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[Part 1] Standard Technique Using Light Trails

Long exposure photography is a method of decreasing the shutter speed to increase the exposure time, and  can be used to add an air of surrealism to any photo. In this article, I will introduce some techniques for this that can be used in a variety of situations. (Reported by: Yuta Nakamura)

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Create magical scenes at night with long exposure photography

One of the techniques to capture a scene that cannot be seen with the naked eye in photograph is long exposure photography. With this photography technique, the shutter remains open for a longer time, which can last for several tens of seconds, and the objects moving during this time show up as imprints while stationary objects remain in a static state in the captured image. A scene shot in this way gives the impression that the flow of time has been encased within. The appeal of long exposure photography lies in being able to achieve such magical photo-finishing.

Here, I will first introduce a standard light trail technique that you can use in the city area  at night.

1. Shooting an aerial view of the street

13 sec

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 24mm/ Aperture-priority AE mode (f/9, 13 sec, EV-1.0)/ ISO 100/ WB: 3,200K

Shots that capture light trails from a high vantage point can be quite intriguing.  An observation deck is ideal for taking such a shot. Using a wide angle lens,  I shot the expressway that extended  from the foreground into the background, taking care to avoid capturing  any reflection in the window. In order to depict the scene sharply all the way to the background, I set the aperture to f/9. Although I used a relatively shorter  shutter speed of 13 sec, I managed to capture the shot without any interruption in the light trails of the cars as the traffic volume was high then.

When shooting an external nightscape from an indoor location, a blackout curtain should be used to prevent the background reflection of the lights in the room. On this occasion, I used a reflector board with a hole that can be secured to the lens as shown in the photo. As the subject background is dark, casting a dark reflection on the window with the black side of the board eliminates the background reflections of the lights in the room.

2. Make your shot even more splendid by combining multiple exposure shots

4 sec

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 24mm/ Manual Exposure (f/9, 4 sec)/ ISO 100/ WB: 4,000K

To shoot this photo, I aimed at the light trails of cars moving through an intersection. As the picture was taken at close range as compared to the aerial shot , the finished photo brims with an even greater sense of motion.  5 shots were taken at a shutter speed of 4 sec here, and then  combined using the Compositing Tool in  the “Digital Photo Professional” image processing software that comes with the camera. I observed the changes in the traffic light along with the patterns of the car movements, and took shots of the traffic at the intersection going straight ahead, turning right and turning left. I then combined the respective shots into a single photo and made the paths of the light trails denser.

One of the photos prior to being combined. The picture seems to lack liveliness as the light trails in the shot appear sparse. At least 5 shots should be superimposed.

3. Accentuating a factory nightscape with floating light trails

30 sec

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 24mm/ Aperture-priority AE mode (f/11, 30 sec)/ ISO 100/ WB: 3,400K

When you accentuate a factory nightscape with light trails, you can create an image of a futuristic world similar to that in a science fiction movie. The effect is especially striking if you include streaks of light that seem to float in the air. The streaks of light located a distance above the ground are the light trails of vehicles with a high vehicle height. I estimated the timing of the trucks and buses that would come by before releasing the shutter. At that point, I tried to create a composition that would take into consideration the balance between the light trails, and the factory nightscape, which was the main subject. I took a long shot of the light trails here with a shutter speed of 30 sec. In order to depict the factory lights  as ray systems, I set the aperture to f/11.

When the light trails located a distance above the ground are superimposed as shown in the photo, the factory can no longer be seen clearly. Hence, think of a composition in which the light traces will serve to enhance the factory nightscape.

Yuta Nakamura

Born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1988. Since 2010, he has been working as a nightscape photographer, not only shooting nightscape locations mainly in the Tokyo area but also throughout Japan. He runs the information site for nightscape spots “Nightscape FAN”.

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