Photography is truly a divine form of art and a sort of meditation, especially for night photographers. The characteristic that distinguishes night photography from others is the requirement of profound patience, also it means working in the dark, a very difficult task, considering that the light changes minute by minute after the sun drops below the horizon. The pre-shooting takes a lot of jobs, through location scouting during the day, and setting up camera gear before the blue light.
Night hunters usually scout locations when it is still light, as it's safer than trying to navigate an unfamiliar area in the dark. Some areas that are safe during daylight can become unsafe as the day ends. Awareness of the surroundings is a must. There are different ways to master the light of darkness, like light painting, astrophotography, city landscapes, and many more. You will see magic imagines of the 'light trails' car and trains are like fire in its maximum speed, stunning sceneries between urbex and outdoor landscapes, images that demonstrate the photographer’s connection with nature and time, the ability to capture the essence of the world around them. Photographers show the importance of composition and taking the creative side of things as far as possible.
Here is my list of the best light trails photography. By making long exposures, photographers reveal that time can be slow down and let us view the world in a whole new way through their cameras.
Landwasserviadukt, Filisur, Switzerland
"This picture was my number one on the bucket list. I wanted to combine several techniques to get the most out of it. I traveled to this location for this picture only. When I arrived, I scouted the location, set up the camera in the river, and started to wait for hours. The first picture was during the blue hour to manage the harsh lights that illuminated the bridge. The second and most important one was the picture of a train passing by. I only had two chances and luckily nailed the second one. Pressing the shutter in the right moment is crucial here, so you better train this on a few trains before so that you get the full light trail over the bridge. Then the next step was to wait until it clears up (it was a bit cloudy) and to get a shot of the faint, but the still visible milky way that aligns behind the bridge at a later point during the night. It took me a good 6 hours in total to get all shots in and I guess another 12 hours to process those pictures later. Worth it though!" says Jens Mirwald, the photographer from Basel, Switzerland. He found his passion for photography in 2018. He is crazy about night photography and long exposures, and he declares that there is nothing better than a night under the stars!
Maloja Pass, Engadin, Switzerland
"I had a plan to visit the Engadin for a long time because it has amazing sceneries for great shoots, especially the Maloja pass with fresh snow, and some light trails were high on my list," Florian Plöger, a German travel photographer, shares his experience with me. "It was already a bit late in the year for the real snow to fall. The winter weather was sunny and warm, only one day snowed. That evening I decided to take the chance to visit the Maloja pass road, which is famous for its heavy curves and steep climb. It was quite difficult to find the best angle due to the deep snow offside the road. Armed with the tripod and heavy camera backpack I made my way through the knee-deep fresh snow avoiding the edges of the cliff, you never know where it’s snow with the ground under it and where the snow is just loose on the hillside. It took quite some time to get the right shot. Later that evening, fewer cars made their turns on the pass road. Patiently I had to wait for the right moment with the right amount of cars on the road to get this evenly lighted shot with a good amount of trails. I enjoy long exposure photography, if done right you get the opportunity to transport so much atmosphere with a photograph. As a photographer, you will always witness calm and silent moments in nature, no hurry, just take your time and experiment. If a normal photograph is just a small snapshot, I feel like a long exposure is a whole moment, experience, merged into one frame."
Bixby Creek Bridge, On The Big Sur Coast Of California
"I wanted to shoot this bridge with the stars since I was a kid and finally had the opportunity to do it. Usually, it’s always cloudy, but thankfully this weekend was perfect weather and no clouds, but it was freezing. I used a Sony Alpha A7r2 and kept the shutter open for 30 seconds. It took a couple of tries but I was happy with the end result," says Jordan Michaelis, the author of this photo.
Lake Sylvenstein, Bavarian Alps, Germany
Felix Heisig is a German photographer who has shared with me his stunning masterpiece of the Isar valley. Felix, unquestionably a Sony Alpha lover, blent more than one frame to achieve this stunning result. The number of them? You can ask him directly! Also, if you can understand German, then you can learn from his well-explained online tutorials more about the night, Astro, and landscape photography!
Sepidan Near Shiraz, Iran
Mohammad Hadi Hadadinejad is a 27-year-old photographer, tour guide, and English teacher based in Shiraz. "I was going to take a night sky photo on a cold winter night over Zagros mountains in a town called Sepidan near Shiraz in Iran when I found this road curve. It was very cold but it was worth to take the risk and walk on the snow down to the hill. I wanted to find the perfect location. So, I set the camera and the tripod to catch the perfect shot. Then I ran back to my car only when the final result made me very happy. Single shot."
