A little bit of light painting


Time for an update: I still use film, though. Not vast quantities, but I have a darkroom, and I'm not afraid to use it.

I enjoy every image I take: I hope you'll enjoy looking at them.
...Read More

A little bit of light painting

24 Feb 2021 7:02AM   Views : 458 Unique : 302


Naturally, when Iíve done this in the past, itís been with nudes Ė so the subject has been quite large relative to the torch I used. For this blog, though, I necessarily used a still-life subject which brought me face-to-face with a problem.

Even a pocket LED torch gives a wide beam in relation to the size of the subjectÖ This is easily solved, though Ė I used a few inches of black electrical tape wound over the torch head and forming a tube in front of it to stop light spilling everywhere. The torch I used was in the £3 offer bin at a garage, and runs on button cells, while having a telescopic handle, like a police asp, so itís easy to use for close work.


For comparative purposes, I also tried the same thing on my small Maglite torch. Itís 20 years old, and has a conventional tungsten bulb in it. This makes the light very much warmer than the LED torch, and itís important to bear this in mind when shooting. Whatever source you use, look carefully when you process, and make any corrections you want to. The character of individual light sources can add to the fun if you like the colours they give.

Whatever torch you use, you need to be working in the dark. Even at quite small apertures, any background illumination will makes its presence known in your pictures. I shot at night in a garage with few windows. Earlier experiments in my front room were far less successful, because there are street lights, and the curtains arenít opaque. And I hadnít thought of using a black insulating tape snoot!


The essence of light painting is that you donít do it evenly; you want to create variations of light, dark and midtone. Pick two or three areas that are particularly interesting and which you want to emphasise. It will be sensible to do some arranging of relative positions: although your main focus may be light painting, that doesnít absolve you of ordinary compositional duties, or of checking for stupid mistakes, like background cloth obscuring part of the subject, as I did in my first attempt (top). The snoot meant that I could use the torch VERY close to the subject: a flash image part-way through the last Maglite shot (bottom) would show my hand and the torch a couple of inches from the roses.


Exposure? Itís very suck it and see, and depends on your torch and how close you put it to the subject. Try stopping well down (f/11 or f/16) and a shutter speed of at least 10 seconds at 100 or 200 ISO. If the shutter speedís too short, you wonít have time to do any painting: 20 or 30 seconds is probably better. You donít need to use delayed action, as camera shake Ė providing you donít bump into your tripod Ė isnít going to be a problem.

There will probably be a delay after exposure: long exposure noise reduction means that the camera will chunter to itself for as long again as the exposure, in most cases. First time out, work quick and dirty, and try several different ways of lighting. When youíve processed and possibly even posted a picture or two, go back with a refined plan to do what you nearly managed the first timeÖ


Recent blogs by dudler

Focus scales

If youíve been taking pictures since before autofocus arrived, youíll be very familiar with focus scales Ė they are one of the primary controls on an old-school camera, and just one more of the things that you really needed to get right. With autof...

Posted: 27 Dec 2022 7:01AM

Porcelain processing

People commented on the look in my last post and it seems like a good idea to share the secrets for Christmas. I learned the technique several years ago: a modelís boyfriend told me about it, and a website that described it in detail: I tried it, l...

Posted: 23 Dec 2022 10:47AM

You develop your own films donít you?

If you have your own darkroom, or if you use film cameras regularly, there are always a few people who mention the attic. As in ĎGrandpaís cameras are in the attic. I donít even know if they have film in them!í This leads me to ask if I can have a l...

Posted: 16 Aug 2022 11:17AM

Choose your pond

Thereís an old saying about being a big fish and a little pond. Do you want to be the most important person in a small organisation, or are you content being a relatively small cog in a big machine? Itís the same in photography. With relatively mo...

Posted: 3 Jun 2022 2:25PM

Graduated filters

This is for Hannah, and anyone else who has come across the casual way that a lot of togs talk about one or two types of filter that landscaper photographers use a lot: graduated filters and neutral density filters. A graduated filter is one that i...

Posted: 25 Apr 2022 12:18PM


dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
24 Feb 2021 7:11AM
Part of the fun, for me, was the effect of using different torches and different preset white balance for the series. Here's daylight WB with the LED torch.

