In this video from Brady Bigalike of Noble Light Productions, we revisit the topic of light painting – a technique where the photographer uses light sources such as flashlights, LEDs, flames, and any other illuminating device to paint an image onto an exposing photograph. Sometimes these paintings are done entirely in this fashion, with light streaks forming entire murals on an otherwise pitch black environment; in this video, the artists integrate their creative shapes with existing scenes to foster a marriage of reality and imagination:
The principles of light painting are simple: focused on a dark scene, you set up your camera on a tripod with the aperture closed down all the way and the ISO set to its lowest sensitivity (100 ISO on most cameras). You’re looking to get exposures of at least a minute or more – longer exposures will allow you to create larger and more intricate designs.
Since most cameras’ shutter speed settings don’t time this high, you’ll need to set your shutter speed to bulb mode and attach a wired remote with a shutter lock, then time the exposure yourself with a stopwatch. If you’re finding that the light is still too bright for such long exposures, consider a neutral density filter.
You’ll want to dress all in black and move quickly, so that you don’t show up in the image – unless that’s what you’re going for. With the camera exposing, use your various light sources to create shapes and patterns around your scene, being careful to always stay behind the light and never get between it and the camera.
Experiment with different types of toreches and notice the different shapes, sizes, and colours given by each. Use flashlights and external flashes to illuminate objects around you, or point them straight at the camera for streaks and points of light. Cover your lights with coloured gels to add bright and vivid hues. Get creative and try as many different things as you can think of!
With these techniques you can bring the medium of photography into the realm of the surreal and fantastic in a completely organic way, without the use of computer-based manipulation. Light painting is a wonderful way to get acquainted with the substance that makes a photographic image – photons are our oils, our clay, our musical notes, and they can be bent and shifted and played with in amazing and unexpected ways.
Understanding the behaviour of light is integral to becoming a great photographer, and light painting is one of the most active and fun experiences of learning there is. The most important part, though, is to just have fun with it – the enthusiasm will shine through in your finished product.
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