5 More Things to Remember When Shooting Car Light Trails

Images of car light trails are often captured by photographers because they can make for stunning shots. Since this subject matter often entails going out at night or twilight, plus using long exposures, there are quite a few things to consider. We previously listed four important things to remember when shooting car light trails, and here are five more to keep in mind:

light trails41 5 More Things to Remember When Shooting Car Light TrailsPerspective – light trails by themselves are already interesting but add a creative perspective and your image can go even further. Aside from taking the shot at the often used eye-level angle, play around a bit by shooting low or taking a shot from top view instead. See if you can take the shot from an elevated viewpoint such as from the second or third storey of a building by the side of a road, or from an overpass. If you are situated on the side of a straight road and face the road straight on, the light trails will appear as moving from side to side. It might look flat and two dimensional, although it does not mean the image will turn out bad. By angling the camera so that the road has a vanishing point, the light trails created will also appear to have more perspective.

light trails2 jusben 5 More Things to Remember When Shooting Car Light TrailsFraming – the basic composition rules still apply when shooting light trails. The Rule of Thirds, balance, leading lines, and the light can all help make the shot more visually appealing. Take note of your foreground and background and see to it that they add, rather than take away attention from the point of interest. The horizontal or landscape format is often used but if you were to rotate your camera and shoot using the vertical or portrait format instead, your image might achieve a more dynamic impression.

Exposure settings – knowing the right exposure settings will be a result of trial and error. Luckily, we don’t have to worry much about taking a whole lot of test shots with a digital camera as compared to film. By reviewing your shots in the LCD, you can already gauge how to adjust a particular setting. Let’s discuss the three settings in more detail:

Shutter speed – a slow shutter speed will allow you to capture the movement of light. Try starting with shutter speeds between 10-20 seconds to give the cars enough time to travel through the frame. 

light trails3 5 More Things to Remember When Shooting Car Light TrailsAperture – remember that aperture affects depth of field so if you want most of the scene to be in focus, choose an f/number that corresponds with a smaller lens opening such as f/8. Keep in mind that the smaller the opening, the less light enters the sensor and you might need to leave your shutter open a little longer.

ISO – grain or noise is usually most visible in low light scenarios and if you can, try to keep the ISO to a low value such as 100. At ISO 400 or more, there is a bigger chance of obvious grain. 

Use Bulb mode – some cameras have a Bulb mode that allows the shutter to stay open for as long as you want. This is especially handy when shooting light trails. It is ideal to use a remote shutter release when using this mode to avoid camera shake while the shutter is open.

Manual focus – during low light situations, it could be a challenge to get your focus locked in on the point of interest if you are using autofocus.  Switch to manual focus instead to make sure you get the clarity you intend. 


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Understanding How Color Temperature Works

Color temperature is a fundamental aspect to consider when considering lighting in photography. Unbalanced color temperatures can greatly affect the final outcome of your images and is a primary concern when trying to create visual impact. 

color1 Understanding How Color Temperature WorksIn order to have a better grasp of understanding color temperature, try to imaging that when we view a piece of paper by candle light, fluorescent lighting or in daylight, paper will always look white. But in actuality, our brain tells us to ignore the variations in color the different light sources produce and only see what we expect to see as paper being white. Light is actually comprised of a multitude of different colors, and the human eye can only perceive the difference in hues at the extreme ends of the scale.  

Color temperature is usually measured in degrees Kelvin (K), and this type of scale is a feature in some digital cameras as an acute way of manually setting up the camera for lighting situations.Butcolor2 Understanding How Color Temperature Works all digital cameras have a useful function that automatically adjusts the color of the pictures they record to fit the lighting that is detected in a particular scene. This is more commonly known as auto white balance (AWB). This uses electronic filtration at the processing stage to correct the color temperature it detects in a scene and is probably one of the essential factors you may have to consider when preparing your lighting for a shoot. It is easy to conclude that indoor lighting can have an orange tinge in color, but in actuality, even daylight can have varying colors. Natural lighting depending on the time of the day, clouds and weather conditions all impact color temperature. They all contribute in affecting the mixture of colors or wavelengths. The camera detects the whole surrounding area and automatically assesses the white balance in every shot.

