Category Archives: Light Painting

Night photography: Revisiting the flying Imperial

Flying Imperial -- by David J. Lewis

Flying Imperial -- by David J. Lewis

Montana photographer David J. Lewis attended the Paul’s Junkyard Night Photography Workshop in April and produced a superb series of Mojave night photos on his trip. I was hanging out with David when he made the Flying Imperial photo, and this image turned out to be one of my favorites from the spring workshop. David’s image shows careful attention to blending moonlight with light painting, balancing highlights and shadows, and has texture and line to spare.

Last month during the fall workshop I was working in this corner of the yard with another photographer. We were looking at different ways to shoot the 1959 Imperial, and due to all the piled up debris, a 3/4 shot is really the clear choice. The moon was in a nice spot and the clouds were wild. I set up and made the image below.

Imperial etherial -- by Joe Reifer

Imperial etherial -- by Joe Reifer

As more photographers shoot at Paul’s Junkyard, we’ll see more photos of the popular subjects. There is a certain satisfaction in being the first person to make a successful photo of one of the many iconic cars at Paul’s. Kudos to David for killing it on the Imperial. Some photographers are more sensitive than others about setting up in other people’s tripod holes. Learning night photography is the same as learning to play jazz in this respect. If you hear a great song, try playing it. Puzzle it out. Deconstruct the reasons it works so well. There’s no trouble here, unless you’re playing a cover song and calling it an original. The crucial part of this process is to take what you learn and make something of your own.

Speaking of original work, don’t miss David’s Night Scenes gallery. The night photographs of snow covered cars in a Montana junkyard are superb.

Bad Moon Rising -- by David J. Lewis

Bad Moon Rising -- by David J. Lewis

Night photography: Alcatraz hospital operating room

Alcatraz hospital operating room -- by Joe Reifer

Alcatraz hospital operating room — by Joe Reifer

A flashlight was used to light paint the operating room inside the hospital at Alcatraz prison. All of the lighting was done with a Streamlight Stinger flashlight from a 60 degree angle to the left of the camera position.  I lit the back wall at a hard angle, skimmed the floor to throw 3/4 backlight on the table, and lit the operating lamp on the ceiling. The exposure time was 36 seconds at f/8, ISO 200 using an Olympus OM 18mm lens on a Canon 5D Mark II. The room was completely dark — the exposure time reflects how long it took to open the shutter, walk to the back left corner and do the lighting, and then return to the camera to close the shutter. Thanks to Amy Heiden and Janet Blake for allowing me a few minutes of yerba mate fueled light painting antics during our limited time at this great location.

Ghosts in the East Bay: A one night workshop with night photographer Joe Reifer

San Francisco Dragon Creation Myth 11:17 — by Joe Reifer

San Francisco Dragon Creation Myth 11:17 — by Joe Reifer

Ghosts in the East Bay: A one night workshop with night photographer Joe Reifer
Saturday, October 16th from 5:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

The site for our adventure features a unique mix of old building materials, installation art, natural landscapes, and views of San Francisco across the water. We’ll explore a variety of night photography techniques including long exposures, and light painting with flashlights and strobes. We’ll discuss how to create ghostly figures in your nocturnal images, a tradition that dates back to 19th century spirit photography. Workshop tuition is only $69.00, and limited to 16 photographers. Sign up on the Renegade Meetup group.

Whether you’ve experimented with long exposures before or not, this workshop will be a great opportunity to learn about night photography techniques such as: exposure calculation, noise reduction, light painting, and ghosts (just in time for Halloween!). A gear list will be sent after you sign up. Contact me if you have any questions.

Night photography: Ghost dance on fire

Yesterday evening I visited photographer Susan Friedman to do a night photography demonstration for her students. I also got to peruse Susan’s beautiful new equine photography book Drinkers of the Wind, and check out some mesmerizing horse footage shot with the Phantom and Red cameras at 600-800 frames per second.

Susan’s students from U.C. Santa Cruz were an enthusiastic group, and we experimented with light painting ghost photos using a mix of flashlight, flash, and fireworks. During the last 2 photos in the gallery below, sparklers were attached to a tetherball. Thanks to everyone who attended for a really fun night!

Night photography: Exposure and lighting techniques

Qualifier -- by Joe Reifer

Qualifier — by Joe Reifer

The image above was used as a light painting demo at the last Pearsonville Night Photography Workshop. Here are the exposure considerations and light painting guidelines used to create this image:

  1. A base exposure with no light painting for lighting assessment and post-production.
  2. A second exposure to stack with the base exposure for longer star trails.
  3. A shorter, darker exposure to control the relationship between moonlight and light painting.
  4. Choosing a light painting position to create depth.

1. Base exposure: With reasonably cool weather, the Canon 5D Mark II can make 10 minute exposures without the need for in-camera noise reduction.
Exposure: 10 minutes at f/11 ISO 200. Here’s how the engine compartment looked with no light painting:

Light painting demo #1 -- by Joe Reifer

Light painting demo #1 — by Joe Reifer

2. Second exposure for star trail stacking: the shutter was opened immediately after the first shot finished, in order to be able to combine the sky portion of images 1 & 2 for longer star trails. For demonstration purposes, the light painting on this take was from a high angle near the camera position with a flashlight.
Exposure: 10 minutes at f/11 ISO 200.

Lighting the subject from the camera position often looks too flat because everything is lit.
This lighting example doesn’t work because the primary rule of light painting is broken: Don’t light everything.

Light painting demo #2 -- by Joe Reifer

Light painting demo #2 — by Joe Reifer

3. A shorter exposure for more contrasty light painting:
After reviewing the light painting on image #2,  I did a couple more takes to get the light painting just right. Since my first two exposures for star trails were complete, I changed the exposure to 3 minutes at f/8 ISO 200. By opening up a stop from f/11 to f/8, the equivalent change in exposure duration would have been 1/2 the time — from 10 minutes to 5 minutes.

I further reduced the exposure from 5 minutes to 3 minutes to darken the background by almost another stop. This exposure adjustment makes the light painting more contrasty — less moonlight on the foreground means darker shadows to really make the light painted areas stand out! The 3rd image was light painted from camera right, and was used for the final image. Notice how the engine area has more depth — the shadows provide shape and contrast:

Light painting demo #3 -- by Joe Reifer

Light painting demo #3 — by Joe Reifer

4. Using the same 3 minute exposure as image #3, the engine area was light painted from camera left. Lighting from the left was not as successful because this flattened out the interesting pipes & wires on the right. If you’re not sure where to stand to light paint, try both sides before you open the shutter.

Light painting demo #4 -- by Joe Reifer

Light painting demo #4 — by Joe Reifer

The best way to learn these light painting and exposure techniques is hands-on! Troy Paiva & I will be teaching 2 more night photography workshops this September and October at the amazing Pearsonville junkyard. Registration opens on June 1st — get on the email list for priority notification.