And now for something different…

I recently visited Jackson Hole, Wyoming and the Grand Tetons area with a small group of wonderful photographers, to photograph the peak fall colors of the Grand Tetons. It was one of the best photographic trips I’ve taken, even though there are soooooo  many more places I plan to go, both in the USA and in other countries. But I digress. The “something different” in this article’s title is that we (the other photographers and I) decided to have fun painting with light using strong flashlights at 4:30 A.M. – yes, I said A.M., as in waaay before dawn! – to “paint light” where we wanted it, being careful not to overdo it, keeping a balance between what was lit with our flashlights and what was caught in the light drop-off, all done in pitch dark! Here’s an example (no this wasn’t “Photoshop’d!”):

Painting the Tetons

Using flashlights to add light to the trees and reflections, we were careful to maintain a balance with the areas not directly lit.

How it was done: Using tripods, we composed our frames the way we wanted. We used flashlights to light the trees first so that we could focus. We manually set our exposure settings (listed below). There is no formula for painting with light; there are many variables, so practice, practice, practice when you try it – and I hope you do try it; it’s fun!  Once you’re composed and focused, as far as how much to “paint” with your flashlight, that’s where trial-and-error comes in. This particular  image was a 30-second exposure, and during the exposure, a flashlight was used to paint up and down the trees, using less light on the background trees to be sure to not over-paint them, in order to maintain a good balance of light. Normally you would want to keep the ISO (if your camera allows you to control it) as low as possible when you’re shooting on a tripod, but in this case, we had to experiment with combinations of ISO and shutter speed (our focus was for the most part set at infinity). The settings used in this photo were: f/8 at 30″, ISO 8000 (my camera can handle high ISO without problem; your mileage may vary. There are many good noise-reduction programs and plugins if your image needs it). The point is to try different settings, paint with more or less light, try different ISOs, and so on. You need a long enough exposure to allow you time to paint with the flashlight, but not so long that you’ll introduce too much noise (grain) or unwanted ambient light  into your image, especially in the dark areas. And use a cable shutter release or your camera’s self-timer!  This photo was taken at around 4:30 am, long before natural light started showing itself. As the sky grew lighter, I reduced my ISO, taking care to still be able to maintain the shutter speed I wanted (30 seconds, to give me time to paint), and the desired aperture.

This is only one example of what painting with light can do. Go out and experiment, whether it’s before dawn or after sunset. It’s fun!

Below is a happy accident: During one of my long (30-seconds) exposures, a stranger walked into my frame with his flashlight (it was still dark outside, so he used his flashlight to light his way, but he didn’t see us since it was still dark, and his light didn’t pick us up at the time, so naturally he didn’t realize he was walking into our photos!). This was the funky result:

An interesting accident

Sometimes the unexpected can be very cool!

I’ll end today’s article with a slideshow of some of my favorite photos from the Grand Tetons. Enjoy, and keep on shooting!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


~ by Karen Rosenblum on November 1, 2011.

2 Responses to “And now for something different…”

  1. Hi Karen. I met you at the reenactment rehearsal – I was the mom with the two daughters and the poodle. Your website is amazing, and this light painting you did is something I’ve never in my life seen or even heard of! Thanks for letting me take your last few business cards that you had on you because I plan to give them out. I’m glad you don’t live to far from us because now I know a great photographer, and a nice one too! You’ll be hearing from us, you can be sure! Jean Marie.

  2. Whoa…… wow

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