Introduction: Painting With Light

About: I'm just another person out there trying to get the most out of life. I love to expole the world around me and try to have a good time doing so.

Simply put 'Painting with Light' is a technique used in photography to create lighting effects in-camera. It can be used to highlight subjects in an image, create ghost images, and make some other pretty cool effects.

This is a basic tutorial meant to give you an introduction to this technique. The instruction will be simple and brief in hopes that you will take it and run, experimenting and producing new and exciting images!

This instructable will present the technique then give examples with descriptions of how they were made.

Most importantly, go out and have some fun! Feel free to post your images in the comments.

My respect and admiration go out to John Hill, who is an amazing photographer, and who originally introduced me to this technique and continually encourages me.

All photographs in this insructable are unaltered. THERE HAS BEEN NO PHOTOSHOPING.

Step 1: What You'll Need

Light Source
A Dark Location

A note on light sources: In this instructable I'll be using an LED flashlight, halogen spotlight, and green laser. These are just what I decided to play with tonight. Be inventive when choosing a light source. Consider LED and incandescent lights, glow-sticks, sparklers, etc. Be inventive and most important HAVE FUN!

A note on dark places: While shooting for this instructable I was outside under a full moon. This is why my background is so illuminated and detailed. Had I shot during a new moon (no moon) you would only see the tree. Again, play around with the level of ambient light. Be aware though that too much will over-expose your image.

Step 2: Find a Subject

For this instructable I chose to shoot a wonderful tree native to my area, the Joshua TreeJoshua Tree.

When selecting a subject consider what is around and behind it. The more isolated your subject the better. When you 'paint with light' everything your light touches will be illuminated. If the light spills onto other objects around or behind your subject they will be illuminated as well, distracting from the subject.

Also consider movement. When using the log exposures required for this technique any movement will blur, even slight ones you may not immediately notice.

Take note of this image as it represents the tree 'unpainted'. This image features the same 30 second exposure as most of the following examples

Step 3: Set Up Your Camera

First off, you must use a tripod or other stable base. Like mentioned in the last step, any movement will blur in a long exposure, be it the subject moving, or the camera.

Set your camera for a long exposure. How long depends on what you are trying to accomplish. I like to give myself plenty of time to play and usually use a 20 or 30 second exposure.

Many 'point and shoot' cameras do not have an adjustable exposure. However, you can trick your camera into a longer exposure by setting you camera to its lowest ISO and turning off the flash. This will probably only give you a few seconds, but that's plenty of time to play. Consult your camera's instruction manual or your get your kid to figure out how to adjust these settings

A note on focusing: When focusing on your subject illuminate it with a bright light. It will make you focusing that much easier, and that much more precise. I learned this the hard way by trying to focus in low light. Many times I've been disappointed in a great shot that turned out to be out of focus.

Step 4: Paint!

Once you have everything set up we can finally have some fun.

Press the button on your camera and start tracing and 'painting' your subject with your light source.

Literally think of your light as a brush that adds detail, brightness, and color.

The longer you illuminate and area the brighter it becomes. The same goes for areas that are illuminated more than once. Each pass of the light with cause that area to be brighter.

Play with the direction you paint from, strokes, turning your light on and off, etc.

Feel free to walk out into the frame of the image. As long as you are not directly illuminated you won't show up in the image.

For the image below I used a 30 second exposure and 'painted' with an LED flashlight. I 'painted' each side of the tree by standing about 10 feet from the tree on each side

Step 5: Example: Blue Spot

For this image I used my spotlight with a blue lens. Instead of using strokes I would 'pop' the light on for just a second on different parts of the tree.

Step 6: Example: Red Spot

I used the same technique as in the previous example, but used a red filter instead of blue.

Step 7: Example: Red and Blue Spot

Again I 'popped' the tree with light for a second from my spot light, but switched between the red and blue filters.

Step 8: Example: Green Laser

For this image I used an 86 second exposure and traced/scribbled on the tree with a green laser pointer.

Notice how much brighter the background is in this image because the exposure was 56 seconds longer than the others.

Camera was set to 'Bulb' exposure at ISO 400 and f/6.3.

See the photo larger here

Step 9: Example: Ghost Images

This image took a bit more planning than the tree.

To get this shot I started with the flash to capture the detail in the ground. Then I stood my model in front of the camera and 'painted' her from the sides with my light. then I had her move back and traced her once again.

Camera was set to a 30 sec exposure at ISO 800 and f/9

Special thanks to Amanda for being my lovely model.

See the photo larger here

Step 10: Example: Drawing With Light

To achieve this effect you use the same set up as though you were going to 'paint' wit the light, but sand in front of the camera and point you light at the camera instead.

For this image I set up two of my models as though they were holding an imaginary rope. I then had the third model stand between them and jump. When she was mid air I snapped the flash. Then I had her step out of the image and I 'drew' in the rope with the flashlight.

Camera was set to a 10 sec exposure at ISO800 and f/5.6

Special thanks to Matt, Leah, and Kim for being my models

See the photo larger here

Step 11: Example: Highlighting

This is a much more subtle example of painting with light. For this image I 'painted' only the wooden power pole. I painted it from three different angles. This is what causes the pole to pop out at you.

I specifically did not 'paint' the shoes with light, as they are white they were bright enough o their own and I really like the contrast their motion blur added to the image.

Camera was set to a 30 sec exposure at ISO800 and f/6.3

See the photo larger here

Step 12: Example: Highlighting 2

This image uses the the same idea as the last example in that the 'painting' done here is to highlight the subject of the image. In this case it was the stop sign. I turned the white balance on my camera as low as it would go to make the yellow streetlights seem white and to suck the colors out of the background. I then used my flashlight to illuminate the stop sign for about two seconds. Note the texture of the reflection from the sign having graffiti scrubbed off of it.

Camera was set to a 15 sec exposure at ISO 200 and f/5.6

See the photo larger here