Light painting is something you can try at any time of year but as Christmas day is just around the corner, we thought we'd try light painting our own Christmas decorations and shapes. Quite a bit of trial and error was involved but it was fun never the less!
- You need a camera with a long exposure mode - ideally one with a B setting.
- Remote release to lock the shutter open.
- Tripod – you need a sturdy tripod so you don’t get camera shake.
- Warm clothing – it’s cold out there!
- Torch – help you see the buttons on your camera.
- Light Source that can act as a 'paint brush'.
Setup your tripod and camera, ensuring it's focused before you take your shots. If you want to make it look like you have decorations on your house, focus on a wall but we found it easier to focus on a person who was light painting directly towards the camera rather than make it look like a house was decorated. It’s up to you if you want your painter in the shot. If you do, make sure they stand still.
If the camera cannot focus in the dark use your torch to light the part of the house or person who is helping you decorate so your camera can adjust.
If you want your house wall, window etc. in the shot but it doesn’t show up well enough in your final frame take two exposures: one of the light you’re painting and one of the house and merge them together in post production. Or, try adding a touch of flash just before the end of the light trail shot to illuminate the part of the wall you’re painting on. Cameras with built-in flash that have a rear curtain sync mode are ideal for this aspect, as the flash automatically fires at the end of the exposure.
Ask the person who is helping you to practice drawing their decoration, checking that the time they take doesn’t exceed your exposure time if you’re not using the B-setting. You also want to make sure the shape doesn’t go outside the frame. If this happens make your lens wider or just ask your assistant to draw smaller shapes. You could also move your set-up back if you have more room to play with.
Get the camera ready to shoot. Make sure the shutter speed is at 30sec if you're not using the B-setting then hit the shutter button, telling your helper to start drawing at the same time you do this. Make sure they write in an even flow ensuring the shape/shapes are joined up.
You can use various light sources as your 'paint brush', however we found a bright torch the most useful tool. You can use coloured gels or even translucent sweet wrappers to change the colour of the light you are painting with. Alternatively, open up your images in Photoshop and adjust the Hue, ensuring 'colorize' is selected.
Check The Image
It may take a few tries to get the image you’re after (we ended up laughing at our results several times!). It can be hard to match the two ends of a shape together and to get it looking neat. If your Christmas lights are not bright enough ask your assistant to write slower or open up the aperture. If they’re shining too much or are too thick, ask them to write faster or close the aperture down. You could always try drawing a chalk outline to follow on the wall. Just make sure you don’t press on too hard to make it visible.
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