Even with all the lighting equipment and digital options available to me, there are times when they just don’t compliment my image. At these times, a technique known as light painting will usually realize my vision. Painting with light is a technique that involves a long exposure during which time the subject is “painted” with a light source. To photograph indoors, I set up in a room that I can black out using shades or blinds, or that will be completely dark after dusk. Once the subject has been composed in the camera with the lights on, I’ll determine the desired aperture based on the depth of field I want in the final image. The chosen aperture will dictate whether or not I need a dark backdrop or if the room wall is a sufficient distance from the subject so as not to be exposed. If a backdrop is necessary, I use a piece of black felt or flannel both of which have virtually no texture and no sheen. When light painting, I want the backdrop to absorb rather than reflect light. If shooting a macro or close-up image, a backdrop may not be necessary.
Any light emitting device can be used to paint your subject. I use a variety of flashlights, lasers, LED video lights and different colored candles, all of which create unique and different results. That said, unless you know the precise temperature (degrees Kelvin) of the light emitting device in use and you have the ability to make this setting in camera, I would recommend shooting in RAW so that you can easily adjust the temperature setting post processing. In addition, different colored gels can be integrated with flashlights and the white balance adjusted in your camera to produce different results depending on your creative taste.
Although this close up image excluded any background, I laid the cello on top of a piece of black felt in order to eliminate any potential reflections. After painting the cello for hours using a series of different flashlights and video LED lights, I still hadn’t created any satisfactory images. It wasn’t until I started using a small ordinary white candle that the images began to evolve. The temperature and quality of light emitted by the white candle was what I had envisioned. Earlier, I had used a red candle which produced unfavorable results. When using a candle, be aware of hot dripping paraffin. The image was taken with a Nikon D300 and a 105mm macro lens set up on a Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod and an Acratech ball head. Exposure was f16 at 30 sec and ISO 200.