December 27, 2015

Merry Christmas from Smyrna!

Downtown City of Smyrna Christmas Tree
Downtown City of Smyrna Christmas Tree
E very Christmas season, the City of Smyrna decorates the Village Green with a tree and various lighted figures. They also string lights in many of the trees, so it's quite pretty. I drove by there one morning, and it hit me that I've been wanting to photograph the tree for a couple of years now.

I decided to drive through there that evening so that I could get an idea where the best vantage point would be. Initially, I was disappointed that so many people were also driving through there. My first thought was that they would "mess up my shot." Almost as quickly, I realized that this was the best thing that could happen.

Row of trees with green lights
Repetition always catches my eye.
I've been wanting to do some long exposure photography with traffic, and it just hasn't worked out to try it yet. It's such a cool effect because you get streaks from the red of the brake lights and streaks from the white of the headlights. The cars will, for the most part, disappear!

Soldier and flags
I love how the flags look exposed at 2.5 seconds.
I didn't remember my shutter release, so the maximum length of time that I could program my camera was 30 seconds. When there were fewer cars, being able to program it for a minute or more may have worked better, so I suggest that you don't forget your shutter release—just in case. The one thing you absolutely cannot do without, however, is a tripod. It's just not possible to hand hold a long exposure shot.

Santa and his sleigh
It almost looks like Santa has been going around in circles.
As I was checking the shots to be sure that my ISO, etc. was correct, I almost squealed. The shots were turning out so good. It's very satisfying to attempt a special effect like this and it actually work.

If you've got enough traffic, you probably won't need to leave the shutter open as long. At first, there weren't enough cars, so I had set the camera for 30 seconds. I figured I'd probably have to stack several shots in Photoshop to achieve the effect I was looking for. The longer I was out there, though, the more the traffic picked up.

Traffic light trails - 6 photos
Traffic light trails - 6 photos stacked
I had never stacked photos in Photoshop, but it's really easy. It takes care of all of the masking that you would usually do manually. I stacked six photos, but in the end, I found that I had taken one other photo that had just the right amount of traffic. I liked how that shot come together better than the stacked one.

Traffic light trails - 1 photo
Traffic light trails - 1 photo at ISO 100, f/16, 25 seconds
You may be wondering why I wanted to try this effect. Well, it's because I think that it gives a static photograph some movement, and it can make an ordinary photo much more interesting.

Update: I go here in 2016 and get even more great photos!

Have you tried this effect before?
Where do you like to photograph traffic light trails?

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