Monday, February 14, 2011
Ten Light Painting Tips From A Master—02/14/11
Harold Ross’ advice for getting started with light painting
1. Take a friend into a darkened room.
Ambient light can be an advantage for advanced users, but it's a complication best left out in the beginning. As you’ll be combining captures later in Photoshop, the camera must not move. So a tripod is essential. A cable release is helpful, and Harold also recommends using a friend as an external shutter. “They can open and close the shutter,” he says, “but more importantly they can also hold a black card in front of the lens and move it in and out (effectively closing and opening the shutter) on command. That way you can get your light at just the right angle and distance, and you can practice the movement just before you tell them to open the external ‘shutter’—the black card.”
2. Use every technological advantage you can find.
Seeing images on a large screen offers a huge advantage over squinting at a camera’s LCD. “It can certainly be done,” Harold says, “but if you have the ability to shoot tethered, especially in the studio, I would recommend it.” He also uses a remote switch for the room lights—which he’s created via a remote-controlled surge protector. “I keep the switch on a cord around my neck so I can just reach down and turn the room lights on and off at will.”
3. Keep it simple. Seriously.
“I recommend starting with a relatively simple setup,” Harold says, “like a bowl of fruit or a still life with three or four elements. This way you can create something interesting without making it too difficult.” Different surfaces provide different challenges in lighting, so he also suggests starting with subjects that are not highly reflective. With a little experience, the challenge of lighting reflective objects with light painting will eventually offer its own rewards.
4. Shoot for a short exposure.
An exposure of roughly 30 seconds provides faster feedback about what you’ve done. A minute or longer exposure means there’s too much going on and too long a delay between shot and result. Then it’s hard to remember what effects subtle light changes have on the image. “In fact, I might suggest that you only try to paint one or two things in the shot at first,” Harold says. “Work on them until you get the effect that you want, then move on to the other elements in the shot. If you have a friend helping you they can keep track of the time for you. Another way to do this is to set your camera to 30 seconds so it acts as a timer. Remember that you'll be counting to keep track of how much light you are applying to each area in the shot. For example, three seconds on the orange, one second on the egg, five seconds on the rim of the bowl, etcetera.” At first you'll find it impossible to count for these areas and keep track of overall time simultaneously. Eventually you’ll be able to carry on a conversation while counting times—as Harold does regularly.
5. Use sharp apertures.
A lens’ sharpest aperture is usually a few stops from wide open, so Harold tends to choose apertures in the middle of the dial—the widest f/stop he can that allows him to get everything crucial in focus. “Since we are controlling the exposure with the length of time that we expose the light to the subject, the aperture’s main function is to determine depth of field. Most lenses also begin to lose sharpness when stopped all the way down, so I stop down just enough to get everything sharp.”
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