Painting With Light

I came across a very unique photographer last night-- www.nightphotographer.com -- and this guy's work is just amazing. He only shoots under the full moon, and while taking long exposures of around five minutes, he walks around and paints the scene with various colored lights and strobes. The images are just stunning!

So, naturally, I was inspired to try and do the same. I went out to the Nu'uanu Pali Lookout, a popular tourist spot by day, at about 4am this morning to try my hand at painting with light. Now, some of you may know that when shooting long exposures, it's perfectly fine to walk through the scene as long as you keep moving, and your figure won't show up in the shot. However, when you're firing off a hand-held flash, it most certainly will include some part of you in the shot. For example, if you fire a flash into the background while standing between it and the camera, your silhouette will show up. Also, firing toward the camera will result in a bright spot in the shot.

I found out that this dilemma makes for a particularly difficult shot!

The camera settings for this shot were 300sec @ f8, 20mm, ISO100 on a Canon 20D. I fired off my flash (a Canon Speedlite 430EX) around ten times. The colors were achieved by using 5"x6" plastic filter sheets that came with a cheap strobe light I bought at a novelty store.


You can see me at several points in the image, stating the obvious that I should probably practice this a little more! However, the background exposure came out just right and the flash lit up everything nicely even at ISO100. I think I may want to use ½ power flash or even ¼ power next time to get more even lighting and not light up my body as much. You can also see on the lookout sign where I used a handheld white LED flashlight to trace the lettering, and I think the light was a little too powerful. Having said all that, I present my first attempt at night painting:





My second attempt was not as detailed as this shot, but I managed to keep myself far enough away from the subject to crop out. I metered on the sky for the exposure and fired one flash on each side of the lamp.

So, what do you think? Have you done this before? Let me know how I can do it better next time! I have to say this was a particularly fun project to try, and I plan on shooting more shots like these in the future.

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