août 2012

Light Painting – Let Your Creativity Flow!

With a long exposure, a simple light source and a pinch of creativity you can create stunning light painting shots with ease.

Painting with light is a fantastic photography technique where you illuminate parts of your scene with a torch or other light,
to add emphasis and colour to certain objects during a long exposure.
It is a very cheap and simple photography technique to try out, although it does take a certain amount of forethought
and experimentation to get your shots just right. This trial and error is half of the fun though, and you will learn a lot just by playing around.
There are two different types of light painting, each of which produces a very different effect. They can both be used to create some striking abstract effects, and are a great way to exercise your creativity.

What You’ll Need

  • Camera – one which allows you to take long exposures, preferably with a ‘bulb mode’ setting.
    Set it to its lowest ISO setting and use manual focusing.
  • Tripod – essential for shake-free images.
  • Light source – either a normal torch or a small bulb depending on which type of painting with light you want to try.
    If you don’t have a small bulb, try unscrewing the top of your torch to reveal the bulb.

Exposure Time

This is difficult to judge, so needs some experimentation. A good starting point is to carry out a trial run, where you start behind your camera and then run around your scene, illuminating the objects as you go. Time how long it takes you to do this, and then use that as a starting point for your exposure time.

If you have a lot of light painting to do, you may find that the illuminated areas come out too faint to make an impact.
To get around this you’ll need to split your scene up into logical areas and take multiple shorter exposures. These can later be combined in a software package like Photoshop. To combine your exposures, stack them on top of each other in separate layers and select « Screen » as the blend mode for each.

Painting with Light – ‘Illumination’ Technique

This technique works well when there’s very little natural light available, and involves using a torch with a wide beam to illuminate large areas of your scene at a time.

Sand sculpture at night

Use a torch to illuminate areas of your scene. Image by William Cho.

Open your shutter and then run around your scene, stopping to shine your torch on the objects or areas that you want illuminated for a few seconds at a time. You might need to take a few exposures to help you judge exactly how long to shine the torch for, but try to give each object in the scene roughly the same illumination time so that they all show up well.

Also remember to stay out of the line of sight of the camera when you’ve got the torch on or you’ll leave a silhouette in front
of the object you’re illuminating.

Painting with Light – ‘Light Streaks’ Technique

For this type of painting with light you’ll need a small bulb such as an LED torch or exposed torch bulb.

This time, rather than shining your light at objects, you want to keep it angled so that it is always visible by the camera.
Keep it moving through your scene and be careful with the speed you move at because that will affect the light’s brightness
in the final image.

You can either run randomly through your scene, weaving an interesting trail as you go, use the light to trace the outline of an object in your scene or just make some fun shapes.

Experimentation is the Key

Whichever painting with light technique you try, it’s very hard to nail settings such as exposure time at the first attempt,
so be prepared to experiment. Digital cameras have made this exceptionally easy because you can review your results within seconds of taking the photo.

As well as experimenting with settings, why not play around in other ways, for example:

  • Try using a combination of the illumination and light streak techniques in one photo.
  • Use a different light source, such as a candle, match or sparkler.
  • Use coloured bulbs and filters to give your light a different glow, perhaps changing colours for different parts of the scene.

Have fun !!


How to Photograph Lightning

Lightning photography is pretty tricky, requiring lots of patience and some luck, but it can also be one of the most fun and rewarding subjects to shoot.

Capturing a well exposed, well composed scene filled with interesting lightning bolts is quite demanding. The key to getting good shots is to be well prepared and get the camera’s settings just right. After that it’s a case of being patient and taking enough photos to give yourself a good chance that one or two will hit the mark.

Equipment :

Before heading out in search of a storm, you’ll need the following equipment:

Digital SLR – Compact cameras respond too slowly and don’t give you enough control over their settings,
making a DSLR a must for lightning photography.

Tripod – You’ll be using long exposures (perhaps 30 seconds or more), so some sort of camera support is essential.

Cable/remote release – Pressing the shutter button by hand causes vibrations which can result in a blurry photo.
A cable or remote shutter release will eliminate this problem.

Lens – Lightning can be photographed using almost any focal length lens, but a wide angle zoom (around 28-150mm) gives a good range of possibilities. Make sure the lens has a switch to put it into manual focus mode, as you’ll be using that to lock the focusing at infinity.

