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“Traffic Waves” ©Vijay Krishna Palepu (Shutter Speed: 8secs; ISO: 400)

Traffic Light Waves

Shutter Speed Experiments

“Traffic Waves” — Somehow, the camera was able to focus on the streaks of red, white, blue and pink — from the taillights and headlights of moving traffic. And as it brought those streaks into focus, it somehow blurred everything else in the background.

I think the camera shivered at just the right time.

I have spent two cold nights, pointing my camera at a traffic intersection that I can spot from my balcony. It was less cold, more chilly. Regardless, it has been an education in shutter speeds and how they control exposure levels in photographs.

Through the seemingly countless permutations of ISO values, shutter speeds and aperture sizes, I was able to grab pictures of traffic, zipping past that intersection, leaving behind steaks, steams and waves of red taillights and white headlights.

And these pictures are rewarding.

The opening shot of this story was probably the best of the entire batch. But my second favorite one was that of this bus below — likely getting back to the depot after a long day of service. Public transportation is the backbone of any thriving city — the world needs more public transportation, not less.

“Not in Service” ©Vijay Krishna Palepu (Shutter speed: 8secs; ISO: 100)

Ghosts and Waves

In the process of capturing these shots, I experimented with plenty of ‘long’ shutter speeds. I set the camera on Auto ISO — that was probably a mistake, and I will almost certainly need to re-run this experiment with the same ISO for different shutter speeds.

Shutter Speed: 2secs

At relatively shorter speeds like with 2 seconds, you are still left with an apparition of the moving vehicle. The headlights and taillights though tend to become very, very wavy. I am sure there is a lesson in optical mechanics lurking in here somewhere.

“Ghost Rider” ©Vijay Krishna Palepu (Shutter Speed: 2 secs, ISO: 500)

Shutter Speed: 4secs

Once you move to 4 seconds, moving vehicles all but disappear. The waves of light start to stabilize a bit, but there still seems to be some jiggle. 〰〰〰

“Fiery Traffic” ©Vijay Krishna Palepu (Shutter Speed: 4 secs; ISO: 250)

Shutter Speed: 8secs

At 8 seconds, the streaks of light straighten out. And you are seeing a car in the picture below because it was rolling to a stop at a red light — so it was stationary for the better part of the 8 seconds.

“Light in straight lines” ©Vijay Krishna Palepu Shutter Speed: 8 secs; ISO: 160

I seem to like 8 seconds for my photos when using longer shutter speeds: most other pictures in this photo series use 8 seconds.

Without the Zoom

The pictures above zoomed in on a very small part of the traffic intersection. I originally started clicking the long exposure shots of this intersection, without any zoom. The streaks of light seem to have a life of their own, especially when contextualized within an environment of stationary objects: trees, street lights, parked cars and trucks, cranes and hills.

“Comings and Goings” ©Vijay Krishna Palepu
“Taillights of a bus” ©Vijay Krishna Palepu
“The Bend” ©Vijay Krishna Palepu

At a time when we cannot freely leave our dwellings to explore the world, I seem to be finding strange new ways to look at the world around me.

Next up, I want to capture those dark mountains in the background.

‘behind the scenes’

I have been documenting my journey with, and lessons around photography. If this photo-series interested you, then here is a ‘behind the scenes’ look at my learning process around shutter speeds:



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Vijay Krishna Palepu

Vijay Krishna Palepu


researcher • software • program analysis . debugging • UCI • blogger • software visualizations • Microsoft • Views my own •