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Ultra Wide-angle Lens Technique: Light Trails from a New Perspective

Vehicular light trails are a great way to liven up your night photographs, but because it’s such a popular technique, it can be challenging to create images that stand out. Here’s one way you can play with angles and the unique ultra wide-angle lens perspective to give your light trail shot greater impact. Try it for yourself! (Reported by: Kazuo Nakahara, Digital Camera Magazine)

EOS 5D Mark IV/ EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM/ FL: 16mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/11, 15 sec)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto


Framing is especially important in night photography

At night, the scenery that forms the base of your images is dark, which makes it easy for shots to end up looking plain and unimpactful depending on how you frame them. But it can be surprisingly easy to achieve an impactful shot too, especially with an ultra wide-angle lens.

When shooting roads and light trails with a wide-angle lens, most people tend to focus on incorporating streetlights, neon lights, and other light sources into the frame to accentuate the shot. But if you also make use of the perspective exaggeration effect of the lens, your shot could become even more powerful.

More about the shot

- Shutter speed: 15 seconds to capture light trails from multiple vehicles
- Aperture: f/11 to turn the streetlights into starbursts.
- Capturing buses and trucks in addition to normal cars created light trails of different heights.


How to get the best perspective effect?

Answer: Shoot from a super low angle

The wide-angle perspective exaggeration effect starts on the foreground right in front of you, and then extends to the back of the scene. For this reason, one very effective way of taking advantage of it is to shoot from a low angle, with a subject that starts close to you and extends all the way into the distance.

Also see: Exploring Wide Angle Lenses Part 2: Composition Techniques for Wide-Angle Lenses

My shooting position

I found a spot on the walkway that was as close to the cars as possible, and looked for a position where the light trails would appear to converge intensely towards the back. This detail brings out the sense of speed in the shot.

It was tricky to use even a mini tripod in this situation, so I put a cloth on the ground under the lens to protect it, and placed the camera on the base of the railing just above the ground, tilting it upward for a low angle shot.


What happens when you shoot at eye level?

The light trails look much weaker in this eye level shot. Vehicle taillights occur below eye level, so if your camera position is too high, not only will the road become your background, some light trails will be blocked by others resulting in less separation, reducing the impact of the image.

Ultra wide-angle lenses to try

- EF16-35mm f/2.8L III USM or EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM (for DSLR cameras)
- RF15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM (for the EOS R system)
- EF-M11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM (for EOS M series cameras)


Learn about another technique to make your light trails different in:
Built-in Flash Techniques #5: Fast, Furious Light Trails with Second-Curtain Sync

For more useful urban night photography techniques and camera functions, check out:
One Location, Two Looks: Abstract Nightscapes – Tranquillity vs. Vibrancy
Useful Camera Functions for Capturing Nightscapes with a Difference (for advanced cameras)


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Digital Camera Magazine

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Kazuo Nakahara

Kazuo Nakahara

Born in Hokkaido in 1982, Nakahara turned to photography after working at a chemical manufacturing company. He majored in photography at the Vantan Design Institute and is a lecturer for photography workshops and seminars, in addition to working in commercial photography. He is also a representative of the photography information website studio9.