Color balancing is different for every type of source of light you will be using whether it be for tungsten lighting or daylight. The easiest way to check for white balance is to use the white balance option in your digital camera, find a white cardboard and hold it up to your cameras lens making sure that the card fills the whole lens, and finally push the set button. This would allow you to notice the distinction on the LCD screen. You can then gauge the correct whiteness and make the necessary adjustments based on what you see. 

Balancing color temperatures color3 Understanding How Color Temperature Workscan be tricky, but you can purchase color correction gels, tinted cellophane or you can even switch bulbs to go with the color temperatures for the scene. You can even pay around with color balance for artistic output. You can also rectify unwanted color casts in post processing with the use of the Color Balance, the Hue/Saturation or the Selective Color adjustment options. Your images don’t necessarily always have to be properly balanced. When you can play around with color temperatures and create artistic effects that can complement your images when used in the proper way.

Always remember that photography is a way for creative output, have fun experimenting, who knows, you just may create your very own masterpiece.


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4 Things to Remember When Shooting Car Light Trails

Light trails are a popular subject matter among photographers and not only can they appear dramatic in an image, but it also gives you good practice on how to shoot at low light with long exposures. 

light trails6 4 Things to Remember When Shooting Car Light TrailsWhen shooting light trails, you will be looking for a location where cars pass by. Set up your camera and compose the shot to make sure the framing covers the area where the light trails will appear due to the long exposure. The road will give you a good idea of how the light trails will curve and travel through the image. It’s normal not to get the shots you want during the first few tries. When photographing light trails, you might end up experimenting heavily with your exposure settings, the position of the camera, and so on.  Here are great tips on how to capture great looking light trails in your image:

light trails1 4 Things to Remember When Shooting Car Light TrailsConsider the time of day – you can shoot in the middle of the night since this is the time when the sky is at its darkest (unless there is a bright moon) but it could also mean fewer cars. Shooting just after the sun goes down is another option; there is still just enough ambient light in the sky to show the scene without taking away the brilliance of the light trails. A lot of cars may also be on the road at this time, giving you many chances of shooting the trails. 

Equipment – there is no special gear you need to have to capture light trails but you do need a camera that allows you to adjust exposure settings, especially shutter speed. This should not be a problem since nowadays, all DSLRs and most point-and-shoots have a manual mode or a shutter priority mode. Shooting handheld will most certainly cause camera shake with during the long exposure, therefore a tripod is needed. If you don’t have one, you can place the camera on a secure and stable surface instead. Other accessories that you might find useful are remote shutter cables and a lens hood to block out ambient light flares.

light trails5 4 Things to Remember When Shooting Car Light TrailsLocation – there are a lot more things to consider aside from knowing you will be setting up your camera near a road. Try to include something that would add interest to the shot, such as building or structure that is also lighted at night. You can choose an intersection or a curving road so that the trails created will have a different shape compared to a straight line. Make sure the spot where you are shooting from is safe and there is no chance you will be hit by a car or be robbed while you are engrossed with taking shots. 

Histogram – in a shoot like this, it is easy for shots have blown out highlights or washed out areas because of too bright lights such that coming from a nearby street light or a car headlight. These lights could ruin your shot because of overexposure and would also lead your viewer’s eye from the point of interest. Use the histogram to have a quick check whether your lens is capturing strong light. 

 


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Capturing Extremes in Tone: High Key and Low Key

The overall tone of an image, can have three keys, namely: low key, middle key and high key.   Usually we try to have adequate lighting in our images, with a balanced tone and this would be called ‘middle key’. However, there are two lighting styles which deviate from the norm because they use the extremes of the tonal range to present the image. In this two part article, I will be expounding on high key and low key, two techniques which can make quite an impact in your shots.

highkey Capturing Extremes in Tone: High Key and Low KeyAlthough there should be hardly any contrast or shadows,  good high key images are those where the white areas still show detail instead of being blown out. The background and the subject itself are usually light colored or white. Since the exposure values are high, you have to be careful not to overexpose the shot. High key shots do not necessarily mean overexposed shots. In fact, careful consideration is taken when adjusting the exposure settings and the subject should be evenly lit.

