Monday, February 11, 2013


A couple weeks ago as I was surfing the Internet for photography sites I came across one that described a technique called lightpainting by Dave Black, at  I had not heard of this before but his photos were very nice and I was intrigued.  I confess that I had to read his article on the basics several times before understanding it to a point of trying it.  Not that it wasn't explained well, rather I was just slow grasping the concept.

The kind of lightpainting Dave describes is done with one of a few flashlights he uses depending on the size of the subject.  A completely dark environment is recommended for beginners.  The exposures typically last anywhere from several seconds to several minutes so a tripod is needed. The area that receives light the longest is usually the brightest area of the photo although it depends on the distance of the light to the subject as well.  After each exposure you can view the LCD screen on the camera to determine what adjustments you may need to make and just keep retrying until you end up with a "painting" you're happy with.  Below is a sequence of photos I made that show from the first attempt through the retries until I hit on one that I liked.  Click image for a larger view to appreciate it better.

The light beam was too broad and exposure too short (for me, anyway) - 10 sec @f/11

Here, I moved the flashlight closer but the beam is still too broad and exposure too short - 10 sec @ f/11

Extended the exposure time to 25 sec and narrowed the beam but was now too far away.  f/11

Now that the beam was narrower I moved closer this time and concentrated on the flower for 10 sec.   Now I'm getting somewhere.

This time I spent 25 seconds painting the scene @ f/11

30 seconds @ f/11 but there are some harsh highlights on the plate

Another 30 second attempt but there are harsh highlights again

Finally, 30 seconds and no harsh highlights.  Just a soft light that seems as though it's coming through window blinds by an early rising sun and being diffracted through some sort of object.


Some of what I had trouble wrapping my head around, until I started playing with this, was that you can be in the scene and not be seen.  How can this be?  Remember, if you're working in a completely dark area (meaning no light infiltration) the only things the camera sensor picks up are the things revealed by light.  No light, no image.  So, with no light on me (my hand in this case) I was able to get close to the subject to paint it, yet remain invisible to the camera.  Really cool.  What is revealed is what the light in my hand shined on.

Here's another example.  I didn't spend much time putting the scene together as I was more curious about the process and possibilities.

The beam was too broad.  I only wanted  to paint the flies and hammer handle.  15 sec @ f/9 

Still too broad.  This time I included painting the ext cord - far left.  15 sec @ f/9
Better.  I placed some things in scene and got a little more serious with it and was more pleased with the outcome.    20 sec @ f/9

Better still.  Increased the exposure to 30 sec. to allow for more painting time.  I like it.  Just wished I had gone with a smaller f/ stop so everything was in focus.

A google search on the subject kept showing a lot of lightpainting accomplished with lasers that really didn't do much for me.  Some of it was ok, though.  Here are a couple quick, non-serious attempts I made with a laser pointer I had on-hand.  I admit it was fun and couldn't stop laughing after seeing the first attempt on the LCD of the camera but it's the lightpainting with a flashlight that I'll be doing more of.

Scribbling on the dinner table.  13 second exposure.

Laser painted the stemware.  15 second exposure.

Vase wrapped in laser light, then while attempting to frame the subject the shutter closed.  10 second exposure.

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