(Editor’s note: Jason is beginning a series of columns about photography for rainy days. These projects help stretch creativity and make us all better photographers by challenging us to find places we normally would ignore photographically.)
Some days I just have to grab a camera and spend quality time looking through a viewfinder. While it’s rare that mother nature presents weather so bad that I won’t venture into it, my photo subjects tend to think differently. Combine wind, rain, and dim skies, and you have a recipe for staying indoors with your camera. I have come up with many “rainy day” photo projects, to provide an outlet for when you just have to scratch that photography itch, while also not breaking the budget.
Painting With Light
One of my favorite photo projects for the great indoors is light painting, a very simple technique requiring minimal equipment. I find it very addictive, offering all sorts of creative possibilities. Compositions and techniques can be as complex as you like, it’s a process that can grow with your skills while remaining budget friendly.
While it’s a popular technique used on a larger scale for night-time landscape photography, it’s well suited to still life, macro, and even portraits. The recipe for light painting indoors is very simple:
- Find something to take a picture of
- Get your camera set up, on manual mode, with a shutter speed of around 30 seconds
- Turn off the lights so you have a pitch black room
- Take a picture, and shine a flashlight on your subject during the exposure
- Congrats, you have now light painted!
Think of light painting like this. The painting is already there, it’s just hidden in the darkness. You reveal the subject and scene using your lights. Like a painter selecting brushes, you can pick different types of lights to use; brighter, softer, bigger, smaller, it’s up to your creativity and what you want to reveal. The longer you play light across an object during your exposure time, the brighter it will be. Because we can work in three dimensions, you can apply light from just about any angle to create different effects and shadows.
Being in Two Places at Once
One of the toughest things about light painting is getting the light to all the right places and angles in the time you have. This is where adding an adaptable support like the Impact Flex Arm Super Clamp Kit is a good idea to help you be in more than one place at the same time. It enables you to produce multiple types of lighting effects without having to run around in the dark, risking an expensive trip and fall into your setup and gear. Read my review of the Impact Flex Arm Super Clamp Kit.
Using the Flex Arm attachment, you can mount a variety of lights to create different effects. Probably my favorite to use is a compact LED video light for a soft fill light from the side and front. It’s also easy to adapt GoPro accessories to hold other lights on the Super Clamp and Flex Arm. To me, GoPro parts are like Lego’s for photographers, they are fun to use to make all kinds of cool things with. For example, I’ve joined a tripod adapter with a handle bar mount to create a flashlight holder that can screw onto the Flex Arm. This way if I need a little pop of light in a specific spot during the exposure, the flashlight is already in place and I just have to turn the light on and off for a moment.
Quick Tip – If you are lucky enough to have a Harbor Freight store nearby, they often have very inexpensive or free flashlights as store specials. I have a big collection of these, and they work well for light painting. Combine one of these with the GoPro mount above on the Flex Arm and Super Clamp, and you get an inexpensive hands-free spotlight, anywhere you want.
Try It Yourself!
Here’s what my set looks like to create the image below.
- Tray Table – about $15 from the local “Mart de Wal”.
- Compact LED video light mounted to an Impact Flex Arm Super Clamp Kit. The arm has been bent down so the light will play over the shells at a low angle, from the side. The light is set to be pretty dim, this will help reveal details in shadow areas without blowing out highlights.
- Camera and wide-angle lens. I’m using a Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens. Its short minimum focus distance, and big aperture make it a great choice for light painting.
- LED flashlight. I use the one pictured in the GoPro adaptation above. It also has a red light mode, a nice feature to use to navigate around in the dark without ruining your night vision.
- The cat toy is purely optional, although it did keep them from sitting in the middle of the tray of seashells.
With this pile of shells, and a few inexpensive accessories, I can stay busy for hours shooting on a rainy day. This was about the tenth shot I took, each one making slight adjustments to the play of light from my handheld flashlight and the LED light on the Flex Arm. For me this is the beauty of light painting, near endless experimentation and creative possibilities, even on a rainy day!
- Impact Flex Arm Super Clamp Kit
- Canon 5D Mark III
- Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Lens
- Gitzo GT3543LS Systematic Carbon Fiber Tripod (Long)
- Really Right Stuff BH-55 Ball Head with Full-Size Lever-Release Clamp