Long Exposure Nighttime Photography
Photo Stories, Photography

Long Exposure Nighttime Photography

Long exposure photography, particularly taken of streets busy with nighttime traffic, can be breathtaking with their light trails. And during my travels, I have managed to capture some long exposure nighttime traffic photos.

Long Exposure Photography

I have always been mesmerized by nighttime photography of vehicular traffic. One can do long exposure photography of waterways etc., during the daytime but capturing a busy street in the night is something special. The lights in the vehicles leaving a trail of lines, some straight, some bending while some zigzagging but all in some pattern following each other have a special charm.

Nikon D80, f:5.6, 18mm, ISO 100, 20 sec
Nikon D80, f:5.6, 18mm, ISO 100, 20 sec. A Street in Osaka, Japan

And I have tried my luck with long exposure photography of nighttime streets.

The first time I thought I managed to capture the vibe of long exposure nighttime photography was when I was in Vegas. I was walking over a bridge and noticed the traffic below. It was at an intersection/junction and, therefore, a good spot to try out some vehicular traffic photography. Fortunately, I also had my tripod, so I set up my Nikon D80.

Equipment Needed:

  • Camera: A DSLR or mirrorless camera with manual settings is ideal for long exposure photography. However, some of the newer mobile phones come with great cameras with features such as manual shutter speed. There are also external camera apps. One downside is that these cameras usually do not allow too much of manual control when it comes to aperture/exposure settings.
  • Tripod: A tripod is a must. As you set the camera’s shutter to remain open for longer periods, any movement, such as the natural hand movement, will create unnecessary shake in the photos as well.
  • Wide-Angle Lens: Having a wide-angle lens, ideally in the range of 16-35mm (I am referring to the apc-s, not full frame cameras), is excellent for capturing the expansive cityscape and traffic.

Nice to Have:

  • Remote Shutter Release: A remote shutter release or an intervalometer can help you shoot your photos without having to touch the camera’s shutter button. This is because sometimes a sharp pressing of the shutter button can move the camera.
  • ND Filters: Neutral density (ND) filters will reduce the amount of light entering the camera. And this will allow for longer shutter speeds even in well-lit conditions.
  • Lens Hood: Sometimes the light sources such as streetlights can add unnecessary glare or light to the photos and a hood will prevent that.

Camera Settings:

Here are some of the camera settings one could use.

  • Location: This is important. I always like to shoot from above a street – on a bridge or from a balcony – but you can also stand at eye level to the street and set your camera.
  • Shutter Speed: Long exposure is just that – exposing the subject or subjects for longer periods of time. You can start with perhaps 1 sec and then adjust.
  • Aperture: Because you are using a wide-angle camera with a long shutter speed, there will already be a lot of light entering the sensor, so use a smaller aperture (a higher f-number). You could start with f/8 to f/13.
  • ISO: There will be a tendency to push the ISO to a higher number because it is nighttime photography but because there is already sufficient light, keep it low, perhaps to 100.
  • Focus: Manual focussing will be important here. This will allow you to select the spot where you want to focus.
  • RAW Footage: The newer cameras are high in resolution so you will get good quality photos but if you are an expert, you can also set the camera to capture them in RAW. Some cameras will allow both jpg and RAW.

Some of My Long Exposure Nighttime Traffic Photos

I have an 18-300 lens which is what I used for these shots. Initially, I had a Nikon D80, but now I have been using a D5600.

Nikon D80, F/18, ISO 100, 8 sec, 38mm
A Street in Vegas.

Nikon D80, F/18, ISO 100, 8 sec, 38mm.

Nikon D80, F/18, ISO 100, 8 sec, 38mm
A Street in Vegas

D80, F/18, ISO 100, 8 sec, 38mm.

Nikon D5600, F/25, ISO 320, 13 sec, 28mm
Long Exposure Nighttime Photography. A Street in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Nikon D5600, F/25, ISO 320, 13 sec, 28mm. As you can see, I had challenges with this photo because of the glare from the big screen across my balcony. There was no way to avoid it.

Nikon D80, f:/3.5, 18mm, ISO 100, 20 sec
Long Exposure Nighttime Photography of a Street in Osaka, Japan

Nikon D80, f/3.5, 18mm, ISO 100, 20 sec

Nikon D5600, F/22, ISO 320, 25 sec, 50mm
Long Exposure Nighttime Photography of a Street in Doha, Qatar

Nikon D5600, F/22, ISO 320, 25 sec, 50mm. I didn’t get this right. The lights from the skyscrapers sitting close to the street made it difficult to get the correct settings. As well, this was not the right angle as my camera was set up at a wrong location. Ideally, it should have been set up at one end, or closer to one of the ends, of the street. CHECK MY POST AND VIDEO ON MY FOUR-DAY TRIP TO QATAR.

Nikon D5600, F/25, ISO 160, 15 sec, 25mm
Long Exposure Nighttime Photography of a Street in Cairo, Egypt

Nikon D5600, F/25, ISO 160, 15 sec, 25mm.

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