In-Class Exercise No. 6: Light Painting
Having learned to shoot in Manual Mode (M) in my digital photography course at the Delaware Art Museum, we darken the room and use flashlights to paint light onto our subjects. Cameras are on tripods for these exposures, which are often 20 seconds long. When done correctly, objects seem to emerge out of darkness, glowing.
Light painting is a terrific way to light a non-moving subject. In the hands of photographers like Harold Ross, it becomes an art form. Harold can take 20 or more images at a session, lighting one small part of the scene with each shot, then bringing all the images into Photoshop and layering them together to get the final image.
In class, we do it all in one go. We start with cameras on tripods in Manual (M) Mode with ISO as low as we can go, shutter speed at 20 seconds, and aperture at f/16. Then we release the shutter and begin painting the subject with our flashlights. Then we take more photos — adjusting our exposures, re-arranging the objects, and refining our painting techniques. Even tho the cameras are on tripods, we often delay the shutter release or use a remote shutter release to minimize camera shake. Also, we often use manual focus since auto-focusing can be funky in a dark room.
Light painting teaches us that the way things look is very dependent on how they are lit.
Composition: Subject Bright, Background Dim
One way of separating subject from background is for the subject to be lit and the background to be dark. Generally, people see what is well lit first. We naturally give more attention to brighter things. That is one reason NOT to include extraneous things in your photos that are brightly lit.
Here are some light-painted photos taken by my students in class, and some photos of them by me as they painted with light. Click on any thumbnail image below to see it larger in a slide show. To return here, click on the “x” in the upper right of the slide show, or press the ESC key of your keyboard.