BEHIND THE SCENES: Lightpainting Basics

December 27, 2015  •  1 Comment

BEHIND THE SCENES:  Lightpainting Basics

 Lightpainting! I can't think of anything better to do in the middle of winter when every bloomin' thing is under a blanket of snow. Subjects don't have to be floral, but they lend themselves so well to this technique that you owe it to yourself to give it a try. The passage of light through the petals and leaves creates a glow that is hard to achieve outdoors.

The gear list includes: camera & lens (macro not necessary), remote or delayed shutter release, tripod, a dark room (not hard in Alaska at this time of year!), a backdrop (doesn't have to be black, but that's what we'll show in this example), a couple of small flashlights, and either a vase to set your subject upright in or a contraption (which you'll see below) to hang it from. 

The basic steps are as follows:

Here you can see the set up in my kitchen. A tri-panel matte black presentation board is sitting over the sink and resting on a long flat surface with a mirror on top. The mirror did not play a role here, but I like having it on hand should the creative bug hit. I keep Windex close by, too. My camera is mounted on the tripod and set for Manual Exposure & Manual Focus, which I do in Live Mode while zoomed in at 5x and 10x. Sometimes it's necessary to take multiple images and vary the focal point as well as the exposure compensation then blend them together in Photoshop for optimal focus and lighting.

My small flashlights. I like to have one that has a variable spread, but I've discovered you can control it pretty easily with your hand and you can dampen the intensity of the light with some sheer fabric.

As you can see here in this recreation, I'm fairly "low tech" as I use twist ties from the grocery store to suspend my flowers. The Poinsettia below is hanging from a small strand of lights threaded through the handles of our kitchen cabinet. Sometimes I stand the flowers upright in a vase and sometimes I hang them like this. It is easier to overcome gravity this way. Each of the flowers in the examples below were hung in a similar manner.

This is the actual set up showing the final image before rotating 180 degrees and adding a couple more refinements. While the shutter is open, it is up to the photographer to "imagine painting the light." You want to shape the light rather than blast the flower completely front & back, top & bottom. It takes a LOT of experimentation. Try JUST doing the backlighting until you achieve a pleasing result. Then adjust your exposure time accordingly. It goes without saying that the more you need to cover, the longer your exposure will likely be. You will learn to finesse the light and make it dance through & across the petals. There is NO recipe for this practice. It requires a lot of trial & error. Practice, practice, practice!

Here are three images shot using this technique:

Poinsettia 1

POINSETTIA  - Canon 5D MkIII, 8 sec, f/20, iso100, 100mm 2.8L IS (3 images blended to reduce a couple of hot spots)

Anthurium Leaf

ANTHURIUM  - Canon 5D MkIII, 6 sec, f/22, iso100, 24-70mm shot at 70mm (single image)

Pink Tulip 1

PINK TULIP  - Canon 5D MkIII, 4 sec, f/18, iso100, 100mm 2.8L IS (3 images; 2 blended for lighting & a 3rd composite for background)

HAVE FUN IN THE DARK ROOM!!


Comments

Debra Petre(non-registered)
This "Behind the Scenes" explanation was very helpful. I like to see the various techniques photographers use to capture such beautiful images. I'm an admirer of your floral photography. I think you create some of the most exquisite photographs I have ever seen. Thank you for sharing :)
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