Location :

You want to position yourself around 6 to 10 miles away from the storm. Getting closer can be dangerous, and makes it difficult to shoot the lightning effectively. Setting up any further away can lead to the strikes appearing too small or dull in the final photo.

The easiest way to judge how far away you are is to count the time between a lightning bolt and the crack of thunder.
At a distance of 6 miles this time is 30 seconds.

Try to position yourself at right angles to the storm so that it moves across your field of view rather than towards or away from you. This is safer and keeps the storm in view for longer, giving you a better chance of getting some good pictures..

If possible, stay under the cover of a building or overhang.
This will keep you and your equipment dry if you get hit by a sudden downpour.

For safety, don’t stand within 50 feet of any tall objects like trees, overhead cables, or metal poles. Similarly, don’t use an umbrella. If shooting from a distance less than 6 miles, it’s best to do so from within a building or car.

Technique :

A lightning bolt lasts just a fraction of a second, and I used to wonder how photographers and their cameras could react quickly enough to capture them. As it turns out, they can’t. However, each initial strike is closely followed by a series of secondary bolts, and it’s these you capture.

Lightning photography relies a lot on luck, but with persistence and patience you can capture some incredible photos.

Begin by setting up your camera on its tripod and connecting the cable/remote release. Watch the storm for a few minutes and note where most of the activity is taking place, and which direction the storm is moving.

Aim your camera at the point with most lightning bolts, or slightly ahead so that you can follow its movement.
Looking through the viewfinder, choose a focal length that includes the lightning in the frame and which gives a pleasing composition.

Using either automatic or manual focusing, focus on something in the far distance. If your lens is marked with an « infinity » focus distance, you can use that. Once you’re happy with the focusing, switch the lens to manual mode. This will stop the camera trying to adjust the focus distance, and also speed up the camera’s reaction time when you press the shutter button.

Next, you have to be patient. Sit with your finger on the cable release and watch the sky carefully. Press the release as soon as you see a bolt of lightning, and with a bit of luck you’ll capture some of the secondary lightning strikes in your photo.

Photographing Lightning at Night :

Nighttime lightning photography is the easiest type, and the best one to try if you’ve never tried it before.

Lightning is easier to photograph at night, and can produce some really atmospheric photos.

Put your camera into Bulb mode (often marked with a « B »). In this mode, the shutter will stay open for as long as you’ve got your finger on the button/release. Use a low ISO (100-200) and choose an aperture of around f/5.6 to begin with.

When you see a lightning strike, press and hold the release button to open the shutter. Hold your finger down until you’ve seen several bolts flash across the frame, and then release it. When shooting at night there’s much less chance of overexposing,
so you can leave the shutter open for anything up to about 2 minutes. Around 30 seconds usually works well.

Once you’ve got a few shots, check them in detail on your camera’s LCD screen. If they’re too dark try a wider aperture,
longer exposure time, or higher ISO setting. Do the opposite if your shots are too light.

Also look out for blurring caused by the clouds moving across the sky, which is particularly common on windy nights. If ths happens, reduce your exposure time. You may also need to limit your exposure time if you’re shooting near a city, to prevent light pollution ruining the photo.

Daytime Lightning Photography :

Taking pictures of lightning in the day is more difficult than at night, because you also need to make sure that the surrounding environment is well exposed.

Put your camera into shutter priority mode. Select a shutter speed of 1/15 to 1/4 of a second and set the ISO as low as it’ll go (100-200). Take several test shots of the scenery, checking each one and adjusting your shutter speed until the scene is properly exposed.

Bear in mind that the faster the shutter speed, the harder it’ll be to capture the lightning, so you don’t want to increase it too much. Using a polarising or ND filter will reduce the exposure by 1 to 3 stops, allowing you to use a slower shutter speed.

Once you’ve found the right settings to expose your scene properly, follow the same technique as above, waiting for a bolt of lightning and then opening the shutter. The main difference between this and nighttime photography is the much shorter exposure time. This makes capturing a good lightning bolt more of a hit-and-miss affair, but keep persisting and you’ll get one eventually.

Have fun!