The extent of my formal education for art/photography is a Digital Art course at Wake Forest University my senior year and Photography 101 my freshman year of high school. I was also the graphics designer for my high school newspaper, but that wasn’t instructional…it was simply a “me coming up with editorial cartoons and story illustrations for each issue” class, which was also a dream come true Best.class.ever.
I say this to mean that I am basically self-taught. The internet is an amazing tool and you can find so many incredible how-to tutorials, tips & tricks, before & after…SO very helpful for people (like me) starting out on a new hobby or technique.
Yesterday I discovered Eric Curry’s tutorial videos on youtube and was totally blown away. This inspired me to take light painting to a whole different level. Of course I could not wait to try out a similar technique last night. This is the final result, and steps showing how I put it all together:
I had already decided that this was the scene I wanted to capture so I set up my camera and tripod to compose the background image. I knew that I would need to take this shot just before sundown in order to get the right exposure for the windows. I set the focus point up in the spot where I knew my husband would be sitting and then decided to use a wider aperture so that the other areas were not in sharp focus. NOTE: I also taped off around the legs of my tripod just in case I stumbled and shifted it (yes, I’m clumbsy in the dark…) – if I didn’t have the exact same tripod position from the earlier sunset shot then my entire image technique would be ruined :-/
This is the original background image:
Settings here are:
I cleaned up the cloudiness on the back window but other than that this is SOOC.
For the rest of the images I had to wait for the sun to go down completely.
I first photographed the Christmas lights overhead . I actually didn’t “paint” the lights, instead I quickly tapped the plug into the socket so the lights only blinked for a second to avoid overexposing my image.
My settings for the rest of these images are
I made the aperture smaller to get the areas I wanted to paint into focus. Plus I needed to lengthen the shutter speed to have enough time to light my objects, so it was a necessary adjustment in order to not overexpose my images.
Next I painted light on the lamp:
then the chairs in the foreground:
and finally my husband
For each of these areas I had to take 3-5 shots to get the light painted on exactly like I wanted it…I just check the viewfinder after each shot and it’s pretty easy to tell if you got it or not. I guess the tricky thing with this technique is being able to merge the areas together in your head and envision the finished project while your images are still inside the camera
All my images are shot in RAW and I converted the white balance to tungsten. I bumped up the fill light slightly as well.
Here is my layer mask progression:
The only other edit I made in photoshop was a levels adjustment to bring the whites up to scale.
Here is the final again:
I’m still brand-spanking new at this, but I absolutely love the look it creates. The patches of light are uniform yet unexpected and not from one constant direction or source. Pure awesomeness.
The entire process (minus waiting for the sun to go down) took me about 30 minutes. If I had chosen a scene with more than 4 lighted areas it would have lengthened the process of course, but the end result is worth it.
In my next shot I will definitely try to add more light painted areas. Starting out with 4 was perfect…enough to make the photo interesting but not too many to overwhelm me. I think a gradual increase is going to be the only way to go in learning this technique!
I hope this photo editing tutorial on light painting has been helpful!