Painting with Light - Understanding Light

Mobius Arch, Light Studyc

I photographed this series of Mobius Arch during my recent trips to the Alabama Hills. All six images show the same subject, with four images taken from nearly identical points of view. Yet all images look profoundly different from one another, simply by the different properties of the light.

The first row shows two images that I took during sunset. The last row shows two images I took during sunrise. The quality of light changes very quickly during this time. A few hours before sunset and a few hours after sunrise, the landscape looks flat, washed out, and the high contrast between shadows and sunlit regions gives your images an entirely different quality.

I painted the two images in the center row with a powerful flashlight.

Painting with Light

The light painting technique is rather involved. You need to set up your camera for long exposures. Painting the stones and waiting between each result takes a long time, especially if you do not get everything right with the first couple of shots.

Fortunately, I got lucky with these images.

The beauty of this technique is the amount of control you have over the lighting of your subject. You simply highlight whatever you want and let the rest vanish into darkness. It is an easy process:

  • Find a good subject during the day, something not too far away that you can highlight with a powerful flashlight from your position.
  • Come back at dusk, and set up your tripod. Take a couple of sample shots to help you evaluate different compositions.
  • When the first stars become visible, meter the sky. Set your camera to aperture priority mode to guarantee sufficient depth of field.
  • Make a mental note of your exposure time. It should be around 20s or longer. If it is too short, pick a smaller aperture. If it is longer than 30s, you need to select bulb and time the exposure yourself. This is how much time you will have to paint your subject.
  • Turn on the mirror lockup on your camera.
  • Take a photo and sweep your light source across your main subject. You have exactly as much time as you determined above.
  • Review your picture and decide if you need to increase or decrease exposure time, keep the light source on the subject longer, or paint a different area of the image for a better effect.
  • Try painting the subject from a different angle. As you can see in the picture above, I was able to achieve a completely different effect when I painted the subject from behind. Dani was kind enough to operate the shutter of my camera, while I was behind the arch.

Lighting a subject from behind creates an aura around it. I used the same technique for this Cholla tree in Joshua Tree NP.

Cholla Tree 

Natural light

The quality of light brings a subject to life. Observe the light whenever you are out in the field. Try to imagine where the sun will move or use software to predict the movement of the sun and the moon. Consider how the light will change during the day. Sometimes it is worth waiting for better light, for clouds to clear, or the sun to set.

Sometimes the only thing setting a professional image apart from a snapshot is the light. Unless you run around with a flashlight, you need patience and tenacity. The universe rarely lines up for you, but you can usually outwait it.

Another 'Painting with Light' technique

Interesting "Painting with Light" But I would like to introduce you to a totally different form of "Painting with Light" photography, as is described in Wikipedia.com as I think it should be of interest to your readers.

Discovered by John N. Cohen amazing pictures without a computer, darkroom, or any expensive equipment.

"John won many top international awards and had over 20 one-man exhibitions in USA and in Europe."

Please have a look at: - http://www.jncohen.net/Painting_with_Light/index.htm

Reference: - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light_painting#Technique_and_equipment

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