Let There Be Light
Thanks Scott for the opportunity to be a quest blog writer this week…it’s such an honor dude. And perfect timing as I am preparing for my own Lightpainting Workshop on May 28-30, in Loveland, Colorado.
Okay… Let’s learn how to Lightpaint.
Humanity is drawn to light. It is in our DNA. We can’t help but look towards the brightest part of a picture. As a photographer it is my responsibility to help guide the viewer to the subject in the picture, and I can do so with light.
But sometimes a flash or strobe just isn’t graceful enough. That’s when I turn off the studio lights and delve into the most creative lighting technique of all. Lightpainting… it’s the perfect combination of photography and artistic expression.
The word photography in the Greek means “light writing.” Simply said, Lightpainting is the revealing of the subject from darkness with light. In general, Lightpaintings make use of long exposure times like 3 seconds, 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 2 minutes, or more.
Let’s begin with some basics and Lightpaint a “Table-Top” Still Life. I will need a dark environment for my little subject …the Yellow Tail Fly. I will use a Manual Exposure of which I have a basic starting exposure that I begin many of my Lightpaintings with: ISO500, 30 seconds at f/8.
During the 30 seconds exposure time I will use a mobile light source to illuminate the subjects in the scene and reveal them from the dark with Lightpainting.
For my Table-Top still life and live model Lightpaintings I use a small Stylus penlight with a single LED bulb made by Streamlight.
First I arrange my subject and composing the scene. Then, like with all Lightpaintings, I secure the camera on a sturdy tripod. With the studio lights turned “on” I use Auto Focus on the subject and then turn “off” the auto focus. This is so the auto focus does not activate or “search” in the dark when you turn off the lights, open the shutter, and begin to Lightpaint.
I use the Auto Focus (AF) back button. By simply releasing your thumb from the AF button on the back of the camera it stops activation of the Auto Focus operation. Or you can also simply turn OFF the AF switch on the barrel of the lens or camera.
I also use a Manual WB of 10,000 Kelvin when Lightpainting with any LED flashlight. This setting helps add a warm color tone to the overall picture. And I will also activate the Long Exposure Noise Reduction mode in the camera. This prevents any noise speckles from appearing due to the long exposure time that generates heat inside the camera.
I’m now ready to turn OFF the room lights and make my first “TEST SHOT” without adding any Lightpainting to the subjects, just to see if there is any unwanted ambient light creeping in from a window or the door.
With a dark or “Blank” image on the LCD screen I’m now I’m ready to add some Lightpainting. I like to apply the light from off camera angles to create a dramatic lighting effect. In this image titled Yellow Tail Fly, the light from my Stylus is coming into the scene from the upper right corner of the frame.
Yellow Tail Fly: Nikon D7000, ISO400, 30 seconds exposure at f/32, Nikon 28-300mm VRII zoom lens at 300mm, WB 6700K, Manfrotto Tripod with 410 Gear Head, Stylus penlight, SanDisk 32GB Extreme Pro Flash Card.
The closer the light source is to the subject, the brighter the subject becomes. Also said, the longer time I spend illuminating my subject the brighter the subject becomes. Too much light or too much time spent applying light can overexpose portions of the image…and vise verse.
I try to keep the light source (Stylus) moving while applying the light, usually in a swirling or brushing motion. This helps soften the transitional edges between light and shadow, which is key in creating a painterly quality to the picture. You are in effect “painting with light.”
My basic Manual Exposure setting of ISO 500, 30 seconds at f/8 is a good way to begin, but it can vary depending on intensity of your flashlight and the distance from flashlight to subject, and also how large your subject is. Don’t give up, I sometimes make 10-15 Lightpaintings before I get one that I like.
The Red Violin: Nikon D800, ISO100, 1 minute at f/6.3, Nikon 105mm MACRO lens, WB 10,000K, Manfrotto Tripod with 410 Gear Head, Stylus penlight, SanDisk 32GB Extreme Pro Flash Card.
Here is another “Table-Top” Still Life, but it has 2 variations from the Yellow Tail Fly. I used a lower ISO of only 100 and I increased the exposure time to 1 minute. Why? …because I felt I would need 1 entire minute to “precisely” apply Lightpainting from only a few inches away, and from multiple Off Camera angles. Lightpainting so close to the subject using ISO500 would result in way overexposing the subject.