Introduction: Tips to Take Creative Photographs - Light Painting

About: An amateur photographer, nature enthusiast and dancer.

I, as a photographer believe that Photography is more than just pressing that shutter. To create a photograph, that lasts forever it may take days, months of planning. Nearly everyone would have seen millions of those huge Super blue blood moon pictures storming social media after Jan 31,2018 - but we had other ideas.

Given the fact that this rarest phenomenon is happening nearly after 150 years (1866) & will not happen until Jan 31,2037 - we decided to make something creative & timeless out of it that night. It was a huge learning for all of us & sharing these tips / insights would sure ignite a little spark of creating a photograph & bringing it to life.

These are the photographs that I created on the super blue blood moon night.

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Step 1: ​The Must Needed Check-list

The simple tips or steps that worked out for us through out the process of creating this timeless photograph - a complete life saver which we later realized – is what we love to share here.

For the purpose of explanation its best to categorize the requirements into three. They are

  • Analyzing natural conditions - the moon-rise & lunar eclipse is totally unpredictable since we planned to have the light painting done with a model under the moonlit sky.
  • Gears you need - Equipment and gears you need to shoot under these conditions.
  • Optimal Settings - Figuring out the camera settings for best results.

Despite uncertain conditions, having a clear idea helped us to give a clean approach to pull it off as I imagined.

Step 2: ​Analysing Conditions - Conceptualize, Visualize & Sketch It

Conceptualize, Visualize & sketch it

It all started with conceptualization of the shot before hand and plan it accordingly. I have conceptualized few of the shots during the moon rise and sketched it to get some idea. I strongly recommend you guys to sketch the shot you are having in your mind and you will be able to visualize it even better.

In this case, I had this picture all over my head of having the super blue blood moon, the model along with light painting patterns in a single frame. Then I started sketching out the various positions of moon & light painting – the patterns that we can create & the poses of model .

This helped me to get the bigger picture. And remember you need not be a Picasso to draw your own version of your vision – and trust me, even scribbling may turn out to be a creative process

Step 3: Analysing Conditions - ​Let Your Gadgets Do the Magic

Let Your Gadgets Do the Magic

The hero of the night is moon & we need to locate where exactly the dark knight will rise. This is where you need to seek the help of your gadgets, apps/websites to do the math for you.

First locate the moonrise direction in the area that you would want to shoot – we did this using

Direction and Altitude of moon :

Once we had the latitude & longitude of the moon-rise – I used my iPhone's in built ‘Compass’ app to show me that right location/direction of rise so that I can choose a location that will suit my need.

Similarly you can use any free app that’s available in the app stores, if you do not want to spend money on app. If you want to spice it up a bit more you can purchase a used a paid app know as ‘Photopills’ that will be of great value in tracking moon / sun and other natural occurrences. This is very popular among landscape & astro photographers.

Step 4: Analysing Conditions - ​Get Your Location Right

Get Your Location Right

After the visualizing & getting to know the direction now you may have an idea – of where to shoot it as per your willingness to travel. For our shot, we wanted

• A vast isolated place

• A place where we can spot the moon-rise from the horizon or from the minute it starts rising.

• Less light polluted area to get that crisp night sky & with minimal noise for the camera sensor.

With all these factors to consider & given that we are in a coastal area we chose a seascape – where we will have vastness & the moonrise will be visible from the time of its rise. Also it will have much lesser light pollution. And what more you require to add drama to your photograph than those mild waves & calm shores.

The week before the actual shoot we set out along the coast of Chennai to find the best suited shore. Luckily we had one part our beach shores with a thick layer of green plants growing all over them. It being very much isolated favored our requirement. There using the latitude of the moonrise we found the exact direction in which moonrise will happen using the 'Compass' app in iPhone (you can use any free app from playstore for Android)

This helped us a lot on the actual day since we knew when & where to go for the shoot.

On the D-day

  • Make sure you reach a lot early so that you are ready for unpredictable factors
  • Make your outdoors look clean on the photograph - you can clone it out in Photoshop during post but its nothing close to getting it right on the camera itself. We picked up trash from the place where we were about to shoot.

Tip : Always have that plan B - look out for alternate place while location scouting - here we had a question of crowd may turn up to view the spectacular event so we had a another place in mind if plan A is not working out.

Step 5: Analyzing Conditions - ​Choose Right Part of the Day

Choose right part of the day

The moon-rise was predicted to happen at around 5.45 to 6.15 pm IST. So for the light painting patterns to be vibrant we needed to have that optimum darkness where the details of the model, landscape, moon & stars to be clearly visible, but with that 'just-before-darkness' ambient light. This clearly indicated to shoot at 'Twilight' (blue hour window) rather that when it was completely dark which would force to bump up the ISO too much - a not so good factor for the photograph which may result in increased noise.

There were 3 categories of shot that we planned for

  • Moon-rise (Time lapse & photographs) to be shot soon after sunset.
  • Light painting with the model to be photographed during twilight or blue hour.
  • Eclipse stages (after blue hour)

Despite our plan - nature had its own plan & it took a lot more time than anticipated for the moon to rise & it was initially covered with cloud lessening the visibility of moon-rise - this gave a very little time window of blue hour to shoot the light painting.

