Thought I’d missed one, didn’t you?

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed that there is a major holiday featured here every month this year – except June. But there was a distinct reason for this: today is National Celebrate A Holiday From Earlier In The Year Day, and so we’re going to celebrate International Feature A Photo Series From The Previous Month Day, which normally falls on June 24th. All of this was very carefully planned. And I know we already had a holiday for September, but there’s nothing that said I had to feature only one, and today is a good day for celebrating anyway.

On a photo outing with the Inevitable Mr Bugg in May, he’d decided that we needed to do some more light trail work, which put us out on a freeway overpass directly above where two interstates merged. Now, he had every opportunity to post his own photos ahead of me, because he likes that kind of thing and I, of course, had this whole holiday bit scheduled and really couldn’t post the photos back then. But he never did show his own off, so…

long night exposures of light trails on merging interstate highways
In theory, such exposures are pretty easy. Go for manual settings, usually ‘Bulb’ shutter speed and f8 aperture, switch to manual focus and pin it down, then lock the shutter open and wait for the cars (or planes, or boats, or alien spacecraft) to whiz by. In practice, there’s a little more to consider. Starting or ending too soon means partial trails that end abruptly. Too many cars in the same lane makes things muddy, while no cars in a particular lane can make the road empty and the frame unbalanced. Too short of an exposure, and there’s not enough light hitting the surroundings to give context, while too long can overexpose the frame. Headlights hitting the lens directly can produce a lot of glare (see the oncoming lane near the top.) So, getting a good frame may take a lot of tries, especially while waiting for cars to come by with the right distribution.

By the way, rigs with a full complement of running lights can fill a frame with lots of lines, more so if two of them pass like above; again, very easy to overload the exposure. But when you’re shooting down at ground level, they can add a more vertical element to the frame.

Something curious that I noticed when editing the photos from this session is something that I’ve seen before: LED taillights (all LED lights, actually) blink on and off very rapidly – too rapidly for our eyes to distinguish, but readily visible as they move across the frame. This car in particular had them firing in sequence:

long exposure of passing LED taillights showing blinking
And there’s also a particular thing that I’ve been wanting to capture for quite some time now – like, 20 years or so? That is, a time exposure of a passing emergency vehicle with strobes ablaze, especially from above like this. I’ve gotten a couple of eye-level examples, nothing too distinctive, but I have yet to be on an overpass when an EMS vehicle passes underneath. This session, however, I got kind of an example, as a flatbed wrecker with its orange strobes came through. They even illuminated the immediate surrounding portions of the vehicle itself.

long night exposure of a passing wrecker with strobes
You get the idea: wouldn’t this look much cooler with alternating red and blue lights? I suppose I should find an overpass near a typical speed trap.

Another note: we’d chosen this particular overpass because it was a road that saw almost no traffic at night, which is a hell of a lot safer. There’s a certain risk to standing on a bridge at night, and all it takes is one moron dicking with their toy phone, or too deep in their cups, and you’re toast. I warily watched every car that passed on our side of the road, and even had a local cop stop by and check on us. He was cool with it (this isn’t the first time it’s happened for me, either,) but made a good suggestion: wear a reflective vest. Not only does this alert drivers to your presence better, but they tend to think you’re either a cop or construction worker and drive a lot more carefully.

One last one, with a special addition:

long night exposure from overpass showing light trails and shadow of waving photographer
I took this one specifically with the blog in mind. The moon was full and behind us, which assisted with some of the exposures as it threw a little light onto the entire landscape. However, in most cases the effect was trivial because the exposure times were too short for the moonlight to add much; wait too long, and too many cars would pass through and overload the frame. So it took several tries to get just the right one as a longish period went by without vehicles. If you look closely down at the extreme lower right, you’ll see a shadow of me waving – well, holding still with arm raised for the 41-second exposure time. Mr Bugg’s own shadow is obscured by the light trails immediately adjacent, but you can see the line of the bridge’s shadow stretching off to the left. At some point in the future, I’ll do something a bit more elaborate along these lines, but again, timing is an issue, since it can really only be done when the moon is near full, low enough to cast a shadow outwards a bit, and of course on a clear night. We’ll see what happens.

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