Painting With Light
Use a flashlight and colored gels to keep the photography going after dark
Tools Of The Trade
There are a few items you need in order to photograph light painting. Since you're shooting at twilight or night, you need a tripod and a cable release. Many of the exposures go over 30 seconds, so having a cable release with a lock feature is a good idea. Another handy item to have is a small headlamp so you can see your camera functions in the dark.
A flashlight is the one specialty item needed to light-paint. Light painting can range from small objects like a single golf ball, to huge landscapes like Double Arch in Arches National Park. Your choice of flashlight will vary depending on how large an area you're light-painting. For small scenes, the Streamlight Stylus (www.streamlight.com) is a good choice. These small penlights have a focused beam that allows precision light painting, and a convenient button on the end that pulses the light.
For slightly larger scenes, maybe a palm tree or a rusty old car, try the SureFire G2 (www.surefire.com). These small flashlights are very powerful, and can also be pulsed using a button on the end.
For really big scenes, like illuminating large buildings and landscapes, you'll need a 1- to 2-million-candlepower light. These lights can be found at your local hardware store. Many of these have rechargeable batteries, which is nice because you'll run through the batteries fast!
With any flashlight you choose, make sure you can turn it on and off quickly. This helps with pulsing the light, which will prevent overexposed areas in your light painting. Also make sure your light has a focused beam to help with accuracy in flashing the light.
For some really creative light painting, try adding colored gels in front of your flashlight. I use a Roscolux swatch book (www.rosco.com) to add color to my small flashlights. This swatch book has a variety of colored gels. You just choose the two or three you want to use, and put them in front of your light. Imagine the possibilities: You can paint the prickly pear blue, the cholla red and the agave yellow! For bigger lights, you'll need the larger gel sheets to cover your light. Colored LED lights and laser pointers also will add color to your scene.