We have another Photo Premium tutorial exclusively available to Premium members today. In this tutorial, we’ll examine light painting, not drawing with a penlight, but applying light to your subject in a very focused and selective way. Learn more at the jump!
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I’ve been in real need of creative inspiration lately and I’ve been feeling an urge to experiment with new techniques as I continue to discover my vision and refine my craft. To that end, I remembered a guy I came across about a year and a half ago, fine art photographer Harold Ross, who has a very unique style which he has developed over nearly 20 years.
I was impressed not only by his amazing photography but also his ability to communicate his art in a consistent manner, something I feel that I am always struggling with. At first glance, the images in his gallery have a very HDR feel to them. But upon further examination, there is something more going on here. Harold is a master of the technique known as light painting.
I’m not talking about the practice of taking a shot while drawing with a light pen, though the idea isn’t too far off. Light painting is the process of applying light onto a subject in a very focused and selective way to bring out its unique shapes, textures and colors. You aren’t just using your off-camera flash(es) and reflectors to bounce or throw light at your subject, you are physically using your source to brush the light onto your subject, giving each element in your frame its own personalized treatment.
I’m certainly not the light painting master that Harold Ross is, but with a little experimentation, after only a few tries I was able to get a pretty good handle on the process and create some pretty cool composites. Let’s get started!
Step 1: Darkness is Key
This technique requires a much slower shutter speed than we are more accustomed to shooting with. In such a case, any light from the room has the potential of having an effect on the image. To minimize this, be sure to setup your shoot in a dark room or, when shooting outdoors, at night so you can have as much control over the scene as possible.
Step 2: Use a Tripod
When shooting in low light situations where longer exposure times are required it is absolutely essential to use a tripod to ensure that your images are as sharp as possible. That proves doubly important for this technique because you will be taking a series of shots that you will then be compositing later on.
A tripod will help make sure that each frame is properly lined up from the start and will minimize the amount of screwdriver work later on in Photoshop. To further avoid any slight shifting of the camera when you press the shutter, you may want to consider using a cable or other remote shutter release.
Step 3: Light Source
I’ve seen anything from a simple flashlight to an LED light to a very fine point source used effectively in this technique. From my experience a good option to consider, for those of you with smart phones, is to download a flashlight app. I used “Flashlight” by John Haney Software on my iPhone, which you can download for free from the App Store.
I am usually a stickler with my battery life and try to keep my screen brightness turned down a bit to make it last longer between charges, but for this process, I crank it all the way up. It puts out more light than you might think, especially when you have a long exposure.
One of the major benefits of using an iPhone app like this for light painting is how comfortable it is to handle the phone. The app actually turns your phone into a mini handheld softbox, allowing for softer shadows and more even lighting overall. Really, whatever type of light source you want to use could do a good job depending on the look you’re going for. The only thing to keep in mind is that it needs to be continuous lighting from a relatively small source so you have the control you need to make the effect work.
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