What is Light Painting and how do I start?
Stay with me here, I will get to that. During the closing of the year, I like to see what my most popular posts were on instagram. (For those of you who are interested, I used http://2017bestnine.com) you can follow me here: @shootingdave
As you can see, 7 out of the 9 most popular images are light painted. Clearly you guys like those style of images. But what is light painting? What do I need to make one myself?
A light painted image is essentially long exposure where you move single light source around the subject (in this instance a car) highlighting the key areas. To get started you will need a basic understanding of photography and exposure, along with some equipment which bring us onto the next topic.
Starting the in the top left corner and working round clockwise I will talk about the gear I use to make light painted images.
1: The Camera
Any will do so long as you can set all of the functions manually. I use a Canon 5DMk3 which you can buy here. I will get onto lenses later as I feel that is worth talking about separately.
As you are going to be taking long exposures up to 30 seconds, I recommend you use a sturdy tripod. You don’t want the camera to wobble or shake causing blurry images do you? For years now I have been using Manfortto and their 055XProB has served me well. They have since discontinued it but I would recommend this carbon fibre version of it here.
Why might you want a remote? I try to avoid touching the camera as much as possible. I use the remote to alter the length of exposure and the amount of delay so that I can get into position. If you are a Canon shooter then I cannot recommend this one enough!
4: The Light
Now for the important part, often a closely guarded secret among photographers. I don’t have the budget for the Westcott Ice Light 2 as nice as it might be. So I bought a budget version, I’ve owned for 3 years, flown to 3 countries with it and it has been fine ever since. It is the Magic Tube Light MTL-900 II. A catchy name I will admit. It is branded a number of different ways but works well. It has an orange sleeve which makes the light 3200k and 5500k without. Handy for shooting under street lamps so you have matching colours of light sources.
That is the bare essentials for light painting. However you will need to wait until it is dark.
I wanted to keep this section separate as it is so subjective and location dependant. A great deal of my images are shot on a 35mm lens this one to be specific. I do this so that I can show both the car and the location without distorting the car too much. I have a wider Canon 24mm f/2.8 IS which is great for tight locations all thought it does run the risk of distorting the car. And where space allows it is often nice to use the Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L .
Below are some examples.
So now you’ve got the gear, what do you do?
Once you have found your location, you want to wait for dark and get the car into position. Framing up should be no different to any other shoot you do. Find the composition that works for you, looking through the camera to make sure you are happy. Once you have found that sweet spot, grab the tripod and setup the camera.
I set the camera to manual focus and use live view to zoom in and focus. The next thing you are going to want to do is set the camera to bulb mode. You will control the exposure using the remote. If you don’t have a remote, use manual and set your shutter speed accordingly. You want to make sure the shutter speed is long enough for you to walk around the car.
I set the ISO to 100 to make sure the image is clean of sensor noise. For the aperture, I start at around f/8. All of the car will be in focus and the relatively small aperture should help dial down any ambient light.
I take a test exposure of around 10 seconds to assess the scene. From experience, 10 seconds is long enough for me to move the light source down the side of the car. What you are looking for is minimal ambient light so that you can introduce your own light into the scene. If it is too bright, choose a smaller aperture (f/11 for instance). You could also shorten the exposure time but you will need to make sure it is long enough for you to walk around the car.
Once you have balanced the base exposure it is time to start lighting. Set the camera to a delay or get someone else to fire it for you, get into position, turn the light on and walk down the side of the car. Once the exposure is complete, come back to the camera and review your image.*
Try not to light yourself or point the light at the camera as you will get flaring.**
Once you’re happy with that side of the car, move onto another side. Keep repeating the process until you’re satisfied with what you have captured.
*most cameras allow you to change the image review time. I set mine to “hold” so that the image stays on the back of the camera until I shoot another exposure. This avoids me having to touch the camera and potentially move it.
**also try wearing dark clothing, cameras record light and not dark.
Once you are done with the shoot and you’re back home ready to edit, you will want to blend these images together using Adobe Photoshop or something similar. I think that will have to wait for another guide as it is quite a length process to do.
What did you think of this guide? Was there any areas that you would like to understand more of? I considering filming or time-lapsing a shoot. Would you like to see a speed edit or walkthrough when I get the images into photoshop?
I’d love to hear your feedback.