Shooting at night. In the woods. In the dark.

Untitled #5 from Harold Ross' light painting photography series "Night"

I love a challenge. After having done so much light painting in the studio, it was only natural for me to seek a more challenging scenario. I’ve always been drawn to the outdoors, and to trees especially, so I started shooting outdoors at night using light painting. Shooting outside at night is challenging in several ways… firstly, and what lies beneath the logistical difficulties… is quality of light. It’s easy to cast a light onto a subject, with a lamp, a flashlight, anything. The difficult part is getting the quality of light that you want (and need). The light from a small source (like a flash head or flashlight) is hard, with harsh shadows and abrupt highlights. This is something that is known among studio photographers, and so larger light sources are in many cases the norm.

This idea of light source size gets a bit more complicated as subjects get larger. The softness of a light source is dependent on the size of the source IN RELATIONSHIP TO THE SIZE OF THE SUBJECT. So, a lime lit by a 1 foot x 1 foot light at a distance of 2 feet will have much softer lighting than a large watermelon lit by the same light at the same distance.

In light painting, the size of the light source is changeable. In a time exposure, you can move the light around and, in effect, make it larger. As an example, a 4″x24″ light source, when waved in a sweeping motion, can easily be made into a 24″x60″ light source. Double the sweep, and it becomes a 48″x70″ light source. Move in closer to the subject and it becomes (relative to the subject) even larger. Softer shadows, better edge transitions, but without some of the deficits of larger sources, such as flat color and lack of texture. Painting with light gives one the best of both worlds, plus some:-) Tremendous control, great texture, excellent color saturation, exact light placement all combined with softness (if you want that), and smooth transitions.

So, when you are talking about lighting a 50′ wide landscape, and large trees, the light source that is considered large in the studio becomes minuscule. How do you make a light source large enough? The simple answer is: use a small light and move it around.

~ by Harold Ross on March 8, 2010.

4 Responses to “Shooting at night. In the woods. In the dark.”

  1. Tell me more! :)

  2. Enjoyed the light painting! Wow, looks fantastic. Janice Kahalley

  3. is there a way i can buy this woods picture? if you know the original source.

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