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Photoshop Tutorial: Post Processing Light Trail Photographs

You may wonder what exactly to do after capturing the light trails photographs in RAW format. Most of the people have no idea how the final image should be. So, it’s better to decide what to do before post processing the image. In this post, I am going to give you a step by step Photoshop tutorial to improve the image during post production with an example. I recommend you to use adobe CS4 or higher version

Before and after of photoshop tutorial

Photoshop Tutorial Enhance Light Trail Photographs

Step 1: Tilt the image properly

If you keep the tripod in bumpy floor, you will not get the perfect frame as it might be tilted. This tilt makes the frame unstable, and so tilt should be corrected first.

  1. Select ctrl+J (Windows) to create a background copy of the image. This helps you to edit the image non-destructively (You can always go back if you make any mistakes)
  2. Select Edit->Free Transform or Ctrl+T to highlight the transform mode.
  3.  Keep the mouse pointer near the edge of image and so it will change to curved shaped one to highlight the tilt.
  4.  Now, tilt the image according to the position of the elements.
  5.  Then , you have to crop the image by selecting crop option from tool box or  ctrl+C
Step 1 Adjust the tilt -- photoshop tutorial
Step 1

Step 2: Increase or Reduce the exposure of the image.

Sometimes, overexposure is encountered in a part of frame but it is very common in long exposure shots. This can be easily corrected by choosing the right choice of workflow. First, use quick selection tool to select the part of the image where it is overexposed, and then utilize the exposure slider properly.

Quick Selection tool:

You can choose quick selection tool from the tool box.

Quick selection tool

Exposure slider

Choose the Exposure Icon under the Adjustment tab on the right side of the window.

exposure slider adjustment

Step 5 settings saved

Step 3: Increase the sharpness if required.

Though you get many light trails in a single frame, you cannot see them clearly. This is because of some factors such as overexposure, dust, poor weather etc. So, it is required to improve the details by increasing the sharpness .

Sharpness tool:

Filter->Sharpen->smart sharpen

Smart sharpen window will be appeared and move the sharpness slider to right according to your needs. Too much of sharpness leads to noise and so it should be used properly.

sharpen tool -- photoshop tutorial

Step 4: Increase the Vibrancy of the image

I have already recommended that shooting in faithful mode is the best option to avoid the loss of details. So, Most of the images will be dull in RAW format. We can improve it during post production by choosing vibrance option under the adjustment tab.


increase vibrance of the image -- photoshop tutorial

Step 5(optional): Apply Focus stacking technique if required.

Sometimes, you can’t find much of light trails in frame because of less traffic activity. In such case, you can go for Focus stacking technique to blend the multiple frames of the exact picture. Please check my tutorials for focus stacking technique to improve the image.


I have not followed this step for processing the above image, but it will be useful in some cases to increase the light trails.

So, after adding vibrance, I got my final image. I hope you will find this photoshop tutorial useful. I would suggest you to follow this while post processing a light trail photograph.  If you have any questions, please drop them as comments



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Srivatsan Sankaran

I'm Srivatsan Sankaran from Chennai.I have been pursuing my passion for photography for the past 3 years.. I began with Sony DSC-S600 and used it for landscape, portrait, etc. After 3 years , I transitioned to Nikon Coolpix and used it for 6 months. I learned a lot through a dedicated lifestyle for understanding the very nuances of photography.Currently I’m using Canon Eos 500D with kit lens and Macro lens.

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