Kanton Graubünden, Switzerland
Fabian Hurschler was born and raised in a small village in Switzerland. His passion for the outdoors emerged at a young age from the countless trips to hikes in the mountain regions. One day Fabian decided to take a break from his job, and so he started traveling the world and documenting his journey. He learned several technics for capturing and processing his images. He began to develop his style and with that, the final result of his work expresses the emotions felt at those locations. Fabian is a canon and sigma user; he captured this beautiful landscape and car light trail. In his never-ending desire to travel and explore, he'd not only like to inspire others for the outdoors but also to show people its beauty and the importance of protecting and conserving our planet. "The idea of taking a long exposure of this winding road was in my mind for quite a while, so finally on a mid-autumn evening, I made the decision and drove up there. When I set up my camera for the shot, I noticed that a small bit of red appearing in the clouds in front of me. It was truly a big surprise because I wasn’t counting on that at all. I only wanted to take a “standard” long exposure with the trails of the cars. Later, in the blue hour, my idea finally came true, and I shot several exposures for the trails. I thought: Why not combining those few exposures? Since it’s taken within the same location and on a tripod, it would just be a time blend. So, I went on and this is what came out."
Denny Mancuso is an Italian photographer, who shares his experience behind this shot: "I was always fascinated by the blue hour. This place has been an inspiration for me since forever. That night, I knew it was my lucky night, the weather conditions were perfect for what I wanted to achieve.The blue shadows and the crystal water reflected very well my style and my inner world."
Anthony's Nose, NY, USA
"My aim that day was to get a sunset shot of the mountains with an interesting foreground. It's quite a long hike to get to the top of the mountain, I didn't factor in the hike back down in the dark, so it was an adventure being in the woods at night with low visibility. But, it was definitely worth the shot," says Raymond Mair, the author of this fabulous shot.
The Road That Leads To El Chalten, Argentina
Alfonso Diaz-Granados Marquez took this picture during a very cold morning in April last year, on the road that leads to El Chalten, Argentina. "The road itself is a long road that has this beautiful bend in S shape that can be seen from one of the small elevations on the side of the road. We jumped out of the car, climbed the small hill and there was The Fitzroy what a sight to see! I grabbed all the gear tripod, choice of lens, set up the cameras, and waited for over an hour, I took several shots and different compositions, and waited for the perfect light. As the mountains on the back are so big, they made the perspective of the bend and road looks brilliant! The orange alpine light hitting the peaks just after sunrise was something so beautiful to be seen, where the shot could have just ended there. I wanted a little bit more, as I love long exposures, so I chucked in a PolarPro ND (ND 8 Polarized), and as we did not have a beautiful sky with any colored clouds or any texture, I tried to capture the cars passing to have something else in the foreground. So, the long exposure trails gave this shot just enough to make it pop," says Alfonso Diaz-Granados Marquez.
Saint-Paul, Reunion Island
"Light trails are one of the best ways to add a 'wow' factor to your urban night photography. Traffic and car light trails show the frenetic rhythm of life in large cities. Shooting long exposures effectively requires that you should be shooting in Manual mode as much as possible. This photo was taken in saint-Paul, Reunion Island. I placed myself at the top of a cliff to obtain this angle of view. The idea was to capture the lights of cars moving along the coast to get these light trails. I used the Sony Alpha 7 III body with Canon 16-35 mm @ 16 mm lens. It was shot at ISO 100, f/11 at 68 sec," says photographer Andrianjato Rado.
Death Valley, National Park, California
Mari and Bobi are two engineers, and a stunning couple that loves sharing the beauty of our planet with their fantastic photographs, surely that makes you want to travel! "We were on our way to the Artists Palette for sunset, but the sky looked a little boring. We decided instead to stop at a location we had explored during the day. With a blue hour at hand and winding road in the distance, it was time to shoot light trails! I waited for three vehicles to be in the right spot to get the trail on the complete road. You can see the colors of the Artists Palette in the distance," says Mari and Bobi.
Vosges, Range Of France
Hans M., a light artist from Nancy, France, has been practicing long exposure and light painting for almost 10 years. He took this photo in Vosges mountains, which are a range of low mountains in eastern France, near its border with Germany during a winter night in 2018. Hans arrived on-site at the blue hour, and when he set his goal towards the road to bring a light touch as a car was passing. The result is pretty impressive! Hans used a Nikon D810 - Samyang 14mm lens.
