2007 – The Photographer Awakens!

After my comparative photo malaise of the previous few years, I woke up and revived/refined my love of capturing moving night lights – something I attribute to shooting fast-moving/changing concert lighting for a couple of decades.

The trigger? Washing the dishes in my kitchen sink one night. (what?)

There’s a commuter railroad line that’s about 3 blocks away from home that I can see from the window above the sink. This night, I looked up when I heard a train’s horn in the distance and saw the blinking lights of the two gates as they lowered to block traffic. This had to have happened in the spring before all the tree foliage came in – otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to see them.

As you know, the gates straddle the road and start in an upright 12 o’clock position. The left one goes from 12 o’clock to 3 o’clock as the right one goes from 12 to 9. The light on the tip of each gate does not blink, while the other two do.

All of a sudden, I immediately pictured in my head exactly what those quarter arcs would look like on film in a time exposure. I had to try this out, but it would take a little research.

The street I selected was a commercial street (more lights!) that was a block away from the one I saw from my kitchen. It’s also where the train stops at a station. I looked up the train schedule for the time that would have the most trains in the shortest period, so I wouldn’t have long waits between them.

I was trying to figure out when I would start the exposure before the gates started coming down. That was practically impossible, but then I realized that I could accomplish the same effect by starting the exposure on the other end – when the gates were opening after the train left.

This was a lot easier to do because the rear of the stopped train was visible and I just needed to count the seconds between when the train started to move and when the gates started opening. Since the camera would be on a tripod, I had to add a couple of seconds to account for the camera’s timer that I need to use in low light and maybe add a couple more seconds just to be sure.

All of this added up to about 15 seconds. Since I was using a 30-second exposure, that would allow the now-moving cars’ lights to paint on the film and add to the moving gates’ lights paint job. That wouldn’t have happened with closing gates.

OK – I’m now ready to try all this out live…………and here comes a train.

As soon as the gates went down, I ran out into the street and set up the already-camera’d tripod on the center stripe of the road, frantically framed the scene to include where the gates’ lights would be going, set the timer and rested my finger on the shutter button.

I noticed that the drivers in the stopped cars that were nearest to me were looking at me like I was nuts. Maybe, but we’ll know for sure when the film gets developed.

The train starts to leave the station, I start to count seconds and hit the shutter, which opens two seconds later. The gates are still down – good. Then they rise and cars start whizzing by me on both sides…………IT FEELS LIKE IT’S GONNA WORK!

And it did – perfectly. The only flaw was that one of the blinking lights on the left gate wasn’t working. You can see the tracks and a bit of bumpiness in the cars’ lightpaths as they cross the tracks.

This is exactly the picture that popped into my head while I was in the kitchen washing dishes. It’s also a scene you’ve encountered a million times in your life, but have never seen this happening this way right in front of you. THAT’S what I love about these shots.

Oooo…………I wanna do more.




Hey – there’s a church carnival 2 blocks away. Those rides have lots of moving lights. Let’s see what happens.

Actually, I did try that once before in the 2001 post and I think these two are worthy successors.






From my living room, I could see a large fire engine in the parking lot behind my building and all its lights were flashing. That might be a good shot once it starts moving. Sure enough, it bounced into the one-way street and went the wrong way, but it was the right way to get this shot.




Fourth of July fireworks: the ultimate in lights moving at night.



About 4 blocks away from me is a pretty famous burger joint called White Manna that sits at the end of a T-intersection where a lot of cars turn left. I was picturing in my head all the moving car sidelights and taillights curving around in front of the building and this sorta looks like what I envisioned. Unfortunately, the neon got washed out because of the time needed to accommodate all the turning cars and their lights.




This was probably the most experimental, time-consuming and slightly dangerous moving-lights shot I came up with during my short burst of semi-creativity (and will take the longest for me to cram in all the detail here – most of which will only be relevant to those familiar with the location), so here goes:

I was driving eastbound on Route 4 in Paramus, NJ, during daylight hours and right after I went under the Garden State Parkway overpass, I noticed a giant Ferris wheel to my right in the parking lot of the Garden State Plaza mall – a carnival was being set up.

I thought that it might be an interesting shot if I took it at night from the higher Garden State Parkway: it would include the carnival and Ferris wheel lights and all the moving car lights in both directions on Route 4.

So I picked a night, parked some distance from the Parkway, and lugged my equipment up the hill to the roadway, which turned out to be partially blocking my view of the scene I wanted. There was no other way up the hill on the other side of the roadway, so I climbed back down and trekked up Route 4’s westbound lane until I was directly across the highway from the carnival.

There was no room to back up………….only just enough room to set up the tripod and steady it against the guardrail, which you can see in the bottom right. You can also see how close the speeding cars were.

The curvature of their lights is due to the fisheye lens, which I needed to get everything else into the frame, including the highway signs (note Garden State Parkway logo in upper right), the Parkway overpass, the white headlights of cars coming down a Parkway exit ramp to head east, and, of course, the carnival.

The higher red vehicle lights are probably from a truck or bus.

I was VERY happy with the outcome – especially given the semi-dangerous (and LOUD) situation, but it wasn’t terribly unlike shooting an outrageous heavy metal concert.




From across the highway, I zoomed in on the Ferris wheel. Unlike the previous shot – whose exposure was 30 seconds – this one was shorter, which created some interesting geometric gaps.





I DID take some daylight shots in 2007, including a kid in a cool pool that was 7 floors directly below my window, fall foliage near the Bergen County Courthouse and an interesting sunset shot from my roof.






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