Painting with Light | NZ Photo Art
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Painting with Light

Painting with Light

Light painting is a photographic technique often used to add drama to a picture, but also to solve lighting problems. With this technique you have lighting control over every aspect of the subject, by using hand-held lights to selectively illuminate and/or colour parts of the subject, while taking a long exposure photograph. Light painting requires a slow shutter speed, usually a few seconds in duration.

One can be very creative with this photography technique as you can use different colour light sources, as well as lights with width or narrow spread light angles. When moving the light source while the camera shutter is open, light can literally be painted with, creating artistic images and unlocking the full potential of your imagination.

I took the photos of the Protea flower using light painting. I mounted my camera on a sturdy tripod and darkened the studio, shutting out any light coming in. I set the shutter speed of my camera on 30 seconds (the time the lens stays open). I then used a hand-held light source, like a small torch light, and moved the light around on the flowers. The parts I wanted to emphasise, I illuminated for a longer time while the camera shutter stays open. Usually I move the light source in either a circular motion or in a very gentleProtea-C brushing motion.

The photo with the purple leaves is just to give you an idea of what effects can be created if using coloured lights. This one is definitely not my favourite, as I just love to keep the image as close as possible to the real subject photographed.

There was no image manipulation done on these photos. Although post-editing nowadays plays a huge role in the end result of an image, I personally prefer to capture the real image, raw out of the camera.

Some interesting history on light painting photography I found on Wikipedia.

In 1949 Pablo Picasso was visited by Gjon Mili, a photographer and lighting innovator, Picasso Centaurwho introduced Picasso to his photographs of ice skaters with lights attached to their skates. Immediately Picasso started making images in the air with a small flashlight in a dark room. This series of photos became known as Picasso’s “light drawings.” Of these photos, the most celebrated and famous is known as Picasso draws a Centaur”

For the enthusiastic photographer: Some ideas and hints if you would like to do light painting photography.

Light painting photography can be used by anyone and can be a lot of fun. You can do it inside or outside in your own garden. For outside scenes, determine the exact spot and picture you want to photograph during daylight, and when it is completely dark, the fun can start.

Illuminate items like a wheelbarrow, garden tools, a bicycle, a car, a nice tree, plants, etc. with a normal torch light while your camera shutter stays open. You can also change the colour of the torch light using coloured transparent paper or even thin coloured linen in front of the torch. It is almost like you paint or colour in the subject with the torch light. When you choose outside scenery, it is important to do it on a windless evening to avoid movement of the trees or plants, which will result in blurring on the photo.

If you stay within a residential area, the sky is never completely dark due to street lights, moon light, etc. In that case, you can only leave the camera shutter open for a few seconds to avoid an overexposed photo, leaving you with not much time to do your painting. To resolve this problem, you can take several different photos and with each photo you can illuminate different parts of a subject or different subjects. Then you can combine the different photos making use of composite photography which I discussed in a previous post on this blog.

You can also capture drawings by pointing a light directly to the camera like Picasso did. The size of the light will determine the thickness of the lines, and of course the colour of the light will determine the colour of the lines.

Have fun!

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