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Five tips to photographing light trails by night

Get out of the automatic mode and start shooting manually with Greg Sullivan's secrets to shooting light trails at night.

Photographing light streaks is a great way for new photographers to start to become more artistic in their work rather than just documenting the moment.

Photographing light trails is as simple as finding a road with cars (or other transport) moving once the sun goes down. Set yourself up in a good vantage point and begin your light trail shooting at 30 seconds in full manual mode. Set your aperture at f/22 as this will help you achieve a starburst effect coming through the lens.

1. To shoot light trails you need a long exposure

You need a long exposure if you want to get the movement of car light trails going through your photograph. If you were to shoot at a faster shutter speed, you'd be freezing the moment in time, which doesn't deliver an artistic effect. Once you've set your shutter speed and your aperture to get the effect you want, you can then manually adjust your ISO to give you the desired result. An ISO of 100 will give you the smallest amount of noise possible.

2. A sturdy tripod is essential for long exposure

The most important part of getting a great long exposure is having a very sturdy tripod. A lens hood to stop destructive light (flare coming down the lens barrel) and a cable release (to avoid touching the camera to release the shutter) are also both very helpful props. Don't worry too much if you don't have a cable release though as you can always use the camera's built-in two-second self-timer as an alternative to fire the camera. 

3. The art of getting the money shot

Have your cable release in your hand then press your shutter button halfway down to focus, then press it the full way down to take the photograph. Remember to have the camera set to a 30-second exposure.

4. Try other creative angles for unique shots

After you capture your shot, walk around a little bit to try and be more creative. Look for new angles. For example, can you walk around the subject and shoot it in a different way? If you shoot low, will you achieve something more dynamic? For an effective background, shoot through trees or try and frame something in a different way. These are all ways that you can get something truly unique and different from that of other photographers.

5. Always consider your safety at night

Getting out and shooting light trails is a fantastic way to get more creative in your photography and get used to shooting manually. But please keep in mind, when you're out shooting at night, be aware of your surroundings. It might be worth photographing things with a buddy. That way you can keep safe and keep an eye on your gear at the same time.