How to Take Light Streak Photos

Updated on December 2, 2017

A fun way to enjoy beautiful evenings is by going outdoors and taking light streak photos.

Light streak photos turn out the most dramatically in conditions with little to no light and no background lights. Waiting at least an hour to an hour and a half after sunset will help ensure you don’t have any extra light from the sky.

A light streak of a car driving by in South Florida.
A light streak of a car driving by in South Florida.

You'll need:

A camera, a sturdy surface such as a table or tripod, and any portable, steady source of light, such as a flashlight or glow stick.

A remote shutter release button can be helpful so you don’t accidentally jiggle the camera when you’re taking the picture. It can also be helpful to have a friend on hand.

Canon Remote Switch RS60 E3
Canon Remote Switch RS60 E3
I like this remote shutter release because it is very easy to use - all you have to do is plug it into your camera and press the shutter button. The more complex digital shutter releases are generally more confusing for beginners.

Setting up the camera

The first thing you’ll want to do is to set your camera on a tripod or other sturdy surface. Since the shutter will be open for several seconds, the slightest movement will result in a blurry photo, making a sturdy surface imperative. This is why a remote shutter release can help you avoid accidentally bumping the camera when you press the shutter.

Camera settings

The next step is to go under your camera’s settings and set the shutter speed to about 10-15 seconds. Different shutter speeds will give you different effects in your photos. You’ll have to turn the camera off Auto to do this. Usually, Shutter Speed Priority is good because it will allow you to set the shutter speed while the camera takes care of the rest of the settings for you.

When deciding how long to set your shutter speed, one thing to keep in mind is that if the shutter speed is long enough, moving subjects will become completely invisible in the photograph. This can be useful to know if you have people walking around in the background.

While you’re under the settings, turn the self-timer on if you aren’t working with a friend. I usually use a self-timer of about 5 seconds to allow me enough time to get far enough away from the camera.

Set your camera on the tripod or another sturdy surface. Having a friend on hand can be helpful while you’re positioning the camera and deciding where to move your light. One of you can look through the viewfinder and adjust the camera’s position while the other can move the light around so it can be in the frame of the picture.

Light streak photo
Light streak photo
Light streak photo
Light streak photo

Moving your light source

Once you have your camera set up and know where to move the light, press the shutter button. You’ll have about 10-15 seconds to move your light source in a pattern or shape. Some ideas include swirls, shapes, or letters.

Remember, the slower you move your light source, the thicker the line of light will be, and the faster you move it, the thinner it will end up. Experiment with different speeds and the effects they have.

To form individual letters, wave your light source in the shape of the letter, backwards, since you’re standing behind the letter. You can form your letters in a script, or for separate letters, you can cover your light with your hand after you’re done forming each letter and before you form the next one.

For a different effect, another idea is to allow a passing car to be your light source. Set your camera on a sturdy surface facing the street and press the shutter button right before a passing car enters your field of view. Depending on how far back you’re standing from the road, a shutter speed of about 20 seconds is usually enough to allow the vehicle to completely drive across your frame.

Taking light streak photos can be an enjoyable way to get outdoors while learning more about photography and familiarizing yourself with your camera. Remember to have fun!

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