Find a Dark Environment.
Camera Control Adjustments.
Limit Light Painting to a Portion of the Image.
Manipulate Colors with White Balance.
The HDR Effect Without All That Post Processing.
The Flash Option.
The light-painting concept begins with the right equipment set-up. It includes a camera with a manual mode, a tripod and a remote shutter release (cable or wireless). The other piece of equipment you’ll need is a light source, such as flashlight, lantern, or even a flash unit.
Obviously, you need an interior or exterior location with very low light, so the light source you use affects the place and the elements there, and enhances your compositions. Choose a tripod position to frame a scene that would be just as interesting fully lit. Then, move the light source to various positions in the scene to find the most unique visuals. Move the camera as well to survey all the possible angles.
You need a tripod and a shutter-release mechanism to eliminate any camera shake because you’ll be shooting at a slow shutter speed so enough light can be captured using a single light source.
Use manual focus to focus on the light source wherever you place it in the scene. In most cases, the light source and how it illuminates the scene will confuse the auto-focus mode. Live View will also be helpful, since you can digitally zoom much tighter on the light source, so the focus is very precise.
Exposure settings are specific to the location, but a good combination to try first is ISO 400, an aperture of f/5.6 and a 30-second exposure; that’s 30 seconds, not 1/30th of a second. The shutter speed could also be just a few seconds depending on the location where you’re shooting.
It’s often difficult to use light painting to create an interesting effect throughout an entire image. It’s better to look for a portion of the picture to paint, which will make the image more compelling; or re-frame on just that portion.
Light painting an exterior location at night allows you to use white balance to have a radical, but highly artistic, effect on colors. You can create an alien-looking environment or the kind of strange color shifts that occur when shooting in infrared.
Again, depending on your location, you may be able to position your light source to “paint” an image that will appear very similar to HDR, or High Dynamic Range photos. The difference is you won’t need to spend hours at your computer to construct an HDR image and the colors in light-painted photo won’t appear over-saturated or unnatural.
Light painting can also be done with a flash unit, or a series of them. You’ll want to place the flash in similar locations as a continuous light source; but, of course, you won’t see the scene until the flash is triggered. You can capture the movement of a subject or object with multiple flash units, thus layering the photo. This is trickier than a static light source and scene, which requires some practice and trial-and-error.
Enhance your light-painting technique and results with colored gels over the flash head and the placement of glow sticks and lasers.
Photo copyright PhotographyTalk member Ryusaki Akaiyama
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