I've been experimenting with some photography for a few months now and I noticed that this happens on pictures with lower shutter speeds:

Night sky City by night

What is this, why does it happen and what can I do to prevent it/fix it? It has affected some pictures I think are pretty good otherwise. Pictures were taken with a Nikon D3300 and a Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC on a tripod. Shutter speeds of about 30 seconds.

  • The 18-200mm acts as quite a strong lever to the tripod supporting the camera: see also my answer here: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/92776/… Sep 26 '17 at 15:43
  • @laurencemadill Thank you for the link, Calimo's answer suggested that it might have to do with the stabilisation. I just tried disabling it and taking a picture of a light source in a dark environment, and I didnt notice this issue.
    – Pharetra
    Sep 26 '17 at 17:30

The streaks and squiggles are the result of camera movement or subject movement during a prolonged exposure. To avoid this, the rule-of-thumb is to use a shutter speed equal or faster than 1 divided into the focal length of the lens. As an example, if the focal length is 200mm, then 1/200 of a second or faster is advised. In other words: Longer focal lengths exaggerate tiny camera movement.

When doing time exposures, you must somehow find a way to support and thus stabilize your camera. Best is a tripod. In a pinch you can find other ways, like setting the camera on something solid or by just pressing it to a lamp post or column or even a wall, during the exposure.

When the exposure is elongated, objects in motion tend to streak. At night, they may reflect insufficient light to be recorded, however, glossy or polished surfaces will reflect (highlights) and these record as streaks. This is also true if the object sports lamps like headlights, taillights or running lights.

Streaks can also be insects or birds flitting about a light source. Also, stars will record as streaks or doodles if the camera is not firmly anchored. Such is the nature of the time exposure.

Also, be advised that sometimes these streaks are caused by the camera’s own vibration induced by shutter or mirror travel and the like.


This answer from Calimo in another question solved my issue. Turns out that the stabilisation (VC) on my lens was causing this effect. Remember to turn it off when using a tripod ;)

  • You should be able to accept your answer
    – Olivier
    Sep 26 '17 at 18:50

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