Camera setting basics to capture road and light trails.
Whether you shoot with a film or digital camera, knowing how to adjust the standard camera settings of ISO, aperture, and shutter speed are essential to capture light trail photography. Understand how each setting functions together before you plan your shoot.
ISO is a measure of the light sensitivity of the digital sensor on DSLR or mirrorless cameras. The higher the ISO, the more light a camera captures. Most standard DSLR cameras have ISO settings that range from ISO 100 to ISO 1600 while other cameras may have even higher ISO options. Try to keep your ISO as low as possible, using the long shutter speed to gather more light to compensate.
Shutter speed is the amount of time a camera’s shutter remains open to let light pass through the lens to the camera sensor. Shutter speeds range from thousandths of a second to many seconds or minutes. Light trail photography favors longer shutter speeds, between 5 and 60 seconds, so you can capture the full motion of light across the frame.
Aperture controls how much light your lens lets in the camera. On both film and digital cameras, the aperture is also called an f-stop and is labeled on cameras with measurements like f/8 or f/22. A favorable aperture setting for light trails is typically about an f/16.
Manual mode is ideal for light trail photography. The ability to change or manipulate the ISO, aperture, or shutter speed to accommodate shooting in your location is essential for photographing light trails.
Self-timer functions are available on most DSLR cameras. Shutter speed and aperture settings for light trail photography let light enter the camera for longer periods of time. Any bump or shake of the camera will cause blurry images. Use the self-timer function to avoid this, or use a shutter release — a device to remotely trigger the shutter.
Bulb mode is when you press down the shutter button for as long as you want to keep the shutter open. You can try this method of capturing light trails, especially when moving objects with light are consistently passing through your vantage point, but it may lead to your background blurring due to camera movement, underexposure, or overexposure.
Put camera settings together for the best light trail image.
When you better understand the relationship and interaction between ISO, shutter speed, and aperture (f-stops), you can play around with each function to get the best shot from your chosen vantage point.
Remember, the darker your environment, the more light you want to pick up. Shooting on a higher ISO with longer shutter speeds and wider aperture settings will let enough light pass through your lens to create a visible light trail. Start with ISO 800, a shutter speed of five seconds or longer, and an f/8 aperture. Continue to adjust or experiment with your settings to get your desired light trail shot.