One-on-One light painting lesson

Last week I gave a one-on-one light painting photography lesson to Jane Koester, who had expressed an interest in learning more about the technique and aesthetics of light painting in the landscape.
We went to Rockwood Park in Wilmington, Delaware to see what it had to offer, and we immediately saw some interesting things there.
We decided to photograph a huge Bonsai-looking tree which had an amazing canopy and trunk structure. A real challenge to light, kind of like a cave!

On our walk around, though, prior to coming back to the tree, I noticed a small circular ring of stones around a very small pond. I said to Jane that this would be a very cool thing to shoot and she looked at me like I was a little loony, but we agreed that we would come back and shoot it after we did the tree.
So, we returned to the tree, and Jane set up her camera, picked an angle, and we started shooting as the sun went down. I always recommend shooting some captures while there is still light in case one needs some fill lit areas to bring into the image during post production.

We started light painting as soon as it got dark, and “covered all the bases” with the light. We did what I call an “external” lighting, that is with the light coming in from the sides, and an “internal” lighting, much trickier, with the light coming from “within” the tree.
We were using a 10″x10″ LED panel powered by a battery, but because during the time exposure we could move it around, it looks and feels like a much larger (and softer) light source.

After shooting the canopy and ground around the tree, we moved on to our second shot, of the circular rock pond.
This was a bit more direct, and we concentrated on softly lighting the stones from above, while raking the light to maximize texture, and then lighting the grass around the pond, and then finally, the water. Of course, by this time, there was no ambient light, so the choice of subject matter ( and choice of camera angle) was made with that in mind. We avoided a large expanse that normally would have been partially lit by the fading light of dusk, or by a full moon.
Total shoot time was about 2-3 hours.

In my way of working, post production has to be part of any light painting lesson. My method involves making several different captures which will be blended together to form the final image. This is not cut and paste Photoshop trickery, but a more naturalistic soft blending together of the captures (and parts of captures) that we like and want to use. I use layering and masking to achieve this.
Starting with the tree captures, we first blended together the “background” image, that is, the tree canopy, the ground and the sky. Saving this image, we then went on to blend together the images of the “externally” lit tree, which mainly consisted of the branches and limbs.
We went on to blend this image with the one of the canopy and sky for the final image.

The pond / rocks image went together rather easily. We blended together a grass / background image, and saved it, and then blended together an image of the rocks and water, and then put those together for the final.

Jane Koester writes:
“Learning how the angle, the intensity, and the closeness to the subject all affect the lighting was a revelation to me.” and “The post production was also a learning experience. I am not a Photoshop user so it was all very foreign to me, but in watching Harold’s process, it made sense to me. I’m sure anyone with or without Photoshop experience will “get it.” I was amazed to see how all of the pieces fit together to form a single amazing image.”

If you are interested in a one-on-one light painting lesson in the landscape or in the studio, visit Fine Art Photography | Light Painting Workshops | Harold Ross which has my contact information.  I look forward to sharing my knowledge and experiences from a lifetime of light painting with you.

~ by Harold Ross on March 29, 2010.

One Response to “One-on-One light painting lesson”

  1. Very cool stuff Harold,

    I’ve been trying to figure out how we might incorporate some of this in our office imagery, but it’s challenging because we deal mostly with moving subjects. But we do need to capture more night action.

    I’d be interested in setting something up with you so the guys can at least learn more about the digital workflow you’re so comfortable using. I’ll let you know whether we can pursue some kind of workshop with you.

    In the meantime, keep up the great work. I’m really enjoying the blog.

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