Boston Massachusetts has been my home for the last 1o years. I moved for school and was immediately hooked by the culture, food, and history all encapsulated in a beautiful city on the water. It’s also fantastic having so many great parks and still being only a few miles from beautiful wilderness like the Blue Hills National Park and Walden Pond.
In December I began photographing tourism and visitor activities around Boston for the Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau (BostonUSA.com). It’s been an incredible opportunity to meet local businesses, event coordinators, and vendors in industries from public relations to restaurants and lots in between! I’ve had opportunities to photograph Dine Out Boston (restaurant week), the Polartec Big Air Competition at Fenway Park (supercooollllllll), and loads of cool conventions. I’m also very excited to be photographing Boston Calling which is right around the corner!
My mother and mentor Laurie Klein instilled the idea that it is necessary to first take the photograph you need for your assignment then take a photograph for yourself. She calls it ‘one for thee and one for me.’ So I decided to do a project inside of my citywide assignments; photographing light trails of cars around Boston.
Canon 5d Mark III 24-70 lens F22 30sec exposure ISO 100
SOO what exactly is a light trail? Put simply it is a long exposure photograph where the lights of moving vehicles (cars typically) are recorded as your camera’s shutter remains open. As the lights move across your frame during a long exposure it is recorded on the cameras sensor and looks like a smooth line of color. The moving lights record even during long exposure because they are brighter than their surroundings, this is why the ideal time to capture light trail photos is during the night. You can also toss a neutral density filter on your lens and play around with day or sunset/sunrise photos!
After finding the scene I’d like to capture I set up my camera on a (sturdy) tripod and adjust my exposure based off the surrounding landscape or buildings to make sure they are properly exposed. I like to get my exposure time between 15-30 seconds which usually requires a f-stop of f/16 to f/22. I’ll set my ISO to 100 or as low as possible to avoid as much camera noise as possible. Don’t worry about people walking through your frame, with a long enough exposure you won’t even see them!
Canon 5d Mark III 24-70 lens F22 30sec exposure ISO 125 exp +.6
After I’m set up with my exposure adjusted to make sure the building and surrounding areas are in focus it’s time to start taking photos!
Suggestions on choosing your location and planning: Choose your background! Do you want a famous building or landmark as the centerpiece of your photo? Think about how the traffic moves, the white lights from headlights are going to appear much brighter than red tail lights so keep that in mind. The longer you see the movement of cars the cooler the shot (in my opinion). Also think about traffic patterns at given times of they day, if you only have one or two cars crossing over your frame during the exposure you will only have a few lines.
Canon 5d Mark III 24-70 lens F18 10sec exposure ISO 1600 exp +.6
My preference for light trails is to select either a low angle on the street or a higher angle from a parking garage a building. From a low angle I love to find spots where you can see the road blend around a corner, this helps to define and shape buildings PLUS s-curves are one of the strongest compositional tools in photography right?!? When photographing from a high angle I try to avoid areas with lots of traffic lights. If I’m going for smooth lines I don’t want cars stopping at lights. If a car stops for long enough it will solidify and I don’t want to see the vehicle!
Side note: multiple images can be combined using HDR merger methods or in photoshop you can add light trails from different exposures by stacking the images in separate layers and using the lighter color blend mode.