Mumbling and Grumbling from the audience makes me smile!


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Light Painted Image by Photographer Harold Ross

“Still Life with Shallots”

Photograph © Harold Ross

I often give talks and lectures on my work, and invariably, someone asks the question “How many captures do you normally shoot to make one image?” The question itself is a very good one, and when I answer it (and my answer is “Usually from 10 to 40 captures”), then an interesting thing happens! Without exception, I hear quiet mumbling and grumbling from the audience. This always makes me smile!

It makes me smile because I’m happy that, for me, there is no length of time that is too much to invest in making a good image. It doesn’t matter to me whether I spend an hour or a day or even a week on an image. For me, it isn’t about quantity (how many images I make in a day/week/month/year), but rather, how “good” is the image? This can mean different things to different people. For instance… a “good” image could be any of the following: interesting, entertaining, beautiful, thought-provoking, etc.

Some photographers travel the world to capture a great image. Others may wake up at three in the morning to make a great image. Still others may suffer cold and heat to make a great image. Isn’t this a lot of time and effort also? Additionally, there are photographers who shoot hundreds of images in a day, only to then spend hours and hours editing them down.  

In my opinion, it does take time and effort to make great photographs. Sure, we have almost all had that unexpected experience of having an amazing image come from very little effort, but this isn’t usually the norm. Hard work, being prepared, learning the craft, and developing one’s vision all help us make better images. Notice that purchasing a particular brand of camera is NOT on my list! 

Light Painted Image by Photographer Harold Ross

“Blood Orange with Grapes”

Photograph © Harold Ross

Yes, I make more than one capture to create an image. Why? It comes down to one word: control. Certainly there are people who make light painted images in one capture; I could do (and have done) that also, if I wanted to. That said, I’d rather have absolute control over depth, dimension, texture and detail that a multiple-capture workflow allows. In my opinion, making a light painted image in one capture is always a compromise! The light used to light one element of an object will usually bounce around and reduce the texture/shape/dimension of the other objects in the image. This reason is easy to understand, but this is actually the least important one! 

The most important reason to use multiple captures is that when we light just one element of an image, we can concentrate on just that element. We can light using an optimal angle and an optimal distance for that element, and we can use the optimal movement of the light for that element. And, like most things in life, it’s actually easier to deal with something when it is broken down into pieces.

For me, there is no question that breaking an image into smaller pieces makes it easier (and better). Remember, the main (and most important) advantages to light painting are:

1. We can light from a close distance to soften the light (often less than an inch!)

2. We can use movement (this softens the light further)

3. We can light any element in an image from the best angle for that element (this allows us to “render” the most meaningful aspects of a subject)

Light Painted Image by Photographer Harold Ross

“Small Industrial Fan”

Photograph © Harold Ross

Further, the essence of light painting is that we can use a harder (smaller) light for its advantages (surgically accurate lighting, “painterly” modeling of the subject, amazing color rendition, and tremendous texture) and at the same time, we can make that harder (smaller) light look softer (in my opinion, more beautiful) through proximity to subject AND movement. This is what makes light painting unique and powerful. Add to that the incredible ability to create even more shape, depth and dimension through masking in Photoshop, and you have a very powerful set of tools!

I have been light painting for 30 years. This means that I light painted before Photoshop and with film. Transparency film! Here’s an example of an advertising image I made over 20 years ago:

Light Painted Image on Transparency Film by Photographer Harold Ross

Photograph © Harold Ross

Even then, I added light to the image a bit at a time, opening the view camera dozens or even, in a few cases, hundreds of times to expose one piece of film. Digital technology has now made this so much easier! Why not take advantage of the digital tools we have available to us? Of course, a multiple-capture workflow is one of the most important one when it comes to light painting.

So I ask the question… Why would you want to give up the control; the texture, depth and painterly aspects of light painting by lighting the entire image in just one capture? Simply to say that you did so?

As for me, I’ll continue to make fewer images than I might if I made them in one capture, and I hope to spend that time in making those images better, not in making more images. Meanwhile, I’ll smile when I hear mumbling and grumbling coming from the audience!

Light Painted Image "Persistence #2" by Photographer Harold Ross

“Persistence #2”

Photograph © Harold Ross

If you would like to learn my image-making methods (and much more!), there are three ways to take a workshop with me, and we have just added more dates for 2019.

For workshop information please click HERE .

(On Friday we just had a student reschedule their spot in our July 26-28th workshop. Perhaps you’d like to fill it? Call or email me at 717-923-0269 or

All images from students over the years are HERE.


~ by Harold Ross on June 24, 2019.

16 Responses to “Mumbling and Grumbling from the audience makes me smile!”

  1. I love this article, Harold.

  2. Very well put and I totally agree.

  3. Well said Harold!

  4. Why would you begrudge the artist a single brush stroke if it brought the image to life?

    • Hi Chris! Great to hear from you! I’m certainly not begrudging the artist. If you read my post carefully, you’ll see that in many places, I am using “in my opinion”, “for me”, and “I’d rather”, etc. I wouldn’t call this “begrudging.” In fact, I have a deep appreciation of all things “simple”. Japanese ink brush techniques, for example (Sumi-e) can be exquisite. I also mention that many photographers have had an “amazing image come from very little effort”. I’m actually celebrating the “single brush stroke” there. In my article, I’m speaking specifically about light painting photography, something I’ve been steeped in for 30 years, and what works best for me! :-) Thanks for your thought-provoking comment, Chris!

  5. Harold,

    This post really spoke to me. My mock orange just finished a spectacular season and to photograph it I found myself having to seriously readjust my workflow. Because the blossoms move with the slightest air current and their turgor pressure changes rapidly, I had to content myself with fewer shots done in rapid succession – no time to look at images in Capture One until the sequence was done. It is the challenge and joy of photographing living things that aren’t really still. Sometimes it takes all day to get it right…but when it works it is so damn satisfying!!!

    Hope you and Vera have a splendid summer.

    Best, Deb


    • Hi Deb, great to hear from you! Yes, photographing living things like flowers certainly presents some challenges! But you are so right; when it works it is entirely satisfying :-) even things like a peeled orange or an onion slice are constantly moving, albeit in very small amounts!
      You have a great summer also!

  6. Hi Harold,
    Visually stunning. The fan image was fantastic to see along with your additional images in your post. I will also say that seeing your work inspires me to take on the challenges to improve in my endeavors Sincerely, Doug Askew

  7. I’ve never done light painting, but always get so much inspiration from your beautiful work – thanks for sharing. Peter

  8. I love your way of lighting your motives!

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