Photo Review: Capturing Light Trails with Lesley Scott

"One Way Or The Other" by Lesley Scott

"The idea to experiment with light trails came to me on my way from the reserve in Upper Hutt - as soon as I saw that blue light, I knew there was something special about it."

Initial Thoughts

The composition is outstanding and the subject itself is nice with the long exposure of speeding cars on the highway and the moody sky above it creating an awesome look. The contrast between the white headlights and the red tail lights is really good. The focus and sharpness could be a little better but it’s still a solid shot as taking longer exposures isn't easy.

Improving This Shot

Exposure/Dynamic range

The first thing that stands out while looking at this photo is how dark it is, it’s more than 1 stop underexposed. The photo overall could have been improved if the exposure was longer - it would make the light trails even longer which would look even better and secondly, it would make the photo brighter.

In this particular case it seems like the camera exposed for the sky, not the road. One way to fix this is to expose for the road and then bring down the exposure of the sky through post-processing and the other way is by bracketing a shot. Bracketing is a technique mostly used by landscape and interior photographers, basically you take multiple exposures of the subject and then stitch them together in Photoshop or any other image editing software. For example, you take an underexposed photo to capture the sky perfectly, then you take a correctly exposed photo which will be the base of the final image and lastly you take an overexposed one so you can fix any dark areas (for example the mountain in your photo). This can be done automatically by the camera. Using bracketing you get a much better photo with outstanding dynamic range without depending on your camera’s HDR capabilities.

Here’s the photo with a little bit of fixing. Since it’s a .jpg it can’t be heavily modified. This is just a mock up of how it would look if it was bracketed.

Thinking Outside The Box – Alternative Edits

One thing that is kind of a cliché but still looks good is making everything black and white and then bringing back a few colours to make it look more dramatic.

Above is an example of the black and white image with the lights. It gives it a cool neon like look.

The Recap

All in all, a really good image with only a few technical errors. Next time try to do a 10+ second exposure so you get really long light trails, perhaps even ones stretching through the whole lane on both sides. That would give the image an awesome look!

An example of a longer exposure with long light trails to inspire you
An example of a longer exposure with long light trails to inspire you. (Credit: Pixabay, author: flo222)

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