Light painting is a great way to find a new creative outlet for your photography. It’s not rocket science – and in fact there no rules. There’s no right or wrong way to do it – you just do it. But I have some pointers that may get you started if you are new to photographic light painting.
Let’s talk about gear. In my opinion, a good, solid, tripod and a cable release are basic requirements. You also need a camera that is capable of making at least 30 second exposures. Just about any camera you can buy meets that criteria. The next thing you need is a subject and a good location. This is my 2011 Jaguar XJL Portfolio edition sedan. It makes a lovely subject. You also want a good location, preferably one that offers some serious darkness – i.e., you want to get away from city lights. This image was made at the famous “Dry Lake Bed” near Henderson, NV. In this instance it had heavily rained so the dry lake bed was in fact not dry and there was a lake. This worked to our advantage during this shoot.
Oh yeah – and you need a light. Any light will do, depending on what you want to accomplish. For this shoot, we used one of my favorite photographic toys – a Jerry Ghionis Icelight. What makes the Icelight so perfect for this job is that it has a black bevel on one side that helps to focus the light in one primary direction. Many photographers point a light at the subject from off camera position and record the results. With the Icelight, we actually had our assistants move the light into the scene. The bevel kept the light from being recorded directly by the camera. It’s hard to describe so watch the video below to get an idea of how it works. Because the exposure is so long – the person doesn’t show up in the shot.
To make the image above, we waited for the sun to go down and when it was officially “twilight” we started. I set up my Canon 1DX with a 70-200 f/2.8 IS L MK II zoom lens on an Induro tripod and head. I set the ISO at 200 and then my aperture at f/13. I turned on Long Exposure Noise Reduction and then made my shutter speed 30 seconds. This worked perfectly for the shot I wanted but you will need to experiment with your own settings and compare them to your results. Consider what I did a mere starting point.
Here’s a video my pal Rich Harrington put together to help illustrate the point.