If it’s dark outside, you have a camera, and you’re in a car, don’t make waste of your time — make art! I’ve got to give my Dad credit for this one, since he’s the one that mentioned it to me. Actually, he sent me a bunch of whacked-out pictures and made me try to guess how he took them. I got close, but not right on. So here are some of the shots he sent me:

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Making your own abstract light paintings is pretty simple, but you’ll need a few things: night, a car, a driver, and a camera that’s capable of long exposures. So you go out for a drive, set your camera for long exposure (4 seconds seemed to work nicely) at your lowest ISO, point your camera out one of the windows, and take a picture. Now that’s the basic part of it, but there are several ways to get creative here.

  1. Exposure times — lengthen for longer trails
  2. Apertures — stop down to make sharper light trails
  3. Focal lengths (I used wide, my Dad used telephoto) — or zoom while exposing
  4. Focus — blurry, sharp, random, or change during exposure
  5. Composition — bouncing, shaking, panning, and rotating are all allowed
  6. Lights — look for different colors, patterns, or blinking lights

This becomes an interesting experiment as you start to loosen up and forget about following any rules of photography — YOU’RE ALREADY MAKING BLURRY PICTURES, WHO CARES!!! EXPERIMENT!!! I’ve got to warn you though, it gets kind of addicting. This won’t be a problem if your driver doesn’t mind the constant clicking of the shutter — I ticked off my wife after about 45 minutes though. So next time you’re going out to dinner, take your camera and make somebody else drive. Here are some of my shots (all are untouched by editing software — just resized):

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Brian, hope you didn’t mind my posting this. I have just started this blogg for our camera club. I am trying to stir up a little more interest in doing different things in our club.

Thanks again,
Gary…….

February 26, 2007 1:23 pm

I don’t mind at all — in fact, I encourage it! I do much the same in most of my posts — just trying to share the interesting stuff I find out there.

February 26, 2007 1:59 pm

Cool! I actually did some of this a while back: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ninja999/tags/longshutterincar/

(sorry for posting twice–in the first one I used a picture and it didn’t go through.)

February 27, 2007 10:20 pm

Nick, Those are pretty wicked! It looks like you’re going about 200 mph! Very cool.

February 27, 2007 10:32 pm

Thanks! They were 2 second exposures.

February 27, 2007 10:55 pm

I do this pretty much every Sunday night on the long drive home from visiting my grandfather. I have a ball. I also have fun moving the camera round to form shapes like hearts or squares :)

April 27, 2007 12:04 am

That’s awesome! It’s super addicting. Kind of funny how fast you can fill a memory card with long exposure shots.

April 27, 2007 10:07 am

Somehow didn’t happen across this post till now. Brian’s right… Its super addictive! Love doing this on rides down the highway. The city roads here are just too slow-moving in rush hour.

May 17, 2007 12:43 pm

Yeah, highways definitely make for more interesting subject matter. Although, panning the camera around in slow traffic can probably work out just as well.

May 17, 2007 1:07 pm


Very interesting. I was thinking do the same experiment already but never have time at night.

August 22, 2007 7:13 pm

That looks like lots of fun – and I am sure it will annoy my beloved in less than 45 minutes :)

August 29, 2007 5:14 am

Some of these are quite cool and the potential is enormous.

October 21, 2007 6:46 am

Thanks, they’re pretty interesting to look at in a higher resolution too. There are all kinds of interesting little lines and colors hidden away.

October 21, 2007 11:39 am

Good stuff Brian. I hadn’t messed around with long exposures while moving for quite a while until i was in Santa Barbara a while back. I wasn’t in a car, just walking and I was shooting for a new desktop background. Here’s the result:

http://flickr.com/photos/rgmiami/1460695279/

1.4 sec exposure

November 17, 2007 9:43 pm

That’s awesome — I guess the car part is optional. It’s a neat effect when you get a mixture of solid lights and blinking lights too.

November 17, 2007 10:50 pm

I definitely enjoy/agree with this article – a really easy way to make “art” from photography is night + long exposure + getting creative (like you guys have done!)

in the car you can get some interesting shots:
http://flickr.com/photos/borist/2076307195/

but i’ve also found that sometimes, if you plan ahead/do the blur in a more controlled environment, you can also get some sweet effects:
http://flickr.com/photos/borist/2110375206/

http://flickr.com/photos/borist/1300448315

December 21, 2007 12:44 pm


Funny I ran into this post, I was playing with exposure times on my new digital camera yesterday and after 2 shots the internal memory was full (have yet to buy an actual card)! Once I buy my memory card this weekend I am going to experiment with long exposures and streamers (fireworks) they are pretty safe and I will be wearing my hockey gear (kidding)

June 11, 2008 6:19 pm


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