Light paintings are beautiful and dramatic, and looks a bit similar to lightning photography. In lightning photos, something about the awesome power of nature in comparison to our existence is very humbling. This is probably why the high contrast between the night darkness and the bright flash of light results in some very powerful photos. Light paintings are softer and more ethereal, but still have the same high contrast and dramatic effect if lightning photos.
Here are some top tips to help you take great light painting photos.
Set your camera to manual mode
One of the first thing you should do when preparing to take light painting photography is to set the camera to manual mode. Since all the preparations are done in a dark environment the camera cannot automatically set the right focus, exposure, aperture, ISO, white balance, and others.
Use a tripod
Make sure your camera is on a tripod because you are going to take photos in low light conditions. Increased exposure time and high ISO guarantees blurring and noise if your camera isn’t on a stable platform. It also mean you get to do the painting yourself!
Set the focus beforehand
Set the focus manually so the light will appear to be sharp and in focus. You can keep some lights on to set the focus and then turn it off when you’re shooting. Set the exposure to anywhere between a few seconds to a few minutes. The right exposure depends on how long you’ll take to use a light source to paint. Not only that, longer exposure means a brighter and clearer background, even if it is done in the night.
Don’t forget your camera flash
Remember your camera’s flash unit. For light paintings you’re using an external light source such as a flashlight or glow sticks to draw, so the camera flash is not really needed. But some people use the camera flash to create a stroboscope effect. You can set the flash to fire at specific intervals, and then you strike a different pose in different location after each flash. The result is a bunch of clones of you in the final photo.
Play around with the background
Light paintings by itself are cool, but choose a nice scene or environment to complement your paintings. The light you’re using to paint will illuminate the background objects and make it more interesting. You could also play with your camera settings to apply different filters and achieve different effects. For example, changing the white balance will give you different color temperatures for your light paintings.
Last but not least, have fun! By doing thing out of the norm you will discover new techniques or effects that other people haven’t even though of. Be willing to experiment, because you never know a fluke could turn out to be your best shot.
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