How to shoot traffic at night?

It always fascinates me to see night photographs of traffic esp. those long white and red streaks of light. I have seen many photographs of traffic at night, endless shuffling through those Nat Geo really charges up your gray cells. After being inspired enough I decided to see night life from a different perspective. Whenever I used to travel I was always able to spot a good “night” frame here and there..I guess it’s the warm glow of tungsten on peoples faces and buildings,gates,foodstalls, I guess it’s the fire that lights up in those narrow streets. There is a strange beauty in the night mesmerizing and calm.

After said all that I wanted some good memoirs of night life through my lens

Some points to consider while shooting traffic at night esp if you want those everlasting white/yellow/red streaks of lights, glittering street lamps..

What would you need:
1. A sturdy and flexible tripod.
2. A Shutter release OR IR remote control to release the shutter
3. A good wide angle lens with MF (Manual focus) option
4. Patience and Cool.

1. Setting your ISO
If you are using a Digital SLR then set your ISO to 100/200. I prefer these ISO levels as the color saturation is more and more detail is captured while exposing. If you are shooting with a film/slide then also make sure you have loaded the camera with a ISO 100/200 film. I suggest Fuji crystal for film users and Fuji Velvia 100/100F for slide users.
2. Apertue and Shutter Speed settings
a. Stoop the aperture down to anything above 18 (personally I like 22) this is to allow the light to gradually fill the frame as time passes by.. so you can capture even the most dimly lit areas…if exposed for a long enough time all the street lights will glitter like stars and this is also to avoid those bright blobs in your picture if you were shooting traffic travelling towards the direction of the frame with their head lights on

b. Change to MF (Manual Focus). Now compose your picture. It is better if you a still /stationary object in your frame like a lamp post, sign post, parked vehicle etc., and focus on that This gives the feeling of motion better.
c. Set your shutter speeds to anything above 15″ (secs) (personally I like the BULB setting). Why 15″ ? I’am assuming here that a vehicle would enter and pass the frame (when viewed through your viewfinder) in 15″. If you have continous traffic coming at irregular intervals then it is better to set your shutter to BULB.

Now once your ISO, aperture and shutter speed settings are done then release your shutter slowly using the shutter release…take a deep breath and leave the shutter release to avoid any camera shake.. after you are satisified that enough traffic has passed by then release the shutter back to normal.
During the whole process you can completley forget the cameras readings.

DO NOT compensate for exposure by taking the camera readings into consideration.
You can experiment with different combinations of aperture and shutter speed settings. Interesting shots can be taken by experimenting with different white balance settings. Also do try taking some shots in Black & White and am sure you will be pleased.
Here are some of the pictures I have taken during the last two years.
Traffic, Bangkok

Traffic, Bangkok

Jamal, Khatmandu: Nepal

Vidhana Soudha, Bangalore


14 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks for the tips, I always wanted to shoot the traffic at night.


  2. Most welcome JV!. I hope this helps you. Cheers


  3. Posted by emmanuelhemmings on October 22, 2007 at 9:17 am

    Thanks for the tips, tried them out to good effect!


  4. […] and explanations of night shots of traffic and buildings.  This link was the most helpful: I wanted to capture two visual effects: streaks of lights created by moving traffic and secondly, […]


  5. Posted by jake on September 11, 2008 at 7:42 am

    Thanks so much for the tips, traffic at night is by far my favorite photography to look at and compose, and now i can do it effectively!
    P.S. love your work


  6. […] you want to learn how to take this kind of picture, this blog gives some good advice on how to start. I didn’t use a tripod for these photos but I think I […]


  7. […] to shoot traffic at night Here Is a How to on traffic shooting at night, all credit goes to: How to shoot traffic at night? Through the lens […]


  8. Posted by Dj Bosu on July 31, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    Worked perfectly with only a little tweaking for my situation. Thanks!!


  9. Great tips!!! I tried my first night traffic shot last night at the Getty Museum over looking the 405 freeway. My ISO was set at 200, my white balance was on outdoors, my shutter speed was set at 1″3. A little tweaking and I achieved the shot I was looking for with the traffic and the city lights.


  10. Okay, here it is 2012 and you’re still getting thank you’s! How do I know? Because here it is 2012 & I’M thanking you for this great post!!!!!

    I’ve been looking all over the internet and YOU have explained the best thus far!!!


  11. Can you provide the setting information of the first photograph?


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