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Lights in Motion
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Lights in Motion

Taking long exposures of lights in motion is a night-photography special effect that often appears in travel-magazine photos and is easy to mimic. Because your camera has the unique ability to record the paths of moving lights, it can reveal patterns and designs of light that are entirely invisible to the eye. Unfortunately, you can use the technique only if your camera has a shutter that you can lock open or that lets you set very long exposure times (10 seconds or longer).

An example of light streaking is the swirling trails of automobile head—and taillights. It is a great way to brighten up city street scenes, especially when you shoot from a high enough vantage point to reveal an elaborate traffic pattern or when you include a landmark, such as the Arc de Triomphe, as a focal point. One curious aspect of this technique is that while the film perfectly records the glow of headlights and taillights, the cars are moving too fast to be recorded, so they disappear. Taking an exposure reading for traffic lights is all but impossible, so your best bet is simply to set a small aperture (f/11 or smaller) to give you adequate depth of field, then keep the shutter open long enough for the lights to move all the way through the frame.

You can use the same technique to photograph carnival or amusement-park rides in motion. Ferris wheels and other spinning rides are especially attractive, because their colorful light displays form dramatic swirls of light. To get the complete-circle effect, you have to be sure to shoot at least one revolution of the ride. A good way to do this is to pick a spot on the wheel, wait until it hits the twelve-o'clock point, then keep the shutter open until it passes that point again.

Remember, these are experimental techniques, so it's a good idea to shoot lots of photos and bracket widely.

Next: "Indoor Natural Light"