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
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.
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!
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:
- A base exposure with no light painting for lighting assessment and post-production.
- A second exposure to stack with the base exposure for longer star trails.
- A shorter, darker exposure to control the relationship between moonlight and light painting.
- 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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
Technical details: 4 minutes at f/9.5, ISO 200. Canon 5D Mark II with a Zeiss Distagon 21mm f/2.8 ZE lens
The composition above was used as a light painting demonstration during last month’s night photography workshop. All the light you see on the foreground subjects was added with a flashlight while the shutter was open. Due to the number of different surfaces being lit, this setup took multiple attempts to get right. Let’s take a brief walk through the steps involved:
1. Daytime Scouting — blocking out your shots in the daytime will help you be more productive at night. Photographer Hunter Luisi surveys the scene before the sun goes down.
2. Test Exposure — checking focus, composition, and exposure before committing to a complicated shot will help you get more keepers. The test exposure was 8 seconds at f/8, ISO 6400. This equates to 8 minutes at f/8 ISO 100 — or 4 minutes at f/8 ISO 200. In the final exposure, I stopped the lens down to f/9.5 for depth of field, and also to underexpose the background by 1/2 stop in order to give the light painting more snap.
3. Base Exposure — I was shooting into the moon, which is just out of the frame at top left. Make sure to use a lens hood for night photography. The base exposure was not light painted at all, and underexposed by 1 full stop in order to have a version with a darker sky. A base exposure is useful for seeing the effect of your light painting, and for removing any unwanted lighting in post production. 2 minute exposure at f/8, ISO 200.
4. Light painting — I lit the red trailer from camera left, walked around and lit the white truck, and then lit the red trailer from camera right. The lighting on the trailer is a bit too bright. By reviewing the feedback on the camera’s LCD, I decided to also light the truck on the left, the yellow ramp on the right, and to skim a little bit of light across the box in the foreground.
5. Light painting — the trailer is just about right, and the side of the yellow ramp is getting there. I missed the back of the truck at left, and decided to light the top of the box in front more than the side directly facing the camera.
6. Light painting — Finally got a take I liked!
- The truck on the left was lit at an oblique angle from camera left to bring out the shapes along the green part in the back.
- The red trailer was lit on both sides from a 45 degree angle to bring out texture and prevent hot spots
- The yellow ramp was lit from camera left using a snoot to control the lighting, and also on the top from camera right.
- The light skimming across the box in the foreground was also done with a snooted flashlight from camera left.
- The white truck in the background was lit while hiding behind the red trailer
Technical note: a Streamlight Stinger flashlight was used, utilizing a 1.5 foot long cardboard tube as a snoot for lighting control. The Stinger is a high powered flashlight that is great for light painting dark surfaces from middle distances.
Post-Processing notes: While the light painting on the version above worked really well, there was a slight bit of lens flare. The darker, more simple sky from the base exposure looked better — so I replaced the sky from the earlier exposure using a layer mask in Photoshop. I will cover sky replacement in a future article.
A small amount of dodging and burning were also done on the foreground and right side of the red trailer to create the final image at the top of this post. I hope this extended look at the making of a complex light painted image is useful. Let me know if you’d like to get on the list for future night photography workshops — all that’s necessary is a camera, tripod, flashlight, and your imagination!