Monday, February 14, 2011
Ten Light Painting Tips From A Master—02/14/11
Harold Ross’ advice for getting started with light painting
“One of the great things about light painting small sets,” Harold says, “is the very low cost of light sources. For a lot of my non-landscape work I use a small, relatively low output LED flashlight. It has a 30-lumens output and is not particularly bright. There is no need for focus-ability of the light, as you will rarely, if ever, use the focused light without some sort of diffusion.” Harold says the light coming out of his flashlight is too harsh to use unmodified. Since he really wants a light that isn’t overly bright (in order to allow more time for painting on his subject) that’s okay. He says many people make simple snoots out of aluminum foil or cardboard, but the real key is to diffuse the light. This makes the light source softer by increasing its relative size. And it’s less bright—allowing you to actually see what you’re doing as you paint the light over a period of time.
7. …And some homemade modifications.
“I've developed a very simple and cheap way of accomplishing the diffusion and dimming,” Harold says. “Just go to the hardware store and purchase a white PVC elbow which fits onto the end of your flashlight. If it doesn't fit exactly just buy the next size up and put tape on the inside so that it fits. Purchase a very short piece of PVC tubing to fit into the other end of the elbow. The light, just by virtue of the fact that it is bouncing around the elbow and coming out the other side, dims greatly and diffuses at the same time. I actually have three different lengths of these tubes so that I can easily switch them out for three different intensities. You can cut the tube where the light exits at a 45-degree angle. That way, if you turn the long side toward the camera, the camera will not see the light source. I also paint the PVC diffuser with black paint, making sure not to get any on the inside.”
8. Tackle the lighting in sections.
Harold thinks about each scene in three parts: background, subject detail and subject fill. He starts with a background capture or series of captures to be composited in the computer. It’s the darker background from which lighter areas will lift when painted, and he uses a softened source for this illumination. Next he concentrates on lighting individual elements in the scene. “Remember that you can and should bring the light in very close to the subject for maximum control and to keep from inadvertently lighting other elements in the shot,” Harold says. “Also remember to rake the light for maximum texture and shape. I tell my students to almost never light from anywhere near the camera angle. Always light from the sides and back for maximum dimension and shape.”
9. Create multiple exposures.
Since you’re lighting individual elements with different light sources, light painting lends itself naturally to compositing multiple images in the computer. One benefit is that you can easily eliminate light streaks or unwanted flare from exposures in which only a portion of the frame is used. But if you wish to do a single capture and avoid working with layering, Harold says you can. “It will just take more practice, patience and careful control using gobos or scrims to make sure that the light doesn't register in the capture.”
10. Just to reiterate… Keep it simple. Really.
A simple approach lets the beauty of the light shine through. “A mistake that I see quite often,” Harold says, “is a student biting off more than they can chew. The old adage ‘less is more’ should be kept in mind for two reasons. One, of course, is that it's difficult to learn about this lighting process on too complex of an image. Second, and most important, is that anyone attempting this will very quickly learn that there is great beauty all around us and in simple things, but we typically don't see these things in such a beautiful light. It’s a light that we can easily create which doesn't exist in nature. This light is beyond the eye's scope because it is a building up, or coalescing, of light.”
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