Category Archives: Light Painting

Eagle Field night photography: Radio Room moonrise or UFO sighting

The night of the full moon is a good opportunity to integrate the moonrise into your photos. I’d been doing some shooting in the old Eagle Field radio room during last week’s night photography workshop, and thought the mannequin watching the moonrise out of the window would be a fun image.

There was a tungsten bug light hanging outside the radio room that we’d been turning off so people could light paint the various old pieces of equipment inside. I turned the light back on to help frame my shot, and made a few high ISO test images to check composition, focus, and exposure. Then I turned down the ISO, and made this exposure of 3 minutes at f/11.

Radio Room moonrise or UFO sighting #1

Radio Room moonrise or UFO sighting #1

The shot looked pretty good. So I turned off the light, and went outside the room to try lighting the scene with a flashlight. I experimented with various angles until I noticed the projected shadow of the mannequin on the wall. I went back inside, and set the camera to make a few exposures. My favorite light painted version of the image is below.

Radio Room moonrise or UFO sighting #2

Radio Room moonrise or UFO sighting #2

These photos were shot with an Olympus OM 18mm f/3.5 lens on a Canon EOS 6D. This lens has very little distortion. The camera was tilted up slightly, but I was able to use the new Upright feature in Lightroom 5 to quickly correct the perspective. I’d composed the shot a bit loosely to leave room for the cropping that was necessary for perspective correction. Upright worked surprisingly well for this interior shot.

Moonlit Motorcoach Madness: Night 360 Panorama with Light Painting and Gyroscope Control

This full moon 360º night panorama includes light painting on two of the classic buses. I was able to find a camera position where there was no overlap between shots on the buses I planned to light paint. I knew the lighting on the bus inside the garage would be more tricky, so I did one take without lighting, and then 2 versions with light painting before rotating the camera around to make the rest of the shots. I also did a practice shot to make sure I could nail the light painting on the back of the bus on the trailer.

Shooting 360s at Night: Noise and ISO

The pano is composed of 4 shots around with a Canon 8-15mm f/4L fisheye at 8mm on a Canon EOS 60D. I also made a 5th shot to patch the ground (the “nadir” in panospeak). Each exposure was 90 seconds at f/8, ISO 800. Balancing the exposure time and ISO is important when shooting 360s at night. If the exposure times are too long, the stars may not line up well. By testing different exposure times and ISOs, I’ve found that I can usually shoot up to 90 seconds at ISO 800 without an objectionable amount of noise. This particular night was pushing the limits because there is more noise in long exposures when it’s hot outside — and it was about 70º at midnight when I made this pano!

Light Painting a 360 Pano

I used a Streamlight Stinger flashlight for the light painting on both buses. There was already moonlight on part of the bus in the garage. I went inside behind the blue wall (between the buses) and lit the front window and top of the bus. Then I walked back outside and lit the side of the bus at a shallow angle. The blend of moonlight and light painting was optimized using a layer mask in Photoshop before stitching the pano in PTGui Pro.

The bus on the back of the trailer was lit from over by the left corner of the blue building. The test shot looked a little bit too flat, so I chose a more shallow angle to show contrast and detail. If you zoom in on the bus, you’ll see a little kiss of moonlight on the top left corner. I love it when a light painting plan comes together.

Viewing the Pano on an iPad or iPhone

If you’re viewing the pano in a web browser, you’ll see the Flash version. If you have an iPad or iPhone, you’ll see at HTML5 version, and you can use your finger to move around inside the 360, and pinch to zoom. Unfortunately, the panopress plugin for WordPress does not show the navigation on the HTML version or allow gyroscope control.

If you’re on an iPad or iPhone, here’s a direct link to the HTML version of the pano that takes advantage of the gyroscope functionality. Hold your iPad or iPhone up and spin in a circle to move around in the panorama. It’s the next best thing to being there, and you won’t get any mosquito bites. Enjoy — and don’t get too dizzy!

