First, let's get this out of the way
- I love light
painting. It's a creative, active, experimental sort of
photography. And a lot of fun. The hours melt away.
But what is it? It's a long exposure photographic technique in
which the photographer moves a light source, - or sometimes the camera
itself - to create the exposure. I like to use light painting to
illuminate objects at night, lighting from outside the frame, although
I also sometimes like to "paint" light into the lens as well.
Winter Stone and Tree
versions of the images in this
detailed information about them can be viewed in a gallery.
Click on any image to see them.
is an award winning photographer whose skill is evident in every
picture he captures.
His technical knowledge, combined with his artistic eye and his passion
for the subjects he finds, produces images of great beauty and
vividness. It's always a joy to see his most recent work.
The Guardian of
Stuff We Need
We need a camera. But you knew that, didn't
ideally, one that allows you to determine how long to keep the shutter
open, and preferably, one with Bulb Mode, and accepts a remote shutter
release. I use a DSLR, but I've had friends use a compact digital
camera or film cameras to do this. What matters is that you can
determine the length you wish to keep the shutter open.
A remote shutter release. Why? To avoid
any movement of
the camera. Even minuscule movement can ruin your photo.
A stable surface. If you're gonna leave
your shutter open
for several minutes, you're need a rock solid surface. Out in the
field, ideally, you'll want to use a good tripod. Giotto,
Manfrotto, Gitzo, and others make good tripods. I use a
Feisol. I like lightweight carbon fiber tripods because I do a
lot of walking around and hiking. As always, your mileage may
vary, yes it may. Now, if you're gonna move the camera around,
that's another thing, but today, I'm discussing techniques involving
keeping the camera perfectly still. If it's windy and your tripod
has a center hook, hang your camera bag or some such thing in the
middle to further stabilize it so that camera that someone purchased
for your previous birthday doesn't fall on the ground and
shatter. That would suck.
A light source or three. Flashlights,
headlights, glow sticks, matches, candles, LED lights, stuff like
One of my flashlights is an absurdly bright flashlight, a Dorcy
spotlight. I can light paint stuff from 10, 20 meters
away. The Dorcy is almost like holding a car headlight in your
hand. Whazaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!! Fun!!
And another thing I
like to use is El Wire. El Wire? Yeah, El Wire. This
is not Spanish for wire, no it isn't. It's short for
electroluminescent wire. El wire is a copper wire coated in a
phosphor, you see, and when you add juice from batteries, voila, it
starts to glow! And in different colors! If you don't get
one for light painting, you could go to a rave or tie it around as part
of a costume!! Oh, the fun! And this stuff is easily
available online, including Amazon.com. And it's cheap. Cheap.
Fun. Artistic. Whaddaya waitin' for?
As mentioned, I use a DSLR. You'll want to use Manual Mode so you
can control the exposure time. Flip that to whatever you
want. For this particular photo, I used Bulb Mode. This
means that if I lock my remote shutter release, my shutter will stay
open until I unlock the remote shutter release. Cool, eh?
But you can also set your camera to 15, 20, 25, 30 seconds, whatever it
How The Heck Do You Focus
In The Dark?
Well, look, if you're one of those persnickety photographers who
actually wishes to have their subject in focus, then read on!!
The easiest way to do this is to use your camera's auto focus. I
know you're thinking, "Buh-buh-but it's dark! And my camera's
gonna hunt! It can't focus when it's really dark!!!" And
you'd be right! But no worries. Since you're all ready to
light paint anyway, take one of those really bright lights you have,
shine it at the subject, and let your camera's AF do its thing.
When it has focused, carefully carefully switch your camera's auto
focus off, switching it instead to Manual Focus, so that it's
pre-focused. Voila. Done. See, wasn't that easy?
Look how much you've learned already! You know how to set your
camera, how to focus, you know how to light up your subject in the
dark!! So next, let's check out a photo that shows both light
painting outside the frame - illuminating the subject - as well as
shining not one but two kinds of light into the lens directly. I
used several light sources. Below is a photo which illustrates
several techniques. Let's examine further!
Rings Around The
Stone: You can see three red rings
around the stone, yes you can. These are from my Energizer
headlamp. I set it to the red light setting, held it up high, and
walked around the stone three times! Wheeee!! Why three?
Uh, why not? For representing past, present, and future?
Stone: I took that big yellow Dorcy
spotlight, ran up to some rocks some 10 meters away and to the left,
and pointed it at the rock, waving it around to illuminate it
evenly. I think about how I want the stone and so forth to be
illuminated, and in this case, since it was a full moon, I wanted to
emulate how the moonlight was falling on the rock so it would look very
natural. This giant flashlight is bright, so it doesn't take much
to light up the rock, even from 10 meters away.
That's where the El Wire comes in. My
El Wire 2.75 meters of glowing blue goodness. I activated it at the
battery pack, then waved it around the base of the stone, almost as if
I were sweeping the sand, waving it up and down. If you kept the
wire still for a while, the shape of the wire would "imprint" on your
image. I wanted more of an otherworldly mist, so I moved it
This whole process took 199 seconds. If you're bad at math,
that's three minutes and 19 seconds. And it went by
quickly!!! I ran and moved around a bit. Active, creative,
fun photography. And moving around was doubly good because this
was taken in the high California desert in winter, and the temperature
was at about freezing. But moving around kept me warm.
This is another photo that illustrates several of the light painting
techniques we're discussing here!
This above photo of the Martian flying saucer showcases the blue El
Wire again, much like the "M-Class Planet" photo. But here, the
El Wire was used to highlight the structural supports and create a
glowing globe on the top of the dome.
I hope this inspires you to try your own
light painting and long exposure photos. Take night sky photos,
light paint, do long
exposures. Do all three. Experiment. Have fun!