08 Traffic lights
Go slow on the roadside
Winter nights can seem boring for the keen photographer, but here’s a great technique to try all year round. Use a long exposure to get cool traffic trail effects when cars drive by. It’s one of those techniques that is very hard to get on a smartphone and a pain to replicate in software, so it will mark you out as a skilled photographer.
Actually, traffic trails are not that hard to take, but you do need to prepare carefully. First, find a suitable (but safe) location. Try standing by a busy junction controlled by traffic lights, or a slip road or a roundabout, where you’ll get vehicles coming past at different speeds. Capturing vehicles when they are turning can create interesting effects too. You’re using a slow shutter speed, so you need a tripod and cable release to keep the background sharp.
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* Set your shutter speed according to the speed of the traffic. Try 10 seconds as a starting point. Shoot in Manual so you can adjust the shutter speed and aperture independently, checking the histogram for each exposure. Use a narrow aperture to get starburst effects on street lights and increase depth of field for sharpness. * It’s best to focus manually, because autofocus will struggle in low light and get distracted. Focus carefully on something significant in the background; zoom in with Live View if necessary to check the focus. * Keep the ISO low to reduce noise, and turn on long-exposure noise reduction.