DETAILS OF HOW TO DO LIGHT PAINTING:

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There are many forms of light painting in photography, and all are amazingly creative. As you can see with the photo above, it certainly adds a new dimension to photographs. Of course if the photographer had not done the light painting to this old barn, we would not have been able to see it very well at all in the dark.

The photo above is my favorite way of painting with light, because all you are doing is lighting a subject with your flash, and making it work in a condition that seems natural. And one of my favorite light painting photos is this one:

The photographer put his camera setting for a long exposure (around 10 minutes), went up inside the arch, and with his flash, just lit up the underside of the arch. His image is also on there, but tried not to move much, and only moved his hands to light up the arch around him.

The other type of light painting is more like this:

This did not have to be a super long exposure, just enough to have the someone behind the girl twirl around here a fire source. Notice the boat in the background with a light. That shows as well that it was probably about a 1 second exposure.

THINGS YOU WILL NEED TO MAKE THIS WORK FOR YOUR PHOTOS:

  • A camera that you can control long exposures, probably use the “B” setting on some of them (the Arch’s photo was done on the “B” setting)
  • A tripod to hold the camera still enough during this long exposure. Make sure it’s a real sturdy tripod. The one that comes in your kit is questionable (my camera outfit came with a tripod. Ended up throwing it away).
  • An electronic flash for camera. This will allow you to manually take the flash with you. And when you do this, turn your built-in flash off, on your camera. You must be able to control all lighting, and if you are using a flash 50 feet away from you, you don’t need this built-in flash going off.
  • And finally, be ready to try your photo several times. Every time you use the “B” setting, you may need to make adjustments to light that you are using, or exposure, or something. I think that doing this is always a mystery in how well it will turn out, so, be prepared to try this effect several times until you get what you want.
  • A cable release or remote control for your camera. You have a very good chance to bump, or wiggle your camera when you push the button. A remote or cable release is one tool that allows you to push the button remotely. All DSLR camera have this capability.
Photo by Hative.com. On this photo, I am going to guess that two light sources were used to create this photo. One photo was to light up the men in the picture, and then someone used a flashlight of some source, and was underneath their hands, and just wiggled it through their hands for a second or two. Fun for kids to try out.

LET’S TAKE A LOOK AT THE SETTINGS ON YOUR CAMERA AS YOU DO YOUR PHOTOS:

Now let’s take a look at the best camera settings for light painting:

  • Mode – Shoot in manual mode, which allows you to set your shutter speed and aperture.
  • Image quality – Set your image quality to RAW, which allows you to capture as much information as possible. (This is not a necessity, but it is an important recommendation.)
  • White balance – If you want to balance out your light source, choose either the Incandescent or Tungsten white balance setting. However, sometimes experimenting with other white balance settings can produce some interesting light effects. Daylight white balance is a good starting point if you want to maintain the original colors of your artificial light sources. Auto White Balance is not recommended.
  • ISO – Use a low ISO as 100.
  • F-stop or aperture – Stop down to f/8 or f/10, which allows you to get more depth of field and enables you to use a longer shutter speed.
  • Shutter speed – Set your shutter speed to Bulb mode (your final shutter speed will be determined by the amount of ambient light in the scene).
  • LCD brightness – Lower the brightness of your LCD preview, because the normal setting is too bright at night and will make your image look bright when it’s actually underexposed.
  • Histogram – Use your histogram to check your exposure. If the histogram skews heavily to the left, your image is going to be too dark.
  • Blinkies – Turn on your blinkies (a highlight warning) to help you determine if your highlights are exposed properly. It is perfectly acceptable for your brightest highlights to be slightly clipped if the rest of your image is properly exposed.
  • Image stabilization – Set this to Off. With your camera on a tripod, having image stabilization turned on can actually fool your camera or lens and cause blurring in your image.
  • Long exposure noise reduction – The recommended setting is Off. This can be set to On, but it will cause your exposure time to double (because the camera takes a second black exposure to help remove noise). If your camera is set to a reasonable ISO, the noise level will be low enough in most cases that in-camera noise reduction is unnecessary. Still, it is a good idea to check your noise levels in advance, and some older cameras may require this setting to be On to get acceptable noise levels.
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HERE’S SOME GREAT EXAMPLES OF LIGHT PAINTING AND THEIR DETAILS:

still life flowers
This vase was backlit with a candle and I painted the flowers with a small penlight.
30 seconds | f/16 | ISO 100.
person with arms raised to the sky
A 30-second exposure at ISO 800. For this image, I increased the ISO to shorten the exposure to 30 seconds, because a longer exposure would cause a noticeable blur on the stars. Light painting was applied from the front of the subject, without letting the light shine directly back at the camera.
1971 VW bus light painting
This vintage 1971 bus was painted using one LED flashlight on the outside, with a second light inside to illuminate the bus interior.

AND FINALLY JUST SOME POINTERS TO MAKE THIS WORK RIGHT FOR YOU:

  • Paint from the sides – Don’t just stand behind your camera and wave the light across your image. Painting flat surfaces from the side will allow you to bring out textures.
  • Use lots of different angles – For instance, when painting the ground, hold the beam low and pan the light along the floor. This will keep the ground from appearing flat, and it’ll bring out all the details of the surface. Also, by adding light from many angles, the resulting image will have an interesting three-dimensional effect.
  • Don’t stand between the camera and your light source – If you do this, you will show up as a silhouetted ghost in the final photo!
  • Wear dark, non-reflective clothing and keep moving – Again, you do not want to appear as a ghost in your image!
  • Don’t shine the light source back at the camera – Otherwise, you’ll create a bright spot in the image.
  • Use a flashlight with a red filter when you check your camera to make adjustments. The red light will keep you from ruining your night vision.
  • Different surfaces are going to react to light differently – Wood surfaces may require more light than shiny surfaces such as metal or glass, because rougher surfaces absorb more light than smooth surfaces.
  • Keep your light moving – Move the beam in slow strokes to add lots of light and make faster strokes in areas where less light is needed.
  • Paint in up-and-down or side-to-side strokes, just like you’d work with real paint.
  • You probably won’t get the shot you want on the first try – It may take multiple attempts to get an image that you’re satisfied with. For this reason, try to keep track of how much light you add to each surface. Develop a plan so that you can make adjustments to each exposure until you get the image you’ve visualized.

CONCLUSION:

This is really a fun and creative way to do photos, and could be a niche that not a lot of photographers try. It might be a great way to earn extra money, if you practice at it enough.

OUR ANNUAL “THE ART OF BLACK AND WHITE” ISSUE WILL BE COMING ON THIS WEBSITE NEXT WEEK! DON’T MISS IT! THE PHOTOS ARE AMAZING!! HERE IS A PHOTO FROM LAST YEAR’S GALLERY OF PHOTOS:

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Photo by Artemios Karavas / The Art of Black and White

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