Light Painting

025_KolbTugOfWarLight 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”

 


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Supplemental Lighting Revisited

024_JemezBuddhaIn night photography, our use of supplemental lighting can add a whole new dimension to picture taking than the standard still fill lighting.

With long exposures, stationary lighting can be used to capture changes that unfold during an expanded moment.

Instead of focusing on lighting things, we should think more about lighting the space that surrounds our scene.

Then anticipate how we will catch any movement or change appearing in the light while the shutter remains open.

We can treat our scene like a fixer upper, and extend our use of supplemental lighting for the sole purpose of highlighting otherwise unseen motion.

The idea is to go further than just filling in the blanks. We allow our camera to see changes in time, and capture all of the moments beyond the momentary. In short, we supplement our vision by supplementing our lighting.

By lighting movement, we enhance the scene with something we see only in our mind’s eye, and create a more dynamic or expressive image.

IMAGE : Buddha, Jemez Springs, NM

Every New Years Eve, the Bodhi Mandala Zen Center lights their grounds with farolitos for a walking meditation. The most photogenic area is the hot springs next to the Jemez River.

I wanted to capture more than just the figure of Buddha and the bags of light. I placed a lantern behind the statue to catch the steam rising from the hot springs, and create the inspirational light I envisioned.

The lantern played a dual role. It provided fill lighting for the background, and illuminated the rising steam in the foreground.

I came up with the lighting idea when I did not have any lighting tools with me. So I had to wait a year to return to the scene to capture the image I imagined.

This image is a 30 second exposure shot at f8 with TMAX 3200 film, chosen from an entire roll of film shot to capture as many variations of the ethereal lighting as possible.

IMAGE TINT : GalleryAshWarm

A warm grayish tint was chosen to boost the intimate appearance of the glowing mist.

This B&W image was tinted in Adobe Photoshop with an ICC Profile I generated from my Mac App SuiteProfiler. The Profile was derived from the “GalleryAshWarm” Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.

Click these buttons to download the ICC Profile and SuiteProfiler Color Map:

EXERCISE : Supplemental Lighting Revisited

Find a nighttime scene with repeating movement. This can be subtle or dramatic. Add fill lighting to guarantee that the motion is caught throughout the exposure.

Bracket your exposures, and compare how the changes were captured at different shutter speeds. Take the time to capture many image variations.

Search your results for the image that best satisfies your expectation of the dynamic scene.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Supplemental Lighting Revisited

Leave comments on this post to share your ideas and experience, or ask questions.

NEXT TIME : “Light Painting”

 


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Supplemental Lighting

023_YosemitePioneerCabinSupplemental lighting at night goes way beyond the usual fill lighting to which we have grown accustomed in daylight.

Fill lighting a nighttime scene begins with the same goal. We add lighting to highlight missing details hidden in the shadows, or to draw more attention to certain objects or areas of a scene.

Typically, this is done by distributing one or more stationary lights throughout the landscape, enhancing the scene with light that persists during the entire exposure.

But at night, we can also introduce light sources into a composition, something that would have little or no effect in sunlight.

Extra light sources can be hidden to light desired portions of a setting, or displayed in plain sight to grace a scene with additional points of interest.

We can think of our subject as the raw material that we enhance to literally bring our vision to light, a personalized interpretation unseen by the average passerby.

The nice thing about nighttime fill lighting, with lanterns, flashlights or other lighting tools, is that we can see what to expect before we open the shutter.

We already spend a lot of time taking long exposures. We might as well take the time to experiment with supplemental lighting, and get what we want, not just what we are given.

This is similar to selective exposure except we are adding to an expanded moment instead subtracting from it, and creating our own version of the great diversity of light.

IMAGE : Pioneer Cabin, Yosemite, CA

  • Mouse over the image above to view the raw scene without added lighting. If mouse over does not work, go to Supplemental Lighting on my blog.

This is the first cabin built in Yosemite in the 1870′s. It is preserved at the Pioneer History Center in an area of the park called Wawona. This is one spooky place at night. I spent over an hour shooting this cabin. It felt like someone was watching me the whole time.

The setting was lit by moonlight from the upper right and a light to the left. Both created deep shadows. After stacking a bunch of nearby firewood 4 to 5 feet high, I put a lantern on top of the pile to light the sides of the cabin.

I wanted to light the inside of the cabin but it was locked. So I placed a flashlight on the window sill on the opposite side, shining it through the cabin onto the window in the image.

The added lighting gave the cabin a nice sense of moonlight, along with that “someone is at home” look. Without it, the dark shadows convey that eerie look and feel I experienced.

The final image is a 1 minute exposure shot at f8 with TMAX 3200 film. It was chosen from multiple bracketing sessions, each with a different combination of lighting.

IMAGE TINT : GallerySeleniumGoldToner

A traditional blend of Selenium and Gold toners was applied to the image to strengthen the look of moonlight pouring over the cabin of yesteryear.

This B&W image was tinted in Adobe Photoshop with an ICC Profile I generated from my Mac App SuiteProfiler. The Profile was derived from the “GallerySeleniumGoldToner” Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.

Click these buttons to download the ICC Profile and SuiteProfiler Color Map:

EXERCISE : Supplemental Lighting

Equip yourself with a small arsenal of lighting tools the next time you venture into the night to photograph. Find a scene that begs for additional lighting, and play with the possibilities.

There are a vast number of choices, so be patient. Explore a variety of ways to add lights and lighting to your subject. Keep it simple, but be thorough.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Supplemental Lighting

Leave comments on this post to share your ideas and experience, or ask questions.

NEXT TIME : “Supplemental Lighting Revisited”

 


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