The Key to Making EPIC Light Trail Photos: Compose with Anticipation (VIDEO)

Nighttime photography can be very rewarding, especially when there are bright objects moving through the frame, like cityscapes with vivid taillights from passing cars or seascape scenes that include illuminated boats. In fact, the techniques required for both scenarios have a lot in common.

We've posted videos in this topic in the past, and most concentrate on focus and proper exposure with sufficiently long shutter speed to capture this eye-catching  effect. Today's episode from the Light Meets Lens YouTube channel takes a different and very interesting approach by describing how to compose images while anticipating motion so that the streaming lights are in perfect position when the shutter is tripped.

Instructor Nick Kuhn says this type of photography is his favorite because, "I love the true beauty of capturing a car or something else with lights on it as it smears across the frame." Kuhn is a pro specializing in landscape and cityscape imagery so he's the perfect man to explain this unique approach.

He describes his method like this: "I have to think quite a lot about how lights move through the scene, because I want to time the shot just perfectly." He typically uses a cable release on his tripod-mounted camera to help him memorialize what he considers to be the decisive moment.

Kuhn visits three locations in this behind-the-scenes episode, and he briefly discusses  necessary camera setting for this style of long-exposure photography. His primary intent, however is this: "My goal is to show off a compositional technique with light trail photography because you have to think differently when you do it."

For his first shot Kuhn is poised atop a high vantage point, shooting at minimum aperture to achieve the slowest possible shutter speed—in this case he ends up to an exposure of 30 seconds. With the preliminaries out of the way Kuhn devotes the remainder of the video to a detailed demonstration of the careful way he composes this particular scene and the other two that follow.

In a way, Kuhn's nighttime technique is similar to that used by sports/action photographers working during the day, who insist that "you don't shoot action, you anticipate it." In other words, this means substituting fast burst rates in favor of well-honed reflexes.

It's a lot of fun experimenting with this style of light trail photography, so how about making this your weekend photo assignment? Be sure to browse Kuhn's instructional YouTube channel where there are more pro secrets to be revealed.

We also recommend watching the tutorial we posted earlier from another accomplished pro, with a Lightroom color-grading technique that can be very helpful for boosting the impact of light trail photographs.