Deal 10: A hot topic, at a hot price!
I teach a night photography class and I find that many people who’ve never tried it imagine it to be a lot harder than it really is to get spectacular results. In this two part series I’m going to take you through step by step how I created the image above using light painting techniques that are actually quite easy.
In this article, Part One, I’m going to go through everything you need to know so that you can go out and create some images using this technique. In Part Two I’ll take you through combining multiple exposures, like I’ve done for this shot, using Photoshop to create the final photograph. It’s really not that hard and I’ll do it one step at a time so you can follow along with my screen shots after each step.
Night photography is not that difficult but there are a few essential pieces of equipment needed to do the job right. Here is a list of mandatory and optional items:
The “Must Haves”
The “Really Nice to Haves” – not essential, but sure handy
Night photography can produce some great images, but it can be a bit tricky to find a location and compose your shots in the dark. It is best to go out ahead of time and find a spot, then return to it later, about 30 minutes before you actually want to start shooting. That will give you time to find it, get set up and be ready. Here are some tips for finding a good night subject suitable for painting with light.
Basically what you do it set your camera on Bulb, open the shutter using your locking release and walk into your scene and start lighting the objects in the camera view using your flashlight. It sounds simple but can be quite tricky to get just the right amount of light in different places, not get yourself in the image, and still get a good overall exposure. Here are a few tips or starting points, then you just need to experiment and adjust as you go.
Back in the days of film, painting with light was much harder. There was no way to determine if any of the exposures were correct or not. To paint a whole scene you had to get it right in one frame or exposure. Now with digital we have the benefit of testing and seeing what we’re doing and compensating on the next shot. You can even paint a scene in stages, or sections, and build them all into one image later in Photoshop. I’ll cover how to do that in Part Two.
The things you want to look for in your first image are:
Now that you’re ready to progress to a larger subject we’ll look at how to shoot multiple images of the same subject, so that you can merge them together in Photoshop later. The ONLY thing you’re going to do different than what you just did in the lessons above – is paint the subject in sections. That’s it!
For the firetruck image I actually shot about 30 different exposures. I didn’t end up using them all but I wanted to make sure I had my based covered and had options. That’s the beauty of putting them together later – you do NOT have to get it perfect in one shot! Let’s take a look at a few of my images from that shoot.
You get the idea right? Cover it well, then just to be sure, do it again. I think we were there (my husband was the button pusher, I ran the flashlight) about an hour an a half just doing this one shot. It was such a unique subject, and we had full permission to be there and be photographing it at night that I wanted to take full advantage of it. That it was a beautiful night and this stuff is just so much fun for me that once I get started, I lose all track of time.
Well I was a bit long winded on this tutorial, I hope you are still with me. I wanted to make sure you had all the details you need to go out and try this yourself. I fully expect you to do so and be ready with some images for Part Two when we are going to take our multiple shots and combine them to get something that looks like this in the end.
Action plan steps
August 15, 2013 07:43 am
@Jay okay but with the DX6490 you do have ability to shoot 16 seconds. That's enough
August 14, 2013 09:03 am
I have three Kodak s. Older models. My newer one is a "Slice" the one behind that is a DX6490. I do have one 35mm that is not working. Konica A1or AE1. Anyway, I battery went bad and corroded a terminal. It was a great camera. Bought it in 1986. Old school but it never let me down. It did have the "B" sitting. Thanks for asking though, I do appreciate it.
August 13, 2013 04:10 pm
@Jay - what cameras do you have? Most, even some point and shoots have a Bulb setting. It could just be hiding on you.
August 13, 2013 12:54 pm
You are right about would been much easier with digital. I am 75 Y.O. now and it is sure as hard to somethings now-a-days. I have three cameras none of which has a bulb sitting. I am not very good at layering. After my grand-children got out of high school it seemed my photo days are about over. Lost my best subjects. I had and old program that ran on my XP that allowed me to doctor up a photo anyway I wanted. But, alas, it did not work on win 7. Ole brain just can't seem to think it through like it once did. Have fun out there! You never know when that "perfect" photo will crop up.
