Light Trail Photography: Creative Lighting Using Motor Vehicle Lights at Night – Camera or Phone with Warren Marshall — SkillShare — Free download

My Name is Warren Marshall. I am a full-time professional photographer and photography educator from Newcastle, Australia.

I am passionate about quality photography and teaching my students the right way to produce amazing images.

This class is about using motor vehicles to produce light trails at night .

Photographing light trails is fun and exciting.

I began developing these techniques 35 years ago and I’ve refined and explored many possibilities since.

These methods are a really easy way to get amazing images.

Every image you produce is an original.

In this class you will see a lot of my recent light trail techniques. Many of which will be taught in this class.

After watching this class for 10 mins you will be able to go out tonight and shoot works of art.

You can use your camera or smartphone to take these photographs.

I will give you the tools and the knowledge to produce these styles of photographs.

The possibilities are endless because it is a very versatile technique.

I will take you from basic techniques to advanced imaging.

What is a Car Light trail?

 At night it is possible to photograph the trails from moving car headlights and tail lights. We do this by using long exposures with our cameras. Most cameras including phone cameras are capable of shooting long exposure photographs.

What is a long exposure?

 Usually when we take a photograph, we are recording an instant in time. A long exposure records an extended period of time rather than the instant. The shutter in our camera remains open for up to 30 seconds or more during which time the sensor records any light hitting it whether the light source is still or moving. Generally these long exposures need to be done at night time. During the day there is too much light and our photo would be completely white.

Light trails are produced when the light source in the frame is moving in relation to the camera. We can achieve this by either using a moving light source, moving the camera itself or a combination of the two. We can also combine a still image with a moving light source.

These shots will work best in your town or city centre where there are a lot of colourful lights.

Camera movement:

We can move the camera by hand or attach it to something that is moving (eg. A car).

Subject movement:

We can fix our camera to a tripod and record any moving lights (eg. Cars driving past).

In this class you will learn “The jiggle technique”

You will also learn the “The dashboard technique”

Including people in your light trail images:

Because I love photographing people, I often try to include a human in my images. This gets a little trickier when we are shooting light trails. Generally we want our person to be sharply focused and well exposed within the photograph this usually means using flash. So we are combining a still image (using flash) with a light trail image (using a long exposure).

This will require a reasonable knowledge of flash photography but by watching these following videos, you will get an idea of what is involved.

Because we are shooting in darkness, we don’t really need a powerful flash. A cheap speedlight type flash will be adequate.

Light trails from a tripod:

In one of our videos I set the camera on a tripod beside a busy intersection. I placed the model in the scene and focused on her. I used a large soft box on my flash but you can get similar shots using a speedlight.

I used a 5 second shutter speed at an aperture of F16, ISO 200 and my flash power was adjusted to expose the model properly.

Because I wanted the flash to light the model from the side, I used a flash radio trigger to fire the flash in synchronisation with the camera. These triggers are relatively cheap ($20.00 – $30.00) and open up more possibilities for your flash photography. The shots will still be ok if you use a camera mounted flash or your “pop-up” flash.

Camera on roof rack:  

Now we are stepping up a little to shoot light trails from unusual viewpoints. Often your images will have more impact if you use unique viewpoints.

With this shot we attached the camera to a tripod which was attached securely to the car’s roof rack. The tripod was adjusted to frame our model and the scene and focussed on her. The camera settings were ISO 200, F16 at 5 seconds. The image was framed upside down to achieve the best angle and will be flipped in post production.

For safety reasons we are shooting these images in a carpark and not on the road.

If you are hesitant to place your camera in such a precarious position maybe purchase an older second hand camera that you use specifically for these things.

Our model was lit with a speedlight flash held by Jenn and adjusted to give the correct exposure on her face.

Camera on the bullbar:

Next we attached the tripod centre column to the Bull bar on Scott’s car. Framed and focussed as before, we lit our model with a speedlight on the dash board of the car. Originally we were going to have Maxcine drive the car but we decided to have her sit on the passenger’s side. I fired the camera remotely from the back seat.

The next video shows me shooting our model (who is driving the car) from a home-made bracket on the car seat.

Then I shot from a standing position as the car and model drove by, still using flash to light the model and a longer shutter speed to record the light trails.

Motorcycle Rider from camera mounted on car’s towbar:

This shoot was done at the same location at a different time. The idea was to shoot a moving motor cycle from a moving car. For a unique perspective, the camera was mounted low down on the towbar of my car. The zoom lens was set to wide angle to exaggerate the perspective and the bike needed to be fairly close to the car.

The bike and rider were lit by a flash from within the car.

The final Video shows the evolution of a light trail image that I have never attempted before. We combine the car brake lights, some cheap ($1.50) blue led lights, two flashes and a blue light stick to produce the final image.


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