Intensity, Direction, and Color, the understanding of light starts with these three principles.
Intensity is how bright the light appears. Direction is just that, in what direction is the light traveling. Color, we don’t always think of light as having color but look at how “white” Christmas lights are packaged as “cool” or “warm”. Even white has a range of color.
As we explore light this year, we will learn to manipulate light whether is it natural light or man made sourced. But for this first dive, we will only look at the three basic principles: Intensity, Direction, and Color. Write those down. Memorize them.
For our first experiment in light, you need a subject, a camera, a tripod, a dark location, and a flashlight. I like to start by setting up my subject in a room in my house. It is best if this room does not get ambient light, like streetlights, leaking in from outside.
Instructions: (and yes you can modify them to suit your taste, just like a recipe)
- Set up your subject
- Put your camera on the tripod
- Using ambient light, or room lights, get a sharp focus on your subject. If you use the auto focus feature, be sure to switch it to manual once you have your focus locked in.
- Set your camera to the “self-timer” setting. Mine gives me 10 seconds from when the shoot button is pushed to when the camera actually takes the photo.
- Set exposure. I start with 5 seconds and move up as needed. I rarely paint for more than 15 seconds when working inside.
- Put the camera into Manual mode. Start with these settings: Exposure: 5 seconds. Aperture F11. ISO 100. You may need to adjust. You will probably need to adjust. But I find these work for me most of the time.
- Turn on your flashlight. Turn off your room lights. Use the flashlight so you don’t bump into things. Stop laughing. It is a wonder I haven’t broken more toes.
- Push the timer button. Walk to the subject and NOW turn off the flashlight. OFF.
- My camera has this nice flashing red light that lets me know the timer is working. I wait till I hear the shutter open, and then turn on the flashlight and begin “painting”.
- If you have the flashlight on before, you can have light spilling on things you didn’t plan. Or moving it to the subject you might get a white streak. Or, my favorite, sound moves slower than light. So by the time I hear the shutter, it was already open and I have flooded the initial spot with light causing it to over-expose that one spot while painting the object gives me a better exposure and a different look.
- Review your photos. Chimp away. And make adjustments as needed.
At this point, I usually dance about with glee. Stub yet another toe. And think I need a less physical sport, like book reading.
For beginners there are two obstacles that might slow you down. Manual focus. Manual settings. Don’t let them stop you. Get out your camera manual (you can find a copy on-line if you tossed it when you opened the box) and learn how to change settings; learn to move the focus from auto to manual (look on the lens AF, MF); and how to put your camera in timer mode.
Things you learn with experience:
- The further away your flashlight is from the subject, your light will appear less intense and more spread out.
- Older flashlights produce this “hot center” which makes it look like you are outlining things with light.
- Mag lights produce a cooler light with a wider spread even when just an inch from the subject.
- Flashlights turning toward the camera will produce streaks.
- Keep the light moving evenly. Even distance, even speed. Think of it as water. If you are watering a row of plants and you keep moving, they all get the same amount of water. If you stop moving, that spot will get more water. You control the water. You control the light!
- When I finish painting before the shutter closes, I turn off the light. (See #5 to understand why. Extra light creates over exposure)
- The closer you are with the flashlight, the easier it is to create dramatic shadow light effects.
- Wear dark clothes, so in the worst-case scenario that you are caught in camera by the light, you will be more of a shadow.
- When using this for portrait, your subject needs to stay motionless.
- This is supposed to be fun. Embrace the mistakes. Adjust and move on.
Practice Photos using four different styles of Light Painting: Portrait of Paul, Stuff stacked in a laundry basket, Ukulele and Light Painted Name.