you to shoot long exposure photography. The free app has limitation on resolution and shutter speed.
  • Camera FV-5 Lite ( Free App) : Camera FV-5 is a professional camera application for mobile devices, that puts DSLR-like manual controls in your fingertips.
  • ProShot ( Paid App) : This is a very good app for all sorts of manual mode photography , especially good for long exposure photography.

Light trail photography iphone

iOS native camera app does not offer the manual camera mode and you need to download an app that can do that. Here is a list of apps that can help you with light trail photography on iphone.

  • Shutter Stop – Fireworks Long Exposure And Slow Shutter Camera ( Paid App) : This app is ideal If you don’t wish to get too complicated. It doesn’t require you to alter any settings manually. All you have to do is select to switch on the Light Trail mode after opening the application. This lets you capture long exposure photos within a matter of minutes.
  • Stabilized Night Camera : This app specializes in long exposure photography. You just need to hold down the shutter button for the while you want the shutter to be open. Its as simple as that.
  • Slow shutter Cam : This is the most popular app for long exposures using the iPhone. It even has an official hashtag on Instagram which is available to follow if you are interested in pictures that were taken using this application. After you have opened the app, you will need to select the settings icon in order to adjust the settings by hand. You can also select from several presets built-in to suit specific situations. They comprise Light Trail, Motion Blur Low Light, and Motion Blur. Low Light.

Light trail photography ideas

There are so many wonderful ways in which light trail effect can be used in photography. Lets see some examples of creative light trail photography ideas.

Light trail photography at home

Light trail photography at home can be a lot of fun. You can photograph family members as they make various shapes or letters with a a small light source. You can also do light trail photography in the backyard by light painting a tree or creating some fun light effects.

Light trail photography at home
Slow shutter speed

Hight vantage points

The highest vantage points are a great way for a bird’s-eye view of the city. It is possible to enjoy amazing light trails when you are able to see the streets.

light trail vantage point

Tunnels and Bridges

Tunnels and bridges always make a great choice for long exposure light trails photography . You could be using the long zoom lens to take long-exposure shots of traffic passing over bridges and similar structures. Be aware that the any vibrations generated by traffic passing by can easily blur your photos.

Slow shutter speed
Light trail bridge

Long straight roads

Ferris wheel

Ferris wheel is a very popular subject for light trail photography. It can create really nice circular effects and its very easy to photograph as well.



Busses on roads

Busses on roads light trails