Robert51 Avatar
Robert51 14 12 147 United Kingdom
24 Feb 2021 7:42AM
I think is part of photography that slowly being forgotten. It tends to be being replaced by flower images. There is so much more to still life and is a lot harder. Most of it is about the light but also the collection of objects for those images. This takes it belong the image but into the collection of this image. Done well these are truly outstanding images as people like Chase have shown.
I don't think it will be long before we will see you hunting in charity shops those those wonderful objects John. Good luck with the hunt and look forward to future offerings...
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
24 Feb 2021 8:02AM
Latest news, for those wanting a suitable torch: Starckimages uses a 'BINKE LED Torch, 2000LM Adjustable Focus Tactical LED Flashlight Super Bright 5 Modes Zoomable Pocket Torch' - there may also be cheap imitations around...

And Chase has recommended the work of Harold Ross as inspirational in this area. I certainly tend to hunt in charity shops and car boot sales for props, and I suppose many could be 'repurposed' to star in their own still life pictures. I tend to prefer them in supporting roles...
PaulCox Avatar
24 Feb 2021 11:09AM
Yet another very interesting blog, will have to try that. Paul.
chase Avatar
chase Plus
18 2.5k 682 England
24 Feb 2021 11:11AM
Light...the all important factor.
I have tried many things to direct light, one of the best ones was one of the ends of an icing bag, they are usually plastic with different shapes and openings for doing pretty piping on cakes and such.
Taped to the end of a small torch, they do the trick quite well but because the light source is quite small, I have generally resorted to using 'bulb' mode on the camera. Can be a bit hit and miss but it does eventually work.
An alternative is to make a cone shape from a piece of black card or strong paper, again, taped to the end of the torch, a little more forgiving as you can make the cone as big or small as you want your light source to be and you can stick a piece of greaseproof or tracing paper over the open end to diffuse the light even more Smile
I love charity shops and car boot sales, such interesting stuff that folk no longer have a practical use for.

I think your results above are pretty good John, well done you !
mistere Avatar
mistere Plus
10 36 8 England
24 Feb 2021 12:24PM
I have a growing collection of 'cheap' little torches, there are always a couple of them in my camera bag.
And don't forget the light on your mobile phone, they come in quite handy sometimes. Smile
cooky Avatar
cooky Plus
19 7 11 United Kingdom
24 Feb 2021 12:25PM
Really interesting and your love of this shines out - no pun intended.

I was thinking about still life images the other day after looking at some on EPZ. We all have them in our homes. We create little 'altars', memory photos, bits of rock and crystal and dried flowers even fridge magnets with postcards. I see a still life as another little altar, a tribute to life. When we look at these objects and the light just hits them for a fleeting moment there's a rush of warmth, a spark an energy. I practise some complementary therapies related to energy work and self development and the energy is the same, it is effective in healing.

Years ago when I was first on the site and technically even more ignorant and amateur than I am now, no really! I was fascinated by light reflections in glass pyramids when placed on a colour changing light box. They'll still be deep in my portfolio!

Thanks for inspiring me to go and root in the cupboard, (Root = Lancashire vowel - to root = detailed search including swearing and dust). Hopefully one of my efforts will be worth a posting.

Take care


dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
24 Feb 2021 1:38PM
Thanks all, and particularly Kath!

Please post the results, when you've found interesting old things and photographed them. I have a feeling that I've met a modified version of rooting around (I come from Staffordshire, and live in Walsall, which was in the County until the Seventies creation of the West Midlands County. And maybe it still is...)

Rootling around is perhaps a little more playful and less driven. As one might in a junk shop...
dark_lord Avatar
dark_lord Plus
19 3.0k 836 England
24 Feb 2021 4:24PM
I have some ideas for light painting with small objects, I may have a go in the next few days.
I'm familiar with 'root'as a verb, but thought nothing of it until I saw the description above might be useful for some, I've heard it in wide usage.
Acancarter Avatar
25 Feb 2021 9:00AM
Taken on board for my post today! Still no where near chase standard but a bit better. Thanks Andy
dudler Avatar
dudler Plus
20 2.1k 2048 England
25 Feb 2021 10:13AM
Coo! A blog that's been helpful? I'm so pleased. I'm not sure that happens very often...
waltknox Avatar
27 Feb 2021 6:01AM
Light painting ...something very old shcool Dutch Master like (Rembrandt Vermeer )
about this field of photography to me. And that which I admire .

As for still life ..I like what Willie Nelson wrote still moving to me


You must be a member to leave a comment.

ePHOTOzine, the web's friendliest photography community.

Join for free

Upload photos, chat with photographers, win prizes and much more.