Have you ever wondered how I did my photo Zoom Zoom Zoom (a light trail past Big Ben), well here I spill the beans on the technique I used to achieve this and how you can too!

If you enjoy this tutorial feel free to recommend it to your friends, and let me know how you get on!

Tutorial on how I did light trails in front of Big BenZoom Zoom Zoom

Light Trail Technique

You will need a tripod for this technique (or at least be able to lean your camera on something to keep it sturdy) as you will be opening up your shutter for a few seconds or more at a time and you will need your camera to stay perfectly still. Otherwise you will get camera shake and your photos will be blurry.

You will also need a camera that lets you control your shutter speed, and you will need to be doing this technique during or after twilight, on a night that has little or no wind to help with camera shake.

Here a few settings to get you started, you will need to experiment, as not every situation is the same. The lighting, the time of night, how fast the cars/buses go past will all influence the shutter speed you need to use. To start off, I’d advise that you use the recommended shutter speed (below) and experiment from there.

Here are the settings you will be using:

  • Shutter Priority    
  • Shutter speed of 6 seconds (use this as a starting point but if you are taking photos - from a bridge for example - you may need a shutter speed of 30 seconds to get a long continuous line of light)
  • Or use bulb mode (instead of setting shutter speed at 6 seconds - more on this below)
  • ISO 100 or as low as you can get it
  • Tripod (turn your image stabiliser off if using a tripod)
  • Shutter release cable or your 2 second timer
  • You won’t be using a flash!
  • Optional tips: Warm clothing, a torch to see what you are doing, extra person for security

This technique will take a bit of practice and depends on how fast the cars are going past you, how dark it is outside, and where you are positioned.

Find yourself a safe place to stand off the road but so you can get a good photo of the traffic. Position yourself so you have something of interest in the background (so you can get a photo of the lights of the car going past your point of interest). This technique will also create a striking image from up high on a bridge, looking down and capturing the light trails of cars below you, or from the vantage point of a corner on the road so you can create lights that bend.

Set your camera to the above; remember you will have to play around with your shutter speed a bit until you are happy with the result, start with the 6 seconds and go from there.

Use a shutter release cable or your 2 second timer on your camera so you don’t bump your camera during the photo. Wait until the cars (or even better buses, due to their distinctive colouring!) are about to go past (if you are using your 2 second timer you will need to press this 2 seconds earlier to allow for the timer) and then press the shutter button down, wait and then review.

If you still see the vehicles in your photo you need a longer shutter time, unless that is the picture you are going for.

If you are shooting a long stretch of road you will need a longer shutter speed to capture a long light trail and, if there are gaps in your trail, try a longer shutter speed.

As alluded to, you can use ‘bulb mode’ if your camera has the function to. This is when you can control how long your shutter is open for. You press your shutter down when the car/bus etc enters the frame and press it again when the car/bus leaves the frame. This way you don’t have to guess how long to leave the shutter open for.

But most of all just practice and enjoy!