A bright white background is ideal so for studio lighting, prop up a seamless white sheet of cloth or paper against the wall (unless your wall is already white). To make the background appear bright and remove shadows as well, you would need to light it up. Usually, two light sources aimed at the background, one on each side but behind the subject, will be enough to keep the background white, bright and shadow free. To light up the subject itself, you would need a key light (the main light source) placed off to one side (not straight on) and around 5 feet away. A fill light or a reflector would be found on the other side to keep the dark spots to a minimum.

High key shots do not have to be taken purely indoors. This shot of the flower was taken out in the garden, held up near a whitewashed wall and I just used sunlight as my light source. Just remember when taking shots in bright sunlight to use your camera’s histogram to check on the exposure since your eyes might be affected by the sun’s glare.

Aside from the bright, light colored tones, a high key image is known for the cheerful and joyous mood it can evoke. A bright, light colored image has the effect of making one feel happy and this is one great reason why we should all take high key images from time to time. 

Now we’ll focus on the other end of the spectrum which is low key. One can say low key lighting is the opposite of high key. Here the image is mostly in shadow, usually a dark colored subject set against a dark or black background. The mood is also very different. It is much more somber, mysterious, and dramatic.

A low key image may be easier to create than high key since usually only one light source is needed. The subject is easier to light and underexposure or too much contrast can easily be fixed with reflectors or just by adjusting the camera settings.

match Capturing Extremes in Tone: High Key and Low KeySidelighting is one of the best ways to light up the subject in a low key shot. This position of the light allows one to capture the textures and fine details of the subject without blowing them out. It also prevents the subject from casting a shadow in the background, which is what would most likely happen if the light was directly in front. Another great way to light up the subject is by backlighting. By placing the light source directly behind your subject, the light can bleed and shine on the subject’s edges, causing a rim light. This can appear very dramatic, especially when the edges are highly detailed or have an interesting shape.

As with high key images, low key lighting needs to have proper exposure. It is easy for a shot to become underexposed since both the subject and background are dark. Move your light source around, place it closer or further away from the subject, experiment with various light intensities and reflectors. A tripod would come in handy since this is a low light situation and there is a good risk of blurriness.

One thing to have in a low key shot is a dark or black background. In studio shots, such as for still life or portraiture, a black cloth will do. Now some cloths are reflective and shiny. If you can, invest in a few yards of black velvet since it seems to suck in the light instead of bouncing it back. There are times when you don’t need a physical backdrop, just the convenient darkness of night. You can get a black background by lighting just the subject and making sure all other objects in the room are too far away to be illuminated. 

Your low key image does not necessarily have to be indoors in a studio setting. An image of an empty bench at night time under a lone street lamp can be considered low key. To add to the dramatic atmosphere of the image, find a good choice of subject that matches the mood. Perhaps a dramatic pose from a human model, or an ominous scene, or an object with a strange and fascinating shape.  There are lots of ways to be creative with low key lighting. 


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Photographing by Candlelight

Sunlight and studio lights are two of the most used light sources in photography. Yet, there are other sources that give off light as well, and not only can they illuminate your subject but they can also create atmosphere and mood. Candlelight is a versatile light source that you can creatively use to show off your subject. 

candlelight2 Photographing by CandlelightUse a tripod – since this is a low light situation, you will be using a slow shutter speed which will increase the chances of the appearance of camera shake. To avoid this, use a tripod or set your camera on a steady surface. Another advantage of using a tripod is you can tweak your setup if needed without you having to reposition your camera and adjusting focus all over again.

Use only one candle – having only one candle for your light source means it has to be sufficient to illuminate what you want to be seen. You might have to do several test shots to adjust your exposure settings, as well as position the candle in a strategic manner. Having the candle close to the subject will give stronger illumination. Try placing the candle near a white wall or sheet so that this wall will act as a reflector and add more light to the scene. One candle gives the impression of intimacy or secrecy.

candlelight1 Photographing by CandlelightUse many candles – a lot of candles can provide drama and give the impression of passion. You can create more even lighting by spread out the placement of the candles. If you intend to show dramatic shadows, place more of the candles at just a certain area. 

Use background for context – images that include candlelight are usually simple and uncluttered. If you want to place the subject in relation to its surroundings, you can set up the candles to light as much of the scene as possible. For example, a romantic table top setting would benefit with the use of candlelight.

Adjust  exposure settings – candlelight is not that intense or bright so in order to have adequate lighting, you have to adjust your exposure settings accordingly. A slow shutter speed will allow large amounts of light in the sensor but might also catch the motion of the candle flame. A big aperture means a big lens opening which will also allow more light to enter the lens. An ISO with a smaller number means less noise but it also means less captured light. On the other hand, a higher number will mean more light and a more grainy result. Understanding reciprocity and the exposure triangle will help you decide what settings to use.

candlelight3 Photographing by CandlelightWhite balance – if your camera’s white balance is set to ‘auto’ it will try to correct the warm color cast of the candlelight. Experiment with the different settings such as ‘tungsten’ or ‘indoor’ until you reach the desired result.

Use off-camera flash – an off-camera flash can brighten up other parts of the scene which can’t be reached by candlelight.  Covering it in a colored gel can also add an interesting color cast.

Composition – creative composition can really spice up your shot. Candle placement, deciding whether to include them or not in the frame, using candles in unusual ways, the shape and color of the candles, having the candle itself as the subject, any of these can be used. 

Create mood – the warm glow of candlelight can certainly add to the mood of the scene. It can be used to give a romantic atmosphere or you can go the other way and use it to create a sinister and spooky mood.


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Using Strobes in Underwater Photography

In a previous article, we discussed how ambient light can be used in underwater photography. This time we will find out how submersible flash units or strobes are used to illuminate a subject or an entire scene. 

Since water is much denser than air, light underwater is absorbed faster and at a shorter distance compared to light above the water surface. In cases when ambient light is simply not enough to adequately light up a scene, strobes come to the rescue by providing bright light even at deeper nudibranch by hamletnc Using Strobes in Underwater Photographyocean levels. Another asset of using strobes is that they can show off the subject’s real colors.  One of the properties of water is it lets the blue end of the spectrum pass through deeper than all the other color wavelengths, which makes underwater scenes acquire a blue cast. Strobe lights, with their complete light spectrum, can illuminate the subject or scene and present all the colors as they really are, without the predominant bluish color cast. Strobes can also act as octopussy by hamletnc Using Strobes in Underwater Photographyfill light by lighting up the foreground or the dark areas of a subject while ambient light illuminates the rest of the scene.

Aside from presenting the subject’s color in full, there are other key differences between the results of strobe light and ambient light. Strobes can effectively freeze action since it can rapidly blast bright light. This allows for a fast shutter speed and there is no worry that camera or subject movement might cause the shot to come out blurry. Strobes will also provide strong light at short distances, and subjects taken at close up can be better illuminated. The added advantage to this is you can use a smaller aperture which means your camera covers a greater depth of field allowing more of the scene to be in focus. Strobes are not as useful in long distances, however, since the strobe light is absorbed by water. Distances of five feet or more no longer get illuminated and this is where ambient light can come in handy since it can encompass a larger area. 

If you’re using only one strobe, try positioning it above and to the side of the camera, at a 45 degree angle diverstrobes by baltar Using Strobes in Underwater Photographyto the subject. This lessens the appearance of visible particles (a.k.a. backscatter) in the water which can cloud up the image. Two strobes are ideal to lessen hard shadows that can appear if only one strobe were used. Using a pair of strobes on either side of the subject will provide more even lighting. Have one of the strobes provide lesser output to show a light shadow that will give the impression of depth. If the two strobes were giving off equal light output, the subject can come out looking flat and bland.  

Keep in mind that strobe lights can be rather bulky and effort is required to set them up and maintained in proper position. Assistance from a dive buddy would be nice but if you don’t have one, you can use strobe arms with success. These arms are articulated for better positioning control of the direction of the strobe lights. 