August 12, 2013 05:42 am
@Jay yes I did a similar technique in photo school in about 1987 or so. It was harder with film because you had to get it all in one shot and didn't know what you were getting until much later. Now with digital there's instant feedback and the ability to layer them together which makes things much easier on the shooting end
August 11, 2013 07:49 am
Paint flash has been around a long time. I discovered this in an old photo book back about 1975's. Understand, the equipment is those days are very antiquated compared to day. I used a Minolta Press camera. One of those kind you see in old movies that the press people used. It came with plates for cut film, 120 format, Polaroid and f stop of 32. My flash unit was old "flash cubes" that did not need batteries to flash. They had magnesium and all it took was a tooth pick to set them off. Later I used a flash unit that was battery powered. I would sit the camera on a ti-pod, using a cable to "lock the lens" in a wide open position. I had an assistant hold a 3x5 index card over the lens. Using which ever flash I would walk down the side of the scene and say "uncover" in which the card was removed. I would pop the flash and say "cover". Walk down a few feet and repeat the process. I was totally amazed at the results. I went on to incorporate this into my motor vehicle accident investigations. It was much better for the DA's and a jury to look at one photo instead of a bunch. It did not matter long the scene was. The developed film would never show me in the picture as the next flash would wipe me out. Bulb settings, and able to lock the lens open is a must, along with a very sturdy ti-pod. Anyone can do this.Try it! The results are great. I used this professionally as an Accident Investigator for years. I was lucky to have access to the Sheriff's Office Photo lap and the officer named "Ray" would process the pic's. They all made me look good.I had a saying in those days, "Photos by Jay, processed Ray, with Rick's OK. The lab teck's were the best! Jay Bird
June 11, 2013 01:14 am
@Philip that image of the old truck is really well done, professional quality. Excellent job!
@Duncan you're most welcome.
June 11, 2013 12:02 am
Thanks Darlene,.. I've enjoyed and used your posts on flash painting .. also seeing every one else's work,..your tut has been a great help for me .. Thanks again Duncan G.
June 10, 2013 08:39 pm
Devonport in my home state of Tasmania, Australia.
June 10, 2013 10:48 am
@Philip - great job on both! Devonport as in CA, NZ or AUS?
June 8, 2013 07:29 pm
Last nights effort in combining light painting with the night sky. I'm hooked!!!!!!!
June 7, 2013 11:13 pm
I tried to light paint the foreground in this one.
June 7, 2013 10:31 pm
A very concise and easy to read tutorial Darlene. I couldn't wait to get out and have a go and here is my first effort. I learned to drive in this truck when I was 10 years old on the family farm and I am happy to say that I seem to be in better condition than the truck is today!
May 22, 2013 02:50 pm
@george the truck was in a rural area over on the Portland side near our RV park
May 20, 2013 11:45 pm
May 20, 2013 11:32 pm
Sorry Jim, the one I saw was a combo but it was not led/Incandescent.
It was incandescent flood/spot combo.
May 20, 2013 11:43 am
Thanks! I'll definitely stay tuned!
May 20, 2013 10:12 am
I thought i had seen one at our local hardware store. It is one of the chains, True Value.
I will check it out and let you know, stay tuned.
May 20, 2013 01:15 am
Thanks for the link. Interesting product. Probably can't find in the US, though. But I'll try.
May 19, 2013 11:48 pm
Great article Darlene! I dabble in light painting some and live in the Corpus area and actually gave a presentation on it to the CC Camera Club last month. Where was the fire truck?
May 19, 2013 03:45 pm
@Jim: The model is "Mellert SLT TL280 S" and I bought it my local DYI store (I live in Germany). You can find some information here: http://www.mellert-slt.com/index.php?pid=5537&lid=4
May 19, 2013 05:40 am
Where did you get the flashlight with 2 modes, LED and incandescent? Brand?
May 19, 2013 03:58 am
yes awesome job Joern!
May 18, 2013 02:35 pm
@Jeffrey: Thanks! There was a small door on the backside through which I could climb in. My flashlight has two modes, one is incandescent the other mode is LED. That gave the blueish effect.
May 18, 2013 10:47 am
Nice job Joern,
How did you light the inside of the trailer?
or did you even light it inside?
May 18, 2013 02:07 am
Brava no words :)))
May 16, 2013 06:28 pm
When I recently stumbled over it, it immediately raised my inspiration. I wanted to try quickly! A few days later, I gathered together the required material (luckily I work for a camera manufacturer and could borrow some nice stuff :-) and found my photographic object. When it came to shooting, it turned out that this tutorial was SOOOO valuable. All the little tips and tricks helped incredibly lot. The result? What I can say. I didn't expect something that nice to turn out at the very time:
Now I tasted blood! I have want more and started screening the neighborhood for nice objects :-)
May 16, 2013 01:49 pm
@mike - the second half of how I did it is here: http://digital-photography-school.com/light-painting-part-two-photoshop
you did mean "she" right? ;-)
May 15, 2013 11:57 pm
Does anyone know how he put he images together in photoshop?
