Although I mostly cover road trips and various places to visit in Iowa, I occasionally get asked for tips on recreating specific photos, such as this one with light trails running through a field of sunflowers at sunset.
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Here’s the final picture with a sunset in the background and sunflowers in the foreground, along with light trails running through the field. We’ll cover the equipment needed, timing, and the steps to recreate it.
- Tripod. This is a long-exposure photo to capture a light source moving through the field, so we will need a tripod to hold the camera. I happen to use the Manfrotto 290, but anything sturdy will do.
- Camera: You’ll need a camera that shoots in manual mode. For this photo, I’m using the Canon 6D, it’s a camera body that is known for high-quality nighttime photography – but it is certainly not necessary for this shot. We could easily replicate this photo with any other camera that has a manual mode where you can select the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.
- Camera Lens: For this photo, I’m using the Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 lens. Again, this lens (like everything else listed in the equipment list is not necessary, it’s just what I happened to use). I choose the Rokinon lens because it fits the angle and view that I wanted to show.
- Light Source: You’ll need a flashlight or some other type of light source. I don’t actually use a flashlight, I use a specific LED light panel, the VidPro LED-330X. Here’s why: the panel has two features that I find really helpful: 1) the ability to turn to dim/brighten the amount of light and 2) the ability to change the color of the light between yellow and bright white. Most flashlights have a yellowish tint and when you add that to your photo the colors are off – so I really like being able to set the color on these panels to help make sure it’s a clean white light being added to the photo. Extra tip: if your light source is too bright, I recommend covering it with a white t-shirt, as you can fold the t-shirt multiple times to help control how dim you would like the light source. You can also use a colored t-shirt to add additional color to the photo – although as I’ve stated, I prefer to keep a clean white light myself.
This photo is of a sunset against the sunflowers – not sunrise. Since sunflowers face east, I needed to do this at sunset so I could have the camera show the face of the sunflower with the sunset behind it. If I choose to do this in the morning, I would be showing the back of the sunflower against the sunrise.
Steps to recreate the photo:
- Find your location. I would recommend showing up just before sunset. In fact, you should first walk the field without your camera /tripod. You need to find an area where you easily walk in and through the sunflowers – and you need to find the specific sunflowers that you want to be featured in the foreground.
When you’ve found your ideal location, bring out the camera and the tripod and line up the view that you are after.
2. It’s now time to start working on camera settings and test shots. If you’re learning nighttime photography for the first time, I think the hardest thing to learn is how to set the focus of the camera. Autofocus doesn’t work at night, so for this shot, we will simply use the light source and shine in on the sunflowers and then set our focus manually.
3. Next we’ll move on to camera settings. Set the camera into manual mode so we can have full control over the settings. We set the ISO at 100 and we’ll set the aperture (f/stop) at f/ 8 for a starting point. The aperture controls how much light is coming in and how much of the view is in focus. F/8 is just a good middle ground to start with and we’ll adjust as needed. For shutter speed, I originally started with 15 seconds.
4. Now it’s time to take a test shot and preview the results, and then adjust. For the settings mentioned, my first test shot came out really dark, hardly anything viewable. Although I could have altered either the ISO or the aperture, I decided to increase the shutter speed (or the length of the photo). Since it was a calm night, I could count on the sunflowers remaining still and by increasing the length of the photo from 15 seconds to 25 seconds, that would give me more time to actually walk through the field with the light source.
5. Here’s the next test shot.
6. Since I was happy with the last test shot and only need to add light to the foreground, I simply run the same shot again and use my light source to add light to the sunflowers – and this is the result.
7. For the last step, I am going to make one adjustment to the camera – turn on the 10-second self-timer. When I click the shutter, I will have 10 seconds to walk into the sunflower field. I’ll have the light source with me, so I can see. When I hear the shutter click, I know that I have 25 seconds to add light to the photo. I also know that I don’t want to point the light directly at the camera, as that will add too much light and create bright rays and flares in the photo. Instead, I walk back toward the camera, carefully spreading the light around the sunflower field. When I get back to the camera, the last thing I do is spread a touch of light across the sunflowers in the foreground that I want to feature.
And here’s the final photo: