Light painting is a more dynamic form of supplemental lighting.
In very dark or unlit places, light painting can be used to bring an image to life.
If used exclusively, the creative possibilities are boundless.
The practice of light painting begins by opening our shutter, venturing away from our camera, and exploring the scene with one or more lighting tools in hand.
Then we are free to roam into and around our scene selectively lighting as we go. And of course, we eventually return to our camera and close the shutter.
Light painting is done with common lighting tools, such as flashlights, pen lights, or hand held lasers. Or anything we can dream up that emits light.
As long as we stay on the move, we can operate freely, undetected by our camera, lighting whatever strikes us in the moment, by design or on a whim.
With long exposures, we definitely have the time to create what we want. Plus we can always combine light painting with stationary fill lighting to supplement any existing light.
HOW TO : Light Painting
There are two approaches to light painting:
The first approach is a mobile form of supplemental lighting. You move through the image lighting or highlighting objects or areas with lighting tools, directed away from your lens.
The second approach is to perform in front of your camera with a light source visible to your lens. By drawing light trails, you introduce your camera to your imagination.
Just like writing your name with sparklers when you were a kid, you sculpt an image with light by writing on the wind, and create your own personalized expanded moment.
Light painting is a great opportunity to think a little more radically. Well OK, a lot more radically than usual, and explore your eye in discovery.
There really are no rules or guidelines. Let your imagination run wild. The possibilities are endless. The key is experimentation. So experiment, experiment, experiment … and play.
IMAGE : Tug of War, Edgewood, NM © Stephan Kolb
One assignment in the night photography class I taught at UNM in Albuquerque was light painting. Stephan showed up with his rendition of four men competing at tug of war.
What is so incredible about this image is how expressive it is. The simple lines of light truly portray the strain and struggle of the figures.
First, he hung a light rope between two stakes. Then he had a friend take on each posture, while he drew the outline with a pen light.
This was done in complete darkness, which hid the existence of his activity. Talk about dynamic. Quite a creation from an inventive mind.
The image is a 139 second exposure shot at f2.8 with a focal length of 24mm.
You can see more of Stephan’s work on Flickr and Tumblr.
EXERCISE : Light Painting
Experiment with both styles of light painting. Find a scene with a large area that needs fill lighting. Use a flashlight to paint the dark parts with light as you move through the frame.
Also, try drawing a scene for the camera with a small light source. You can draw just what comes to you in the moment, or plan the picture ahead of time.
Compare the resulting images to what you imagined while painting or drawing. Take the time to fine tune your light painting techniques. But most of all, have fun.
Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.
FEEDBACK : Light Painting
Leave comments on this post to share your ideas and experience, or ask questions.
NEXT TIME : “Fire”
Don’t miss my future posts!
Subscribe to The Art of Night Photography by Email.