General Observations

Light Trail Workflow


Recently had a conversation with @Steph.C.Photo (great photographer, btw, definitely check out his work if you haven't already) about creative processes, editing techniques, cameras, and a project we are teaming up on. We want to create a space where photographers of all skill-levels can partake in conversations aimed at sharing knowledge and educating one another about everything photography related. So, I thought I would share what I know about one of my favorite workflows for capturing long and bright light trails in a long exposure photograph


I took this photo early this morning at the Spring Garden Street bridge with my Nikon D7100, a Sigma 10-20mmf/4-5.6 that a good friend and another great photographer @wrexsoul lent me to explore with (don't want to give it back!😁)


This process involves taking multiple exposures and then blending them together later in post-processing


When shooting with the intention of blending multiple exposures, it's important to bracket your exposures. If your camera doesn't have an auto bracketing feature, that's fine, you just have to bracket manually. First, switch your camera to manual mode and meter the light. For this particular scene, I set my aperture to f16 and my ISO to 100 in center weighted metering mode. My shutter was set at 1/13. It's definitely possible to come away with pretty good light trailsfrom a single exposure based on these settings. But for brighter, longer,  fuller trails, I like to bracket. Once I've taken a base exposure, I take two more: one with an exposure value of 2 over my initial exposure, and one that's 2 under. Also, I suggest only bracketing your shutter speed to keep it simple. If your camera doesn't support exposure bracketing then you'll have to do it manually with exposure compensation controls. Okay, on to post-processing


I perform all my edits in Lightroom. Sometimes, I'll send a photo over to photoshop to perform a particular edit/ technique that can't be accomplished in Lightroom, but I always send it back and finish it up in LR. The workflow for this photo is an example of the seamless interaction between Lightroom and Photoshop


I like to perform all my basic edits in Lightroom: adjust my highlights/ shadows, white balance, lens corrections, and a bit of sharpening. The beauty of Lightroom is the ability to edit one photo and then sync that edit across multiple photos with the click of a button, which drastically cuts down how much time I could have spent performing the same edits on each individual photo. It's incredible. I will always love LR just on the strength of that function alone


Anyway, once you have your photos the way you want them open them as layers in Photoshop (Right click-edit-open as layers in Photoshop). After Photoshop opens all your photos as layers, it's important to align the layers in case your camera or tripod moved in between exposures (it's very important to not move your camera when shooting, a tripod is an absolute must). Theres always a multitude of different ways to do one thing in PS. There's a few different ways to blend exposures in PS. I prefer to keep my workflow as simple as possible while still being able to achieve whatever it is I need. For this photo I'm really only interested in affecting the light trails, so I'm going to use blend modes and some layer masking. I suggest playing around with some methods and finding one that you like. When I'm done I like to save as a .tiff with no compression (this creates a large file, use a hard drive if possible) in the same folder as the original photo. That way It's already in LR after it saves and I can seamlessly switch back over and continue editing. Yea, I could keep it in PS and work with camera raw instead, but I'm much more comfortable in LR


I'm looking forward to sharing more of the things I've learned over time and hope to learn about other creative process from all of you. 

Feedback is always welcome. Questions, thoughts, opinions, please don't hesitate.  Let's build.