Nightly Night Photo – Foggy Car Light Streaks

Foggy night view of road in Asheville, North Carolina

Foggy road in Asheville. Nikon D800, Nikon 14-24mm lens, f/8, 10 seconds, ISO 200.

I need a bumper sticker that says, “I brake for overpasses.”

When I’m shooting in a city, overpasses are my friends. They give me an elevated view not only of the highway, but often, also of the city skyline. So when I scout a city for good photo ops, I try to locate as many bridges within a few miles of downtown as I can.

As I mentioned in January 3 Nightly Night Photo – Car Light Streaks, overpasses over divided highways provide great opportunities for using wide-angle lenses to accentuate the convergence effect. With that kind of shot, you want to shoot from the middle of the bridge and have the car light streaks run from each corner of the frame. But any kind of road has potential. With a two-lane road, or when the median is very narrow, you can often make a better composition by shooting off-center.

The real key to making good photos from overpasses is the background. You need something interesting on the horizon, something that juts up into the sky, or the road itself needs to have some curves or ramps or something to make it exciting. Absent any of this, you had better hope for terrific weather or lighting conditions.

I love shooting in fog. It has the unique ability of transforming ordinary scenes into appealing photo subjects. It can turn a junkyard into a gold mine. Throw a few streetlights into the mix and… hoo boy! If you saw this view during the day or on a clear night, you wouldn’t think about taking a photo. It’s just not exciting, but the fog makes it work.

This photo is a blend of 9 frames. The overall contrast is even enough that a single exposure would work fine from a lighting standpoint, but I wanted more car light streaks than what a single 10-second exposure could capture, so I blended 9 exposures in Photoshop using the Lighten blend mode. The overall exposure remains the same, while all of the light streaks from each exposure show up. 

Excuse me for a minute.

Okay, I’m back. That was my attorney. He said that I had better not leave without saying something about being safe when doing this kind of photography. I told him that we were all responsible adults and that we didn’t need him to keep nagging us. He said that “responsible adults” don’t have wine-glass holders mounted to their tripod legs.

Ouch!

So here’s the deal. In most cases, the overpass you’ll be shooting from is going to be a road with cars whizzing by. You’re paying attention to the shot; the drivers are texting. Bad combination. As crazy as I am sometimes in getting the shot, I won’t shoot from an overpass that doesn’t have a wide space between the white line and railing. I also wear a reflective safety vest.

For this photo, I was shooting from a wide pedestrian walkway. The only real issue I had was people tripping over my tripod as they walked by while texting.

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