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Simple Tips in Getting Great Bokeh Shots

 

bokeh31 Simple Tips in Getting Great Bokeh ShotsWhen taking a photograph, usually most of the attention is centered on the subject and very little emphasis is placed on the areas that are not in focus. A usual technique used when photographing is having a shallow depth of field to make a particular subject more prominent than the other things surrounding it. This technique makes a lot of the photographers forget the artistic possibilities of the portions that are out of focus as they center all the attention on the subject alone. In fact, the background and foreground can add more depth and visual impact to an image when everything works together.

‘Bokeh’, a term derived from the Japanese word meaning ‘haze’ or ‘blur’, is the part of an image that is not clear or in focus. The correct pronunciation of the term ‘bokeh’ has been a topic of debate in the world of photography, but a popular pronunciation would be ‘bo’ as in ‘bone’ and ‘ke’ as in ‘kettle’. Contrary to what many photographers believe, bokeh is an important aspect in adding visual impact to an image and its artistic contribution can be controlled by using basic principles which we will further discuss in detail:

bokeh 2 Simple Tips in Getting Great Bokeh ShotsUse a big aperture for a shallower depth of field (DoF) – usually bokeh is determined to be the out of focus part of a photograph which is impacted by depth of field. DoF affects how big a portion of an image is blurry. A low aperture value such as 1.8 or 2.7 will produce a shallow DoF that will make a large portion of an image blurry. A common misconception for most budding photographers is to always use the lowest aperture setting. To make an image have more visual impact, maintain a balance between the blurry portions and the objects in focus. Just because the background is out of focus doesn’t mean you will have an ideal bokeh shot.

Choose the right lens – more expensive lenses out in the market have more curved aperture blades that produce circular bokeh. An aperture consists of a lot of blades that make up a circle or octagon that allows light to pass through to the sensor. Apertures that have more blades or have curved blades produce a more defined circular shaped light bursts while those with octagonal openings produce bokeh effects closer to its shape. Depending on your preference, the choice of aperture would create the effect you would want.

Create your own custom bokeh – as of late, the technique of placing cutouts specially designed to be placed onto a lens has been in vogue for photographers seeking a more customized effect to their images. This enables photographers to have more control of the shape of the bokeh lights.  This can add a touch of bokeh 1 Simple Tips in Getting Great Bokeh Shotscreativeness to photographs. Using a black sheet of paper, shapes can be cut out from it and taped onto a lens like a lens cap. Make sure the cutout is positioned exactly in the center of the lens to produce the desired effect. The end result will show bokeh shapes that follow the design of the cutout.

Relate the foreground with the background – ideally, in every image there has to be continuity and relation among the foreground, background and subject to have visual harmony. Sometimes, what we least expect to capture in an image is the most captivating. Make sure that in some way the foreground interacts with the background.

Bokeh may be a common technique used in photography but it is given much less attention in comparison to other techniques. By focusing on bokeh and constantly testing ways to improve its effects, it can add more depth and visual impact to your images.

 

 


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Shooting in Ambient Light

In photography, we cannot present an image without the use of light. The type of light we decide to use is what makes the process an exercise in creativity as much as skill. There is lighting which we deliberately set up to illuminate the subject, mainly flash units and light kits. Then there is ambient light, also known as available light, which already exists in the scene.

natural ambient Shooting in Ambient LightExamples of ambient light sources are sunlight, moonlight, candles, lamplights, incandescent lights and streetlights. One of the main advantages of ambient lighting is that it is often free and readily available since it is already found in the environment where you will shoot. The trick is to familiarize yourself its properties and the various ways they can light up the subject matter. Sunlight, for example, can illuminate the same subject in hundreds of ways depending on the time and the weather. Its intensity can vary from the harsh light on a cloudless noon hour to the very soft and diffused light on a misty morning.

 There are limitations to ambient lighting since it can be difficult to control. These light sources may be immovable, unpredictable, or out of reach. You might encounter low light conditions, especially at night or indoors. To compensate, set your camera at a low light setting such as slower shutter speeds or larger aperture. A tripod would come in handy, or at least place the camera on a steady surface when making the shots. There are times when you will have only one light source. If you want more light to fall on your subject, try using a reflector to bounce back some of the light. These can be mirrors, aluminum foil, white cardboard, and the like. These reflectors have different effects and the light from a mirror will not be the indoor ambient 300x228 Shooting in Ambient Lightsame as the light when using a white cardboard. Why not have one of each and experiment with what works best for you for that particular shot. 

