How to Shoot Beams of Light

One of the first items I remember trying to capture as a teenager with my first SLR camera (film), were the thin beams of light created by cars on a busy road near my house.

I had seen this kind of photo in a photography magazine and was impressed by the attractive results.

Beams of light continue to be a popular subject for many photographers, and they really can be a great training ground for those who want to start using your camera in manual mode and try shooting with low light on longer exposures.

Next, we will see some examples of images of light beams, as well as some practical tips as a starting point for those who want to venture in this area.


There is not only a specific type of camera and accessory kit you need to capture light beams – however, it is important to have a camera that allows to have some control over exposure settings – especially those which allow the choice of slower shutter speeds. This means that you need a camera with ability to shoot in full manual mode and/or shutter priority mode – something that all DSLRs, and some digital compact cameras from Liuxers.

You will also need a tripod-or any other way to let your camera completely still, since they will be shooting with the shutter at a speed that will make it virtually impossible to take a picture with the camera in my hands loose.

Not essential, but useful to have with you, are the lens covers – to help block the enlargement of the lens due to lights in the environment;the remote trigger cable, or wireless remotes, patience, and some warm clothes, if you’re out on a cold night, are also accessories to consider.

 Basic Principle

Generally speaking, shooting beams of light involves finding a place where you can see the traces of light created by cars, position your digital camera, adjust the setting for long exposure and photograph at the time when the cars will be going away, leaving the light trail. Of course it’s a bit more complicated than that-but the General factor behind this, is to have longer exposures that will allow the cars to create beams that will traverse the image.


Although there are a number of tips on shooting beams of light that can be shared – the main thing that I learned in my early days of attempts to create this kind of images, was the need to experiment extensively. The beauty of digital photography is that you can do that at no extra cost to yourself, and yet, get immediate results – unlike when I did this with film, and I had to shell out more money on film and processing, not to mention the days waiting to see my results.

Configure the shot

Shooting beams of light is not difficult – is almost as simple as finding any highway with cars passing once the sun goes down. But get something attention means thinking a little more when choosing your location by looking at the time and the framing of the image. Here are some tips on how to set your photo.

  • Time/lighting-one might think that the middle of the night is the best time for photography of traces of light – and can even be, however, a very effective time to do this is when the Sun is setting, a few minutes before and after. If you shoot right now, not only will capture the light of the cars, but the ambient light in the sky, which can create an atmosphere to the pictures. You may also notice that at the beginning of the night will have a little more “action” in your images, with more cars, and even the movement of people through the picture.
  • Creative Perspectives-some of the beams of light scenes more efficient than I did, seen from a third party, were photos taken from the perspective of the height of a normal person standing. Stay down, or find a place where you watch the scene as if he were looking down, will create an unusual angle.
  • Location -the obvious thing with the location is that you’ll need it to be somewhere near a road – however, there is more to think about than that. Choose a location that adds interest to the photo in any way. Can be a place where there are well-lit buildings along the road or, where several roads merge together to create beams of light in different directions in a curve – so that the sweep through the image tracks, near a roundabout for the beams to create circular shapes, in the middle of two-way highways – in a traffic island for the lights that come in two directions , etc.
  • Framing – apply the normal rules of composition in this type of photography. The images need some kind of a point of interest, the rule of thirds can be applied effectively, pass the eyes in your image using intelligent alignments, images in the foreground and backgrounds, should add, and not distract the viewer of the image.



  • Aperture and shutter speed– I wish I could give you shutter speeds and apertures that will work in all situations – but as the ambient light and the speed of the cars will be different in each one, there is no combination of exposure that will be useful in all locations.

Having said that, I have found that I tend to shoot at shutter speeds between 10 and 20 seconds – which gives the cars, time to move through the framework, and with openings in the midrange-start with something like f/8.

The key is to start with something in the range above, and take some test shots to see how it works. You will soon realize if your shots are sub or superexpostos, and if the exposure time is long enough to let the cars pass through the framework of the way you want.

If the shots are superexpostos – close the aperture down – increase the f-number, or if the pictures stay underexposed open lenses decreasing f-number. If you want the car lights go further through the frame, increase the shutter speed and, if the intention is that he’s been less through the framework, reduce the speed.

Keep in mind that the opening exercises impact on depth of field. If you need a larger aperture, will decrease this depth and a larger part of the picture will be blurred.

  • Histogram-A thing to notice is to let any light source in your image – are headlights, street lights, etc., esmaecerem in it. Very bright lights can cause distractions and call your viewer’s attention away from the focal points – ruining your photo. A way to quickly check if there is any area that is overexposed to this degree, is to observe the histogram. If there are areas off, you’ll have a chart with the right side too high.
  • Select a low ISO setting– this will give you images with as little noise as possible.
  • Shoot RAW if you have – this will allow you to have more control in post-production work – especially in obtaining the right balance of whites, something that can be important once you’re shooting in a situation with a lot of artificial light, which causes all kinds of color casts in your photo.
  • Manual focus-in situations of low light cameras can struggle to keep the focus correctly. The last thing we want is for her to be out of focus, in this way, you also need to adjust the shutter release. Switch to manual focus, and make sure it is on a part of the image that is visually strong.

Time Photo

There is no right or wrong way to time the photo. Adjust the shutter just before a car enter the picture and release it only after this comes out, can create a beautiful unbroken line, but sometimes shoot with shorter exposure times, while the camera is in the frame, can be effective also. Once again, it is experimenting with different times, and see what effects they have.

Using BULB mode

Many digital cameras have a way about them called ‘ bulb ‘, or ‘ bulb ‘, which allows the photographer to keep the shutter open as long as you want. This can be very useful in this type of photography to time it accurately. If you use this, you might want to use a remote shutter release to prevent any movement of the camera while the shutter is open.

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