Night photography: The bug-eyed robot overlord of Paul’s Junkyard

The bug-eyed robot overlord of Paul's Junkyard -- by Joe Reifer

The bug-eyed robot overlord of Paul's Junkyard -- by Joe Reifer

Exposure and noise reduction settings for star trail stacking

Five exposures of 6 minutes at f/8, ISO 200 were stacked for star trails. When you make multiple exposures for star trails, the interval between each shot must be 1 second or less, so there are no breaks in the trails. You can light paint during the exposures, but you won’t be able to review the results on the back of the camera until the stacking is done.

The 6 minute exposure time was selected because f/8 is the optimum aperture for both sharpness and depth of field. The 5D Mark II can make clean 6 minute exposures with in-camera noise reduction (LENR) turned off as long as the temperature is under about 60°. Shooting with LENR turned off is much more efficient because you don’t need to wait for noise reduction to run after every shot. This also helps conserve your battery.

Start with the light painting, and leave one dark

When you’re doing a series of light painted exposures with stacked star trails, it’s a good idea to not light paint on one of the images. This moonlight only image will give you a base for adjusting the lighting in post-processing if necessary. The recommended shooting strategy for a shot like the one above is to do a series of shorter exposures for light painting first. The process of light painting and then reviewing the image on the LCD allows you time to really assess your lighting and composition. Once you’ve nailed the light painting, you can decide if you want to commit the time necessary to fill the sky with star trails, or move on to another shot.

Shorter exposures for light painting

In this case, I actually started the series of star trail stacking images, and went to help someone with another shot. I was confident that I liked the composition, and knew I could come back to add the light painting. Half an hour later, I reviewed the moonlit images on the LCD. I made three additional exposures of 3 minutes at f/8, ISO 200 for light painting. I didn’t worry about the interval between exposures, because these additional shots were only for the foreground subject, not the sky. The shorter exposure time of 3 minutes allowed me to work faster, and made the light painting more contrasty because there is 1 stop less moonlight on the foreground.

The star trail images were stacked in Photoshop using the Lighten blending mode, and the best of the 3 light painting exposures was added to the foreground using a layer mask. Bringing the light painting in on a mask allowed me to make subtle adjustments to the lighting.

Explain the light painting and win a print

Can you tell where I stood to do the light painting? The first person to correctly answer the question in the comments wins a small print of the image.

Hint: Almost all of the lighting was done from one position, and a little bit of fill was done from a second position. Look at the shadows, and explain what was lit from where.

The print will be a 6″ x 9″ image on 8″ x 10″ paper. Lower 48 only.

Update: The image was primarily lit from camera right at a 45° angle from the right of the machine using a Streamlight Stinger flashlight and a piece of Cinefoil to control spill. The tires would have been completely black without light painting, and required quite a bit of light. The shadow on the circular piece between the tires, and the shadow on the left front tires are the key to lighting direction. The interior was lit from the same position, and I pivoted slightly to add a little bit of fill to the tires on the right. A small amount of fill was added from camera left to the muffler area and the 2 metal pieces that stick out above the windshield.

Photo Critiques: 3 Winners and a Dud

Photo Critiques

After shooting, the most interesting part of the junkyard night photography workshops is the afternoon critique. On day 2, each participant brings 4 images to review with the group. In a supportive environment, my co-instructor Troy Paiva and I talk about what worked, and offer ideas for improvement. Seeing how different photographers approach the wide array of subject matter in the junkyard is always a great learning experience.

Stronger Critiques

As we’ve built relationships with the photographers who’ve attend our workshops multiple times, our critique methods have evolved. Many photographers find that the feedback loop on the first night’s shooting can lead to breakthroughs on the 2nd or 3rd night of the workshop. A few people have asked us for stronger critiques, in order to accelerate the learning process.

A request for a stronger critique lets us know that the photographer isn’t worried about having their feelings hurt, and that we shouldn’t sugar-coat any criticisms of their work. We can be blunt about discussing any shortcomings in the images. At first, we were surprised that some accomplished photographers were asking us to let them have it in front of the group. This humbleness and desire to learn were so impressive, that we’ve added a new option for our critique sessions.

