I love to show the images that my students create during their first (in most cases) workshop with me, and I’m floored by the consistent high quality of the images that they produce in just 18 hours of instruction!
Day 1… we always spend the first evening getting acquainted, discussing light painting and its advantages, and delving into lighting theory as it applies to light painting. (I actually prefer to call it “sculpting with light”). Each student does an exercise in lighting a baseball for both shape and texture at the same time, and this can be a tricky exercise. I then shoot a demonstration image to show the process and why we can, and should, light our subjects with Photoshop blending in mind.
Of course, having been light painting for 24 years, I had to perfect the technique using film, and transparency film at that! Today we have the wonderful technology of digital capture and Photoshop. We can create images much more easily than in the old days!
Day 2… the first full day, I show how the image is put together in Photoshop using layers and masking, and the rest of the day is spent with students setting up and shooting their own images. I like to call this day “Boot Camp Day”, as in order to get the concepts across, I sometimes feel like a drill sergeant!
Day 3… FUN! It is spent in Photoshop, and students learn the nuances of masking and why I use masking differently than most. They learn to use masking to “bring in” the beautiful stuff as opposed to “getting rid” of the bad stuff, and how to do that in an aesthetically powerful way. It is really fun, to boot!
At my home studio, I have tons of props… old tools and machinery, pewter plates and tankards, vases, rocks, feathers, bones, etc., etc., etc. My co-instructor, John Corcoran and I have amassed a good collection of backgrounds… old doors, painted backgrounds, etc.
Obviously, students end up photographing some of the same props, but the combinations of subjects are quite unique! I love seeing what people come up with in terms of composition. John and I give compositional tips and help with problem solving, but for the most part, the compositions are created by the students.
John Faber, from Pennsylvania, created an image with a gorgeous color scheme. He picked out some huge oak leaves that had fallen in our front yard, and combined them with some other objects that were here. John wanted to learn about lighting shiny glass and how to deal with getting its color to come through, and did so with aplomb. Thanks to the exercise in lighting the baseball for shape and texture, he was able to use the same lighting style for the limes and oranges.
Photograph by workshop student John Faber
Lisa Cuchara, from Connecticut, was drawn to some of my industrial props. She really liked the gears and cutting wheels, all things with edges, and then added something that these objects need to survive… Oil. Lisa made this composition, which is a study of lines. Using light painting allows us to concentrate light on the edges in order to get great separation. Normally, for instance, one wouldn’t place a dark rusty object in front of another dark rusty object, but with light painting, this is no problem! Lisa originally wanted to light from the left side of the image, but for right handers, this can be difficult. One of the most important things in light painting is to get your eye directly in front of the lens in order to see just what the lens will see. This helps us make good decisions about lighting angle, movement, etc. Most people are used to being behind the camera, not out in front! Anyway, imagine leaning in from the left, while using your right hand to hold the light… not gonna work, usually. Lisa ended up lighting from the right, and she did a fantastic job.
Photograph by workshop student Lisa Cuchara
Pam Bredin, who traveled up from South Carolina, didn’t have a ton of experience with layers and masking, but soon became familiar with the techniques. I keep the Photoshop process simple. Basically, we make beautiful aesthetic choices in the lighting, and very controlled ones at that, then we use Photoshop to blend those choices together in a simple way. We all know that there are 57 ways to accomplish any one thing in the program, so I strive to keep it as straightforward as possible. Pam, like John above, worked very successfully with color in her composition. She is the first student to photograph one particular object here, a rusted steel plate that has a wonderful reddish patina. This echoes the color of the feather edge in the foreground. I’ve always loved the square format… it is a static frame, with no inherent movement, and Pam used it to very good effect.
Photograph by workshop student Pam Bredin
Ben Willmore, of “Everywhere”, USA (Ben lives in a motor home, and so the entire country is home to him), came to the workshop with a lot of experience in different kinds of light painting. When people initially think of light painting, they think of making shapes, or drawing, with the light. This is very cool stuff, and quite engaging. One can make orbs and lots of cool things with the light. Check out some of Ben’s photographs HERE. The process I use would be more aptly described as “sculpting with light”, and is a more naturalistic approach, using light to enhance shape, dimension and texture of a subject. Ben, who has a very solid Photoshop background, was also drawn to photograph some of my industrial props, and he has a love for vintage things. He and his wife own and are currently restoring a vintage 1963 Flexible Bus, and they’ll be living in it! Ben created this very nice composition, and the end result is terrific!
Photograph by workshop student Ben Willmore
Cam Miller, from Maryland, came back for a second workshop. Cam has been working with light painting since her first workshop in January of 2013 and has seen some “light painting success” by getting into shows, selling prints and winning awards! Cam is very energetic and enthusiastic, and really took on a complex image at the workshop. Lots of lighting challenges here. This is the kind of shot that is too complicated for a group workshop, and normally requires some experience to tackle. Great job, Cam!
Photograph by workshop student Cam Miller
Bob Lott, also from Pennsylvania, is someone I’ve known for quite awhile. He had expressed interest in doing a workshop in the past, and I’m glad that he finally did so! Bob is very sharp, and came to the workshop with a good working knowledge of Photoshop, and he took to light painting quite well! I like to say: “Simple is good” when it comes to learning light painting, and Bob created a simple, yet lovely image. One of the things I love about light painting is that a very simple setup (and even a mundane one) can be very compelling if seen under the “right light”. Light painting is indeed transformational, and Bob’s photograph is a great example of that!
Photograph by workshop student Bob Lott
Adam Elstein, of Brooklyn, NY, was trained as an architect. He has a deep interest in and is quite accomplished at photographing architecture. Adam has a thorough knowledge of the subject, and so it was no surprise that the image he created is quite architectural in nature. Choosing props from my collection of industrial scrap, Adam created an interesting “cityscape” with a variety of shapes and surfaces. Using light painting to isolate and create separation, he was able to compose freely. In other words, when using light painting, we aren’t limited by an object’s brightness or color to separate it from other subjects. As in Lisa’s photograph, second in this post, Adam was able to create relief and depth where there was very little to begin with. The entire depth of his set was approximately 4″! I love making images where three dimensional objects take on a graphic feel, yet remain utterly dimensional, and I love this photograph created by Adam.
Photograph by workshop student Adam Elstein
To see more student images from my workshops, click HERE.
If you’re interested in learning this powerful and rewarding technique, there are still spaces available in July’s session, to be held at my home studio in Lancaster County, PA. See more details HERE. Hope to see you!