Make Great Long Exposure Photos.

Introduction: Make Great Long Exposure Photos.

Ever wondered how photographers take cool night pictures of roads in New York with the red and white car lights.

In this Instructable I will show you how to create these photos and other tricks using the same method.

These photos are taken using long exposure settings on cameras. The car body doesn't show up in the photo as the road is exposed for a longer time, though the car lights show up as they are lights and will therefore be brighter than the lengthy exposed road.

Step 1: Items/Tools Needed

You will need:

1) A camera that has adjustable exposure settings. Usually 15-20 seconds is long enough. I find that digital SLRs work the best, though other cameras can be used.

2) A tripod or solid placement . This is to ensure the photo isn't blured by movement. This is esential as the long exposure will mean that any movement of the camera during the 15 or so seconds, will result in the image being blured.

You will also need a busy road that isn't well lit by street lights if possible.

To create the second type of photo in this Instructable (writing in the air, outlining people and objects) you will need a torch or LED light of some sort, preferably one that is not too bright, but is largely focuses the light straight forward instead of dispersing outwards.

Step 2: Firstly: Find the Best Location for Tripod

The photo angle and tripod position is essential for getting the best photo result.

Find a road that is busy at night, but isn't over lit by street lamps and surrounding buildings. Try to ensure that your photo has a key feature in it, like a roundabout or impressive building or road structure.

The best results come from positions where the camera is positioned high up on a hill, bridge or building that looks down onto the location of the picture.

Step 3: Setting the Camera

On the Canon digital SLRs set the mode to TV, this will be different on other cameras so refer to the camera's manual and try to find the fully manual mode.

Then adjust the exposure length (this is how long the camera is 'open' for taking the picture). On the Canon this is changed by turning the wheel that is located just behind the shutter button (left to increase the exposure length, right to decrease the exposure length). I find the best results between 15-25 seconds (depending on the time of year, day and level of traffic).

You may also get better results by changing the ISO speed. On the Canon this is done by pressing the 'up' button then setting your speed. I find having the lowest speed gives the best contrast between the car lights and other objects in the photo, so I put my ISO speed on its lowest setting '100'.

Another setting you may wish to change is the white balance setting. I find the best results on the Shade setting (Approx. 7000k).

Step 4: Now Go Take Photos!

Now go take some great photos of your town or city. Experiment with different settings and locations. You can get some great long light reflections if the area is wet (though i wouldn't advise taking these pictures in the rain).

Note: If your tripod or camera placement isn't extremely sturdy, you may wish to set the camera on a timmer, so that when you press the shutter button down, it doesn't blur the image at all.

Step 5: Alternatives to Roads

There are many different light objects that you can photograph using long exposures to get great light photos.

Fairs and rides
If there's a fair on near you at night, then you could photograph it in the same way. Taking long exposures of rides when they are in motion can create some amazing effects.

Fireworks are great to take long exposure photos of, and are always set-off at dark night, so there is a good contrast in the photo. You can experiment with your own (BUT REMEMBER TO BE CAREFUL WITH FIREWORKS) or go to a public fireworks event.

Light writing and graffitti
Set-up in a dark room and get some glow sticks or lights. You can write things in the air, and they will show up in full on the photo. Outlining people or objects with these light trails can create some cool effects, and you can also use a flash to seal people in certain poses.

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6 Discussions

two suggestions.

1. canon eos rebel mark 3 with a pinhole lens
2. get another film camera and do the darkroom yourself.


8 years ago on Step 5

Your pictures have inspired me to at least ask.

ok, I've been a hardcore film photographer for many years, and now with the loss of all wet labs in the area, have about given up photography completely. I would like to find a digital that would replace my film. I do the 8 to 20 minute exposures, but never seen a digital SLR that can handle that with minimal noise. at the 5 minute mark, digital gets worse, where film just gets better. lol

can anyone suggest a camera and model that can accomplish this? for an idea, some of my work is on thanks for any sugestions.

Use cameras self timer delay (mine has 2 or 10 second options) to avoid jiggling the camera when pressing the shutter.


9 years ago on Introduction

I like long exposure stuff too. I usually use existing objects as support -like poles, dustbins, fences and so on.

Phil B
Phil B

9 years ago on Introduction

With film cameras the advice was to put the camera on a tripod and set the aperture to f/5.6 with film in the 100 speed range. Lock the shutter open on Bulb (time exposure) with a cap on the lens. When the burst goes up into the air remove the lens cap and replace it as soon as the burst has finished. Multiple exposures could be made on one piece of film. My digital camera has a manual exposure setting, but I am not sure it allows long exposures. I will check again.

Although I did it with a film camera, here is another use for a longer exposure, namely painting the interior of a large building with light to get a good photo of it.