Near the end of a long evening, I was packing up to go when I walked past this old yellow service station, which appeared to be in the midst of being refurbished. I couldn’t say no.

Here’s how I used “light painting” to illuminate and add interest to a photo taken near a full moon at night. Hopefully this gives you a few ideas for approaches.

I set up my camera with a wide-angle lens to capture the magic of this old service station of yesteryear, in the process of being refurbished. The light painting during the exposure gives us the opportunity to light what we want while keeping other parts in shadow. And as a bonus, light painting is highly addictive and fun!

Three steps to light painting the service station

1.) Mimicking the light of the full moon

I liked the way the moon was illuminating the small service station already. I decided to accentuate that. To do that, I walked over to the right of the camera. With my handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device, I illuminated the structure at approximately the same angle. This would create additional contrast while looking natural.

2.) Illuminating the interior

I thought it might look good to make it look like there was light coming from within. After illuminating the right side, I quickly walked to the door, opened it, then shut it again. Keeping my light the same warm white light, I then illuminated the interior, largely by bouncing the light off various surfaces such as the walls and floor. I then quickly exited.

3.) Keeping things in shadow

One of the beautiful aspects of light painting is how you can so often control what to illuminate and what not to illuminate. Like a film director, you can choose where you illuminate. And choose the brightness and even the color.

And you can also choose what to keep in shadow. The service station looked better if I didn’t illuminate the left side. It looks more natural. And it’s good to keep some things darker and more mysterious. This is why I also chose not to light up the trees in the background. This places greater emphasis on the subject: the service station.

Why don’t I show up in the photo?

When I illuminated the interior, I walked through the frame — twice! Why didn’t I register? It’s because I walked quickly through an exposure that was several minutes long.

Generally, unless you inadvertently flash a light on yourself, you don’t begin to show up in a photo until you have been standing still for approximately 10% of the overall exposure! So yes, you can walk through the scene and not show up. Spooky, huh?

How would you have illuminated this? Would you have used a different color?