3 Winners and a Dud

This new critique option is called 3 Winners and a Dud. Instead of bringing their 4 best images, participants could optionally bring their 3 best, plus 1 that didn’t work. And a lot of times we collectively learn the most from the dud. Removing roadblocks by reconceptualising a really frustrating setup can often free people up to do better work.

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Night photography: Dodge Charger light painting step-by-step

During the Paul’s Junkyard Night Photography workshop, I worked with photographer Michael Bertrand on light painting a cool old Dodge Charger. Having someone stand at the camera position while you test your light painting is a big time saver. Instead of waiting 2-3 minutes to see the results of each lighting experiment, I was able to give Mike feedback right away on the angle and intensity of the light. He did all of the hard work, I just stood behind the camera and watched. Let’s take a step-by-step look at Mike’s shot.

Headlights and interior - Dodge Charger light painting - by Michael Bertrand

Headlights and interior - Dodge Charger light painting - by Michael Bertrand

Step 1 – Headlights and interior

Mike wanted to light the interior of the car with a red-gelled flash. If the camera position is low or high, sometimes a flash can be placed directly on the back window of the car. This only works if you can hide the light source from the camera. Stick your face where the flash is going to go and check to see if your camera can see the light. In this shot, the camera position dictated another technique — Mike simply opened the passenger side door, did a few flash pops inside the car to bounce the light around evenly, and then closed the door. The car may move slightly during this process, but it’s such a short amount of time in the overall exposure that it doesn’t compromise sharpness.

Mike walked to the front grill and lit the headlights using a flashlight and cardboard snoot. The key to this technique is to figure out how far away to stand in order for the circular beam of the snoot to fall in the right place. This ended up being about 4 feet away for a few seconds on each headlight.

Grill experiment - Dodge Charger light painting - by Michael Bertrand

Grill experiment - Dodge Charger light painting - by Michael Bertrand

Step 2 – Grill experiment

The shot looked good on the back of the camera, but the face of the car was still mostly a big black hole. The grill on this Charger is really deep, and I suggested that Mike try lighting just the front of the grill, but leave the inside dark so the headlights will pop. This take was lit from camera left at a shallow angle along the front of the grill with a snooted and gelled flashlight. The amount of light is right, but looking at the results on the back of the camera, we realized that the grill needs light from both sides.

Almost there - Dodge Charger light painting - by Michael Bertrand

Almost there - Dodge Charger light painting - by Michael Bertrand

Step 3 – Almost there

To get even light on the front of the grill, Mike counted his paces from the front of the car to make sure he was the same distance away. Paying attention to the height of the flashlight, and counting the amount of time the light is on are also helpful. The backlight was added by going around the rear of the car and sweeping a flashlight a few inches above the ground to pull out texture. The shot was really coming together now, but there’s too much light on the inside of the left front wheel.

Final shot - Dodge Charger light painting - by Michael Bertrand

Final shot - Dodge Charger light painting - by Michael Bertrand

Step 4 – The final shot

Mike really nailed the light painting on this final shot. Instead of sweeping the flashlight on the ground, he held the beam steady for a few seconds to add texture to the ground but maintain the integrity of the curvy shadows. This also solved the problem of not overlighting the inside front wheel. The red interior light has a nice glow, and the natural bleed of the pink/magenta headlights on the areas of the yellow grill looks great. Mike worked quickly and methodically, and was able to nail all of the light painting in the camera. Those of you who’ve tried these techniques know that this isn’t easy!

Technical details and a note about exposure

This image is a 90 second exposure at f/8, ISO 200 using a Nikon D300 and 12-24mm lens at 12mm (18mm equivalent). A technically correct expose-to-the-right shot for the light of the full moon would have been 6 minutes at f/8, ISO 200. An exposure time of 90 seconds underexposes the background by 2 stops, which keeps the sky and the background dark. Using the exposure time to control the tonality of the background really helps the light painting stand out.

I’d like to thank Mike for letting me share his light painting setup. To see more of his work, visit: