Tuesday, December 12th, 2006 by Reed Hoffmann
I'm just back from leading a photo trek to Maui for American Photo (http://www.mentorseries.com). I do about four trips a year like this, and we had just over thirty people joining us. The second day we spent driving and shooting along the road to Hana, and after dinner that night most of us headed to the beach for a little light painting.
If you haven’t tried light painting, it’s a lot of fun. All you need is a tripod, a flashlight, and a camera that can do time exposures of at least ten-seconds. Longer is better, and most digital SLRs can do up to thirty-seconds without using a fancy release of some sort.
Tom Bol was the other instructor I was working with. Tom’s an adventure, lifestyle, stock and commercial shooter based in Colorado (http://www.tombolphoto.com). Most people do light painting using small hand-held flashlights, and that works great when you’re doing portraits or working with small subjects. Tom had brought along a million-candlepower handheld, rechargeable spotlight, so we were able to go after bigger game (so to speak).
The basics of light painting are simple. Find a subject, set up your tripod and camera, open the lens and “paint” your subject with light. The darker your surroundings, the longer an exposure you can do. A good start is to set the camera for ten-seconds at 200 ISO and f/5.0. Then trip the shutter and start using the light. Try painting with strokes of light. Avoid two things: standing still (as long as you’re moving, you shouldn’t show up in the photo) and turning the flashlight toward the lens (unless you WANT the source to to show).
We started with three sailboats that were on the beach, with Tom running around shining his light on them while we did thirty-second exposures. Then a member of the group, who had a strong handheld flashlight, joined Tom to help with the painting. After everyone had a nice shot of the sailboats, we turned and did some shots of the beach and ocean, with the stars above. A few times a plane flew into the scene, which added a different look, with the streak across the sky.
As most people headed back to the hotel, I tried one more thing. Using a small red LED light I keep on my camera bag, I tried writing “Mentor Trek” in the air in front of my camera. It’s a bit of a challenge, trying to write backwards, keep moving and remember how much space you have to work with. After about ten tries, I finally got one I was happy with.
I always try to mix things up in a workshop, using both traditional and unusual techniques to teach different types of photography. I’ll write another column soon on the use of long exposures during the day.