May 14, 2013 08:02 pm
I read this section and got excited about trying it out. Unfortunately it got really cold outside in the last few days so I tried it out indoors. Took a shot of our grand piano painting the keys and music and a few items in the room. I had a night light on behind the piano to give the background lighting. Very cool effect. The only problem was, I did occasionally show up in the photo. I solved that problem by wearing darker cloths and moving around more. Than I thought to myself, wouldn't it look cool to have a ghost sitting at the piano. Got a very spooky picture!!
May 14, 2013 01:29 am
@Mark yes the police may ask what you're doing but unless you're doing harm I don't see an issue. I'm talking more about going on someone's property then you want to get proper permission first.
@Katie, thank you I'm so glad you liked it. I try and make my articles as comprehensive as possible. They usually start out short and become epic by the time I'm done LOL.
@Connie the 2nd curtain sync is really only applicable when you're using flash. It has to do with when the flash fires, at the beginning or the end of the exposure. Part two should be published later today, it's all queued up to come out! Check back later.
May 12, 2013 07:15 am
I've been out and photographed some light trails and moving vehicles using 2nd curtain sync which was great fun but have yet to try lighting things with torches. This tutorial has inspired me to go out and give it a go. When is part 2 coming out?
May 12, 2013 07:08 am
Great tutorial. Thank you for such a comprehensive guide on how to paint with light. (So many tutorials seem to miss out the vital bit of knowledge or piece of equipment) I now feel confident enough to go out and give it a go. I am looking forward to part 2.
May 12, 2013 02:32 am
I like taking night shots just using available light but I haven't tried much light painting. Thanks for the great ideas I'll have to try some more. I'm looking forward to part 2.
About being careful where you shot A few weeks ago I stopped to take some pictures of a local businesses neon sign. It was 11 at night. I was about to leave when I had to play 20 questions with a cop. Lucky they just ask a lot of questions and let me go so. After all the trouble the pictures didn't come out like I wanted. I guess I need to be more careful where and when I'm taking pictures.
May 11, 2013 02:25 am
@jim try your local hardware store, they likely carry them or something very similar. Doesn't have to be that exact brand, just one that focuses and is bright.
May 11, 2013 02:24 am
Darlene, I'm trying to find a Maglite Incandescent Flashlight. Website gave local retailers...they only have LEDs. Tried to find and order the right unit on Maglite website...I can find the description of the Incandescents, but can't find them on the order form. Do you have a link that would help in ordering? I am looking for one with 3 or 4 "D" cell batteries. Thanks!
May 11, 2013 02:01 am
I started use the flash light photography method about two months ago,..I surly love the self imaging I create ,.. fore most I'm always learning a new way to show light ,..Heres my camera settings Manual mode / ISO 100 / f / 11 ,.. change from White auto into Incandescent .. with a cable release /tri-pod and several different strengths of flash lights .. p.s. along with several tissues for defused shade ..Oh ask permission to enter / take a friend along for safety
May 11, 2013 01:43 am
@leo yes that is correct however higher ISO also contributes to noise so keep it as low as possible helps control the noise when shooting at night. If you do have the time and patience to wait for the long exposure noise reduction by all means go for it. It can just make for a really long night if you're doing 5-10 minute shots.
May 10, 2013 06:30 pm
Not at all long winded Darlene, this was a great tutorial, beautifully explained in stages. A natural teacher!
May 10, 2013 04:35 pm
@dhiraj - aha that's coming up in Part Two very shortly! Stay tuned and keep reading
@Andrey - you did that with light painting!? that's a very well light bottle which is very hard to do. Impressive!
May 10, 2013 03:54 pm
My first attempt in light painting
May 10, 2013 03:40 pm
Nice stuff Darlene. Just one question..How did you merged all these pics? Using Photoshop CS5 or something else
May 10, 2013 03:26 pm
@Dan - I dunno those look kinda cool actually! I like the starbursts. The umbrella ones, not so much LOL.
@Geoffrey the driveway may not work, there will likely be too much light already hitting it in the city unless you live somewhere with no street lights. So you won't get it dark enough.
@marshal thanks for that!
@colin that's cool thanks for sharing!
