This weekend we had good friends visiting and late on Saturday night we decided to try something that I’ve been wanting to do for a little while now – light painting portraits.
Light painting is a technique of making a photograph in darkness with a long exposure and painting in the light source manually while the photograph is being exposed [Wikipedia link]. This allows greater creativity in lighting an image, and also allows for things that can’t be done with light in a traditional photograph – the lights can move while the subject remains stationary, or be made to illuminate different parts of the subject with precision while other areas remain dark. I’ve done some light painting in the past, and will no doubt do more in the future, but this was my first proper portrait session using that technique.
So Ben, George, Rachel and I retired to the kitchen about 1am Sunday morning where I’d set up the camera on a tripod and turned off extraneous light sources (the microwave, etc.), and grabbed a few props. A quick search around the house only turned up our mobile phones as light sources – we do have a flashlight somewhere, but couldn’t find it and my laser pointer had no batteries, so I downloaded a light app for my phone that allows me to choose different light colours.
I set the camera to manual with an f-stop of 5.6, and took a few photos to set get the ISO speed correct – in the end it was set to 200 with a 30 second exposure, on a 2 second delay with the mirror locked up to reduce camera shake. We also had to manually focus before the lights went out, so the sitter had to stay quite still.
George sat first – he’d had a long day and was quite tired by the time we started, which made it even easier for him to assume a relaxed position and maintain it for the 30 second exposure while I waved my mobile phone with a white screen around his face, arms and the bottle prop. In the first image above George has a (furry tiger) hat over his face so the light wouldn’t disturb his relaxing. The second image of George I find very peaceful.
Ben was a more interactive (i.e. awake) sitter. In the first photo of Ben I used a green screen on my phone to light the side of his face, and the front of his shirt. The knife and fork pose was Ben’s idea, and it makes a fascinating image. We spent about an hour trying new ideas and techniques with each of us taking turns at the camera and lighting the sitter.
Post-processing and conclusion
Post-processing the images only needed a bit of white balance adjustment, some clarity and vibrance, some local exposure adjustments to highlight areas that hadn’t quite received enough light from the phone, plus a bit of cropping.
Light painting is a fascinating and enjoyable process that allows a lot more creativity on my part in seeing an image and lighting it just as I want – walking around the sitter (even in front of the camera, which is odd to start with) highlighting the areas that I want to be lit from a certain angle. I’m very pleased with the results, and will certainly be adding light painting portraits to my arsenal of portrait photography.