Laguna Hills Of California, USA
Tj LeClair is a 26-year-old architecture and landscape photographer, born and raised in a small town in Ontario, Canada. He has been photographing everything from luxury real estate to landscapes and everything in between for over 12 years. Photography has always been his life, and the thing he enjoys the most. "I've dreamed about making this photo for over a year. I almost didn't think it would happen, but persistence paid off. I take this intersection every day, and I always wondered what I could do as it has beautiful mountains surrounding it. By using Google Earth, I figured out a way to get up high enough on one of the three mountains for a good vantage, but unfortunately, I found out that all the trails in the area are gated up and not accessible after 5 pm. I gave up on that shot for a little while, even though it was regularly in my mind because the location is on my way to work. At some point, I realized that it wasn't possible at all. So one day, while driving home, I spotted a trail just behind a condo complex that looked like it a shot up to the mountain. I tried to make this shot happen during a warm night in June, and in the end, the trail was looking good, the view was amazing, but I wasn't satisfied enough because I ended up leaving earlier than I should. I did because I was nervous about the hike down in the dark. So I went back one more time as I had the angle and I was aware of the path. That's the result."
Peekskill, New York
Greg Scibior is a self-taught photographer from a town north of Manhattan. He aims to capture the best images with light, nature, and action! Greg appreciates finding simplicity in life because it always produces the best outcome with the least amount of stress. This photo was taken with a 16mm Sony Alpha camera. The location is in Peekskill, New York just after sunset approaching blue hour. "I always drove by this area and thought it was beautiful and would be really cool for a long exposure. I had to climb a fence and set my tripod up on a slanted hill but it was well worth it,” says Greg.
Southern Alberta, Calgary, Canada
Benjamin Lau, neuroscientist, and magician from Sydney, shares his experience with me: "This was an attempt to capture a light trail of the light rail in Calgary, Canada. It was taken at sunrise from the soccer field at the Southern Alberta Insititute of Technology (SAIT), which has a great view of downtown Calgary. While light trails are cool to see in general, I think it's better when they add to the composition of an image. The goal was to use the light trail of the train as a leading line that directs the viewers' eyes towards the city. Given that twilight/sunrise is a high dynamic range scene consisting of extreme shadows and highlights (due to the dark of night and brightness of the sun/urban lights), the image shown is an HDR image consisting of a darker (5s), normal (20s) and brighter (30s) exposure, one of which captured the movement of the train lights over 30 seconds. This helped to capture more details of the shadows and highlights that I could see with the naked eye (but are limited by the imperfections of current camera technology). The shots were taken on a Sony A7III with a Sony 16-35mm f2.8 GM lens."
Topanga Canyon, California
"Every day I would drive this canyon and visualize every possible angle I could capture. Topanga Cyn. is my favorite of all the canyons in L.A. It goes from PCH to the 118 and has some of the most interesting views and roads to shoot long exposures. On this night, I was just doing my normal commute from work, and I stopped at the lookout point and decided to take a walk across the street just to see if I could find a new perspective. I ended up walking to a swing that overlooked the city below, and the canyon that stretched from the hilltop all the way down to the city and the 118, so I set up my gear, tripod, camera, and trigger, the proceeded to capture," says Jason Rush, a California-based photographer.
Coast Of Malibu, Looking North At The Pacific Coast Highway
"The idea was to capture light trails from passing cars using a long exposure while maintaining golden hour lighting from sunset. This meant a composite of 2 shots was needed because light trails require low light, while sunset is typically a bit brighter. Using a tripod, my Sony A7III camera, and a Sony 70-300mm telephoto lens, I framed the shot I wanted and took shots during both sunset and twilight. With some patience and favorable traffic, I was able to get the light trails I hoped for,” says Chris Slagle, the author of this photo.
Kew Bridge Railway, London Borough Of Richmond
“I took this picture during the lockdown. As London is one of the busiest cities in Europe, it is impossible to take a picture in a stunning place like this without having people hanging around. It was incredible how dark was the bridge and its surroundings, considering that the area is full of pubs and bars, and that night I saw for the first time a popular spot immerse in the deep silence and darkness! From time to time, I do enjoy taking long-exposure pictures, even if it is not my practice. I like to see the magic result of the wait, and while waiting for it, I let the present moment come all in. This image is the result of a single shot, taken with a 50mm and a Canon camera. The bright light upon the bridge is the train of the overground line.”