However we did pull off the shot that we planned for days.

Step 6: ​All That You Need - Making of Tubes

Now that we know to what, where & when to shoot - it is time to get those camera gears & light tubes ready.

Making of tubes

This idea of tube painting required transparent coloured tubes. However back in India the tubes that were used for this was not readily available & we had to go on DIY mode.

We had to get to the streets & hunt for acrylic tubes of

  • Size (length & required diameter),
  • Weight (light enough to draw the patterns at ease) &
  • Colour of our choice (it was not that easy & we landed up with transparent tubes).

We bought a tube that was 2m long & cut it into two.

Inner diameter 44mm

Outer diameter - 50mm

Since we had to achieve light patterns of colors - we had to think of multiple ways to color the tube & finally we painted it white & red.

Step 7: All That You Need - ​Choose Flash Light

Now we need to make a choice for flash light - it should be powerful enough for the camera's sensor to capture the intensity of it. So any powerful flash light preferably with strobe mode will help you get creative while capturing is the best choice

Do some tests with your light sabers and try taking few photographs to let you know that its all set - so that you can fix any glitches before the actual shoot.

We actually went to beach the before week & tried to practice with light tubes & patterns. Few pictures from practice session is here.

Step 8: All That You Need - ​Camera Gear

Its now time for that most crucial step - choose your camera gear as per the shots you have planned for & the equipment that you will be using to do the light painting.

Things to consider while choosing gear -

  • Analyze the conditions, time, where & what you will be capturing
  • Light painting requires bulb mode - There should be wide angle lens to capture the vastness of the moon's position & model's position. Here we need all of the details in the frame to be completely in focus.
  • For moon-rise & eclipse we need tight shots of it & long range zoom lens would do it. Camera should pick up less noise as we are shooting it at dusk, twilight & dark (3 different conditions).
  • The camera should have the ability to handle low light conditions very well.

Keeping all this in mind - the gear we used is

  • Canon EOS 7d mark ii (Body)
  • Canon 18-135mm (wide angle shots)
  • Canon telephoto 70-200mm (long range & tight shots)
  • Sturdy Sony tripod

Step 9: ​Focus on Science Behind Your Art - Optimal Camera Settings

Optimal camera settings

For light painting shots depending on which part of the day you are shooting - choose your ISO accordingly.

  • For twilight conditions - since we wanted the twilight effect we had to choose a higher ISO ISO - 2500 Frame was exposed up to 4 sec in bulb mode. Optimum settings - 2 to 4 sec F-stop - we nearly wanted all of the details in the frame to be in focus - so it was around f4 to f5.6
  • For dark night & only light patterns & moon to be visible ISO - 1000 (+ or - 2 stops) will work great.

Tip : Don't be afraid to bump up the ISO since most of the cameras that are available in the market now can handle noise well.

For Moonrise & eclipse shots

  • Full range zoom - 200mm or any other long range lenses using extenders
  • A slower shutter speed will help you expose the frame for more time & able to capture the details
  • F-stop - we nearly wanted all of the details in the frame to be in focus - so it was around f4 to f5.6

Tip - A (sturdy) tripod on the day would keep boring photographs away.

Step 10: ​Focus on Science Behind Your Art - ​Sequence Your Shots

The biggest challenge we faced is changing gears for the different shots as we need to utilize the very limited time window of moon-rise & its position - to compose the frame.

Since you have planned what are the shots that are required, its again quite simple to sequence them & know what needs to be when to completely avoid last minute chaos & fuss.

Our sequence was

Moon-rise (timelapse & photographs) - Dusk time window - long range lens - closer to shore position (subject - in this case moon)

Light painting (photographs) - Twilight time window - wide angle lens - far from the shore to capture vastness

Eclipse (photographs of various stages) - Dark night (time window) - long range lens - any suitable position

Step 11: ​Focus on Science Behind Your Art - ​Be Spontaneous

As we all know the entire shoot did not have a controlled environment & it would more appropriate to say it was not under control at all.

  • Be ready to make a quick decisions rather that getting nervous breakdown before the shoot & which may lead to bad photographs & you will be at the risk of pushing your efforts at stake.
  • Have your mind ready to do anything for nailing that shot - 'wisely'.
  • Time is an important factor & timely decision of the photographer could save the entire day and efforts of people involved in it.
  • Ensure you have a communication device - in our case we were connected on phone call since it was a vast space and the distance between me and the model was a little far.

Step 12: P.S. - Vision Matters

If you are a photographer who would not like to stand along with the crowd to produce just 'one of another' shot but would like to create 'one of a kind' shot - vision of how you want your photograph to be with depth, story & timeless content then these methods, plannings & sequential approach will take you a long way.

Final tip - Shooting with nature comes with many surprise packages. Even though you have prepared to the tiniest of bit with proper thought process - there will be many unplanned things on your way.

Use all of it to turn creative instantly.

I would love to hear any such tips or tricks or clean methods which would help us to get that perfect shot.

Also share any photographs that were created using such creative process - we would love to see them.

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