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Traffic Lights; Long Exposures At Night:
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Exposure
You would think night exposures are a serious challenge. Contrast is extreme and when there are a lot of brilliant highlights and black shadows in the same shot, camera meters don’t function well because there is virtually no middle gray from which to derive an accurate reading. The picture I took at the Los Angeles International Airport (#6), is a good example. However, the easiest approach is to set the camera on Program mode and take one picture. Study the results on the LCD monitor, and if it is too light or too dark, use the Exposure Compensation feature in the camera to make the adjustment until you like what you see. You can tweak the exposure in 1/3 f/stop increments plus or minus, and I have found that usually you don’t have to go more than plus or minus 2/3 f/stop from what the meter suggests when shooting in most night situations.

#6

Experiment
Try many different traffic scenarios. The more lights you have to work with, the more dynamic the pictures will usually be. I shot traffic with the Roman coliseum in the background (#7), and the 155mm focal length visually compressed the nightlife to give it a sense of excitement. There are lights everywhere in this composition. In a small town in Germany, a passing bus contributed to the artistry of the scene, (#8). Note that you can see through the blur of the bus as if it were translucent.

#7

#8

If an emergency vehicle is racing through the traffic, the flashing lights add to the mix. In Franklin, Tennessee, a historic town south of Nashville, I captured an ambulance with lights flashing everywhere (#9). Chinatown in large cities always has incredible neon lights, and long exposures with traffic lights are an exciting way to capture the ambience. In photo (#10), I took a 10 second exposure—approximately half of the time the lens was focused correctly and then I threw it out of focus for the rest of the time. In this way, I got an image that looks like a double exposure.

#9

#10

If you live in a rural area with little traffic, you can still create intriguing images. Photo (#11) is an example. A single vehicle coming toward me created a focal point in a country road in Northern Ireland. This wasn’t intentional, though. I took this image using a 30 second exposure so I could get significant depth of field, and during the time the shutter was open, the car appeared and I captured the streaks of light. At first I was annoyed that the car ruined my shot, but when I saw the results I thought the headlights were a bonus.

#11

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