Ambient light can create a strong mood in the shot since it is a natural element of the scene. Aside from providing illumination, it can also help tell the story or drive home the concept you want to present. By including the light source, for instance, you are introducing a prop which can support the emotional impact of the subject. The ambient light source can even be the subject itself. Certain ambient light sources, such as indoor incandescent light bulbs, leave a strong color cast that, if presented well, can further impact the mood of the shot. The more you practice using ambient lighting in your shots, the more aware you will become of its versatility and can then make full use of this fact.


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Shooting Fireworks

There is something about fireworks displays that can totally mesmerize us. They can be so beautiful yet they last for only a few seconds before they vanish into the night sky. Fireworks also mark special occasions which give them added meaning. They offer photo opportunities for anyone who wants to take pictures of the pretty fireworks, regardless of photography skill.

castle fireworks Shooting FireworksIf you have never shot fireworks before in your life, you might find that is easier than you think to capture them in their glory. As always, it’s best to be prepared even before the first of the fireworks bursts into a million points of light high in the sky.

Use a tripod – this will certainly come in handy since your exposure settings will need a slow shutter speed to capture the light trails of the fireworks. Some fireworks shows can also last for thirty minutes to an hour and holding up a camera can be tiring after a while. A tripod will get rid of chances of camera shake and it will also support the camera so you won’t have to keep holding it. If you don’t have a tripod, you can try to keep the camera as steady as possible by other means such as by leaning against a wall while you’re taking the shot or by placing the camera on a steady and secure surface.

Check your camera’s capabilities – find out if your camera can accommodate slow shutter speeds. This should not be an issue for DSLRs and advanced point-and-shoots but regular point-and-shoots may have limited settings. However, most of them have presets such as fireworks mode or low light mode, and you can try using this to see if the fireworks can be captured by your camera.

Adjust the exposure settings – you’ll be dealing with low light situations where your subject matter is far away. A slow shutter speed is needed to capture the movement of the fireworks from the moment it explodes to when it dissipates. This will generally take a few seconds. If your camera has a bulb setting, you can use that since you will have total control over when you want the shutter to close. Although, the sky might be dark, fireworks can be really bright and there is a big chance of overexposure if the shutter is left open for too long. My advice is to take a few test shots before settling on the shutter speed setting. As for the aperture, a small aperture such as f/8 will be sufficient. A small aperture means a larger depth of field and it also lessens the amount of light that enters the sensor which can again cause overexposure. The lower the ISO settings the better since there will be less grain and noise. ISO 100 should do the trick in this case.

crooked fireworks 300x225 Shooting FireworksExperiment – the usual fireworks shot is, of course, the fireworks. However, that is not the only thing that can provide spectacular shots. Look at your surroundings and you might discover that there is potential subject matter that can be just as interesting. Take a picture of the crowd, for example, with their features all aglow with fireworks light. Shoot a specific person’s expression as he or she gazes up in wonder. Remove your camera from the tripod and shoot some fireworks. Most likely the light trails will end up squiggly rather than in neat lines but that might just add to the appeal.

Check your shooting area – Stake out your shooting area and check to make sure you have an unobstructed view of where the fireworks will generally explode. Take note that fireworks shows are very popular and can amass a large crowd of people. A lot of them might stand or hold up their cameras high over the heads of other people. The bright LCDs of their cameras or the silhouette of their heads can show up in your frame and seriously mess up your shot. Pick a spot away from the crowd, or at least make sure your lens will not be blocked.

Frame your shot – Consider how you will frame your shot when shooting fireworks. Choose whether to go with vertical or horizontal (portrait or landscape) framing and this is usually decided by knowing which would better suit the image. Horizontal framing takes notice of the horizon, the landscape or scenery while vertical framing accentuates height.  You can shoot the fireworks by themselves or add the surroundings to place them in context.

 


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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.

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