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Light painting and photography

A technique growing in popularity is light painting and photographer Simon Plant has some advice for creating our very own light painted images.

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Light Painting with Simon Plant
A barn 'painted with light' by Simon Plant.
Light painting is about venturing out at night to find objects you can, quite literally, paint with light. Basically, all you need are some flash guns or torches, a tripod, a camera you can set a long exposure on and a good imagination.

It's basically about locking open the shutter and painting the scene with whatever light you've got, this can be a torch, a flashgun or even a car headlamp,” explained Simon Plant from Pro Photo Insights.

As we've said, you can use flashguns, which produce a much more harsh light, but Simon prefers to use his million candle powered torch with, wait for it...a carrier bag over it to help produce a soft, diffused light.

Light painting with Simon Plant. Painting a scarecrow
A scarecrow is brought to life with Simon Plant's light painting.
Simon's tutorial on light painting used a barn as the example but as long as your not in a built-up area, any building, within reason, can be used.

If you're using a building make sure they're not too big as you need to be able to paint them. Don't pick one that's so tall that you can't reach near or the top. Obviously, you need quite a large torch for that too. Small trees also work well, particularly ones that stand alone.”

Once you have a location in-mind remember to get there early to give yourself plenty of time to work out composition, focus correctly and lock your camera off. It's important you do this as moving the camera and re-focusing can be difficult in the dark and if you don't pull the perfect photograph off in one shot, you can then use multiple images to create one exposure in post production later.

When Simon's happy with his angle and his camera's set-up, he puts on his fashionable head torch and begins painting the scene.

I use my large torch like an artist would use a paintbrush,” said Simon, “I walk around and literally paint areas of the scene.”

What areas you paint depend on your choice of scene but usually, as it's dark, whatever subject you're using will need good all over illumination. After that, go back in and paint the areas you want to draw the viewer's eye to. Simon's barn, for example, has big pillars and Simon wanted these to stand out. Don't forget about the foreground or background either. In the barn example, Simon highlighted some of the grass at the front of the picture to draw the viewers eye into the frame and parts lit in the background can add interest and detail to the scene. Of course, you can add detail in post production but you still need good light and a good base to start with.

Light painting with Simon Plant
Something as simple as a sign can look good lit by light.
Photo by Simon Plant.
Simon's average exposure times range from one to five minutes but if you want to capture star trails or you have ambient light from a town, this can change. Ideally, to stop light pollution creeping in you need to be as far away from towns as possible. That is unless you like the warm glow they can create in the background.

You could, of course, concentrate on the background or star trails, move on to the light painting after then combine them both together later on. The advantage of working this way is that every scene you do is slightly different, they all have their own unique good bits so combining them is a good way to get the best from them all.

For Simon, manual focus is a must. He also uses manual exposure, an aperture of around f/4 to f/5, ISO 200-400 and he keeps his colour balance on daylight.

Daylight is quite cool and a torch is warm so you get a nice colour contrasts with the sky and torch but you could also colour the lights if you wanted to.”

You may be worried that you'll be in the shot and spoil it but as long as you're not wearing bright clothing, you don't illuminate yourself and you don't stand still for too long you wont be in the shot.

In summary:
  • A tripod and still camera are essential
  • Having an interesting angle and background makes for a better image
  • A head torch will help you work your way around in the dark
  • Focus is very important
  • Keep moving so you wont be seen in the image
  • Most importantly, have fun

Simon Plant Is An Award Winning Photographer And Shortlisted For Landscape Photographer Of The Year 2009-2010.

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MisterD21 11 6
16 May 2010 11:50PM
My first attempt.

Which I think actually turned out way better than I could have imagined.


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