Painting with Light

Light painting or light drawing is a fun and effective technique to let loose your creativity. An ordinary flashlight can be your ‘brush’ to ‘paint’ your subject and make it appear something more than it usually looks like.

There are a few things you’ll need to make light painting work.

Your camera should be capable of taking long exposures – how long depends on what you plan to shoot but a shutter speed of at least 5 seconds is enough to light paint a nearby object.If your camera has a B (bulb) setting, then you can leave the shutter open for as long as you want. Adjusting the settings can be tricky since you’ll need to compensate for the shutter speed with your aperture and ISO. Experiment with the settings and by trial and error, find out what would work best for the scenario.

Shoot in a very dark place or at night – If you are outdoors at night, choose a place that will not accidentally allow extraneous light to shine while you’re taking the shot. Shooting indoors can be ideal since you have more control over your surroundings. If it’s evening, you can just shut the lights in your bedroom or living room after you’ve set up your shot. If it’s daytime, you can always cover the windows with heavy drapes.

Wear dark clothes – there might be instances when during painting, you will have to walk into the frame where your lens is pointed at. To lessen the chances of you also showing up in the image, wear dark or preferably black clothing. Cover as much of your skin as you can. You might end up looking like a ninja but that’s part of the fun.

Use a tripod – this is advisable to avoid camera shake since you’ll be taking long exposures. If you don’t have a tripod, just place the camera on a stable surface.

A flashlight/torch (or other similar light sources) – a flashlight is very easy to manipulate and you probably already have one in your house. You can experiment with other light sources such as sparklers, fibre optic toys, LED lights, small bulbs, and such. For larger areas or objects that are further away, searchlights can be used. Experiment with colored lights by getting colored bulbs, or just covering the flashlight with colored cellophane.

There are two common ways to play with light painting:

Using a light source to illuminate the subject or scene – in this scenario you are painting the subject with the light. The subject can be anything from something small like a water glass or a fruit to something large like a tree or a car. While the camera’s shutter is left open, shine the light on your subject as if painting it. You can trace its contour with the light and you can also turn off the light at certain areas to make them darker. For large subjects or areas, you might have to enter the camera lens’ line of sight as you move around to shine the light on your subject. Be careful to avoid letting the light beam on you unless you want to be part of the image.

If you leave the light on for too long, chances are the scene might become more visible than you would like. It takes practice not just with getting the camera settings right but also with how you ‘paint’. The light strokes and the length of time the flashlight is left open also contribute to the outcome of the image.

Using the light source to create streaks of light such as to write in the dark – in this case, the light becomes the subject with you creating interesting streaks, either in random or deliberate patterns. To make the light streaks, your light will be facing the camera instead of an object. Try writing in the air as if it were an invisible blackboard. Switch off the flashlight if you want a break in the pattern.

Finally, you can combine those two ways by lighting the subject as well as creating light streaks. Experiment with everything, from the camera settings to the choice of subject, to the way you move the light. This technique does not have any set rules, it doesn’t need expensive equipment and it will allow your imagination to shine.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 25th, 2010 at 9:00 am and is filed under Articles, Lighting, Photography Techniques, Photography Tips. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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