May 10, 2013 11:49 am
Another sort of light painting can be achieved using a pen torch suspended from the ceiling by two strings , joined at a third or so of the way down, and anchored a couple of feet apart. Leaving the torch about four feet up from the floor. Naturally, in a pitch dark room ! When switched on and lightly shoved the torch swings in a pattern which declines over time and a camera on the floor below, on a bulb exposure, will capture interesting patterns like this one.
and it's neighbour on the same Flickr page .
May 10, 2013 11:35 am
Love your tutorials, Darlene. Full of useful information and always clearly written. This one looks like a lot of fun and I can't wait to take some small, funky objects out to a nearby park and try it out. Thanks so much for sharing!
May 10, 2013 07:18 am
Nice job Darlene!
Very cool, I love the finished firetruck.
May 10, 2013 05:10 am
This is excellent. Other light painting tutorials I've seen aren't nearly as specific and complete. Thank you! I look forward to Part 2.
May 10, 2013 04:38 am
An excellent article, Darlene! It covered the sport extremely well.
I have done some lightpainting, and just wanted to make one comment which relates to turning off long exposure noise reduction. To my understanding from my Nikon manual this does not refer to the usual digital "noise" and hence can not be countered by using a very low ISO value. What it refers to is fogging of some corners in particular of the image on long exposures. This occurs because the camera electronics produce some heat, and the resulting low levels of infrared radiation will slowly fog the image in areas of the sensor most impacted by this radiation. To counter it, the camera does indeed take the second exposure you indicate, but does not open the shutter. In doing so it is registering the fogging effect only, and then it uses this data to subtract the fogging from the actual image you took so that it does not appear in your shot. That is why the second exposure must be as long as your original exposure, in order to duplicate the fogging as exactly as possible.
All this being said, this fogging problem becomes progressively more pronounced as the duration of the exposure increases. As a result, you will likely not notice it in shorter exposures such as 30 seconds, and it likely is thus safe to turn off this long exposure noise reduction unless your exposures become significantly longer.
I am greatly looking forward to the second part of this excellent article!
Leo de Groot
May 10, 2013 12:53 am
Thanks for a fun tutorial. I cannot wait to try this when it gets dark. Going to shoot my truck in the driveway to get an idea how to do this properly before I trapse through the woods to find an old barn.
May 7, 2013 09:06 am
A very interesting read. I've once dabbled into light painting (impromptu decision while driving around with some friends) when I got really bored. However, I used a flashgun instead of a torch; and the effects were... well, interesting.
I tried it again a couple of other times, in different conditions but using the same subject:
https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/66809_314264908700017_2009699737_n.jpg (this one is a complete technical failure but so fun to make; quite blinding)
May 7, 2013 05:16 am
@Mridula - define "so little gear" for me? how little do you use? If you have a camera and a lens already, all you need is a tripod, something to trigger it (or you can use the built in timer in the camera if you don't go longer than 30 seconds) and a flashlight. It's really not that much.
@sam I'm hoping to finish Part Two this week! Don't quote me on it though LOL
May 5, 2013 10:38 pm
I've worked on the 'photography' part and it is real fun!
Is PART 2 coming up anytime soon?
Any hint as to when?
May 5, 2013 06:26 am
Can't wait to see the result in Part II.
May 4, 2013 09:26 pm
Dear Jeff, That's amazing!
I'm total amateur, could you please explain: you were standing in the water for the shots where words are on the liquid? Or you just face flashlight towards the sea?
May 4, 2013 04:30 pm
The pictures are so beautiful but I use so little gear that even this seems daunting. But it is just me.
May 4, 2013 03:28 pm
@Leopoldo - he he, thanks for that!
May 4, 2013 02:06 pm
Great tutorial, well structured, easy to follow steps learned two things: Light Painting an how to structure a tutorial. Thank you.
May 4, 2013 09:42 am
@Jeff - cool shots, nice fire spinning! You have a great location for doing that, the beach - nothing to set on fire. On the prairie here I haven't got a spot near me to do that safely.
@Cramer - yes it can be a bit of work but you can tackle smaller subjects like the little wagon or shack and do them in a single image. Night photography and doing this type of thing is one of my favourite things to do partly because the average person doesn't know how to do this. So if you want to take your photography to another level, give it a try!
May 4, 2013 09:37 am
This is an interesting subject. It looks like a lot of work but appears to have some rewarding results. I might have to try this. Thank you for sharing the information. I look forward to reading the second part of how to create this in Photoshop.
May 4, 2013 05:54 am
Ah, one of my favorite topics! I love light painting, it always amazes me what can be created at night.
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