Capturing light trails

Light trails in front of Portland sign on Broadway
2sec – f/22 – ISO1000 – 44mm

Capturing light trails per se is nothing special. But doing it without a tripod and fully handheld is. Venturing out on the nightly streets of the Rose City, I experimented with my new Olympus OM-D E-M1X.

Light trails of cars and starburst traffic lights
2sec – f/18 – ISO1600 – 28mm

To capture decent light trails, you need at least two seconds of exposure time. Which, if you want to capture light trails in a sharp environment, normally means putting the camera on a tripod. And as I normally don’t feel like lugging around a tripod (not so useful when doing street photography), I simply never shot light trails.

Light trails of cars and starburst traffic lights on the Streets of Portland
2sec – f/22 – ISO1000 – 100mm

But wanting to test the further improved image stabilization capabilities of the E-M1X, I headed into downtown Portland to capture my light trails. So I dialed in 2 seconds of exposure, stopped down to f/22 to turn the traffic lights into star bursts and snapped away.

Light trails of cars and starburst traffic lights on the Streets of Portland
2sec – f/22 – ISO1000 – 100mm

I have to admit though, I leaned myself against a lamp post for additional support. The lens I used was my trusted 12-100 F/4.

Night traffic on the Streets of Portland
2sec – f/22 – ISO1000 – 75mm
Light trails of cars and starburst traffic lights on the Streets of Portland
2sec – f/22 – ISO1600 – 100mm

As expected, 2 seconds handheld still produced a sharp background while capturing the light trails from the passing traffic. Adding to that the star burst traffic lights (due to narrow aperture) I was quite happy with my first attempt to capture light trails. A big checkmark for the image stabilization of my new camera body.

I processed the RAW files in Adobe Lightroom Classic CC and applied one of my night presets. Hope I could inspire you to go out and try to shoot some light trails yourself.

Wish you a great Wednesday!


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41 thoughts on “Capturing light trails

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  1. Wow Marcus!! I have never attempted light trails without a tripod (I also rarely do night shooting). I love these trails and star bursts. It really makes me want to try my hand at more nighttime shots! 🙂

  2. Two seconds, wow, that’s great steadiness….with the help of the lamppost. The image stabilization was one of the main factors that drew me to the OM-D EM-1. I’ve grown to depend on it, because I too hate lugging a tripod. Your processing looks terrific. I think the second one is my favorite, for the sense of movement and blend of colors. It looks like you are having fun with the new camera!

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Lynn! The M1X is awesome. Yes it is big, but it handles so well ergonomically. And compared to a full frame body and lens it is still a lightweight. With all those new features I have a hard time imagining going back to the M1, which I will most likely sell, keeping the PEN-F for when I need to go light and the M1X. Marcus

  3. You are amazing, Marcus — not even with a steadycam would I attempt two seconds hand-held! I hope you’re proud of these fantastic shots, and pleased with your new camera.

    1. Thanks, Michael, really appreciate your kind words. I’ve seen sharp photos (on screen at least) with 8 (!!!) seconds handeld with this camera. I’m just starting to extend my boundaries 🙂 ! Marcus

  4. Very nice Marcus. I like your first & second shots the best. Nice clean shots of the light trails with enough ‘still’ content for interesting context.

  5. Two seconds handheld is amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to get a sharp photo under 1/30. I like the last photo the best – that is very cool, full of content, and well composed.

      1. Thanks for the very valuable tip! I will give it a try the next time I’m in a city shooting at night.

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