Night photography ideas: light painting your subject over ultra-long exposures

Night photography ideas: light painting your subject over ultra-long exposures

If you’re looking for new night photography ideas to boost your creative output after dark, painting with light is the perfect technique, which can be used with just about any subject. In this quick tutorial we’ll show you how light painting your subject while shooting in your camera’s Bulb mode can help you create a range of different moods in your images. 

Night photography ideas: light painting your subject over ultra-long exposures

Light painting involves using a light source such as a torch or a flashgun to illuminate your subject.

By leaving the shutter open for a long period of time you can shine the light onto parts of the subject, so that you create pools of light.

This gives your night shots a unique and slightly surreal appearance. By moving the lights during the exposure you can control the brightness of specific areas of the subject, and even use different light sources or coloured gels to achieve different ‘moods’.

Judging the exposure is one of the most difficult aspects of light painting, so remember to time how long you paint each area of the subject. Also, try to make sure that you light the subject from the same distance each time. Get more advice below…

Night photography ideas for creative photographers: how to set up for light painting

Night photography ideas for creative photographers: how to set up for light painting - step 1

Frame your shot
Composing your photos in the dark can be tricky, so set your camera to the highest ISO light sensitivity setting. You do this via a dedicated button or menu entry, so check your manual. Then switch to Live View mode to give a visible image on the screen. With the camera on a tripod, use this Live View image to compose your shot.

 

Night photography ideas for creative photographers: how to set up for light painting - step 2

Set up the camera
Now set the camera to manual focus, making sure MF is selected on the side of the lens if appropriate, and carefully focus on the subject that you are going to illuminate with the light. Remember to change the ISO light sensitivity down to ISO 200, and in Manual exposure mode set the shutter speed to ‘B’ (Bulb exposure) and the aperture to f/11.

 

Night photography ideas for creative photographers: how to set up for light painting - step 3

Light your subject
Using a remote release, lock the shutter open and start painting the light onto the subject. Just like any other form of lighting, a directional side-light will reveal much more detail than lighting from the camera position. Just remember not to wander into the frame, or it will render the whole exercise pointless!

 

Night photography ideas for creative photographers: how to set up for light painting - step 4

Check the result
Because of the nature of painting the subject with light it’s very difficult to judge the exposure and direction of the lighting. You’ll need to check the results on the LCD screen on the rear of your camera. Don’t forget, if the subject is under-exposed you need to light the subject for a longer time or move the light a little closer.

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