Painting with Light
I've been working with light painting for a few weeks now, testing out different methods, different light sources, etc. I know I wanted to do something with baseball... but I wasn't quite sure where I would be for a finished series. All I knew is that I wanted it to be sports related, use a kid or two, and of course use color- lots of color. I was very inexperienced with painting with light, I had played with some light painting during the 4th of July with sparklers, and being silly, but never truly tried to execute a look or idea. I knew this project was going to be a lot of trial and error, and finding a way to do it with a wiggly kid. I wanted to create a piece that has potential for my final portfolio in college, and kids seem to be where I shine most/ where I find myself the happiest. Thankfully, I have a 7 year old who loves all things photography and was 100% on board with all my crazy ideas and attempts.
In the beginning, I had tried timed exposures, but then the pressure was on to make sure I had enough time to "paint" with switching lights, or completely out of the scene when the flash fired, and overall I just felt constrained to the time limit. So, for me, the best decision was to shoot in Bulb mode- of course on a tripod. I have a remote, but it's a cheap one from Amazon that is less than reliable at times. We tried a few times of my husband holding the shutter open for me, but we faced too much movement of the camera. I basically fired him from camera duty and decided to use the canon app on my phone as my shutter release which requires linking your phone to a wifi network created by the camera. Occasionally it would disconnect and I would have to reconnect, which was frustrating, but ended up being what worked the best without me having to spend more money. I would click to record and run around like a mad woman. We were doing this outside in my driveway for most of these shots... I can only imagine what my neighbor thinks as well as those driving by as I'm running all over the place waving lights around.
In the shot above, you can see some ghosting on my son. I expected that with the slower shutter speed. I had passed over too closely to areas I had already passed, recording light in areas multiple times, which captured his slight movements. In the image below, I decided to try using a flash to give a sharp subject, but found I was still not quite getting the look I wanted. I tried it with 1st curtain sync as well as rear/ 2nd curtain sync as well. I found 1st curtain was easier for the subject to have preparedness for the flash because we can anticipate the flash with the initial shutter push. Rear curtain, It worked, but again, expressions for more of a, "Deer in headlights" type of look, even with a heads up the flash was coming. It seemed like pure luck when everything would come together the way I would envision the shot, but still not what I wanted... but, we're still learning and really just working on timing here and if flash or no flash will give me the look I desire on my subject. At this point, I was ready to incorporate some color.
I decided to play with my AlienBee 800 to light him more than I was able to get with my Speedlight. We did a setup in my makeshift studio, a.k.a. my living room using the black side of my V-Flat for a background and a black sleeping bag for the floor. I used light wire to wrap his bat with and had him swing. I quickly found that at any point of swinging the bat, my son couldn't think about facial expressions- but that was ok, we were still in "play" mode and a lot of trial and error. I found I really liked the light trail from the bat. However, I tried to plan this out as a series of 3, and wasn't quite sure how I was going to create a series with the same "wow factor" of movement. We tried to wrap a baseball in the light wire, but found that to be too complicated with the only light being a small baseball and keeping in mind my 7 year old had to catch the light ball. The catching would also really need that rear curtain sync and I found timing everything just right just not working. The battery pack for the light wire was also very challenging to work with in every setup we attempted. You can see the black electrical tape on the bat in the test shot shown here. It was fun to play with, but decided this wasn't the look I wanted . I really wanted something with more color, more saturation straight out of camera. I just didn't get that with the light wire and alienbee combo I used. But hey, we're learning, and as I tell my son, "Practice makes improvement". There is no, "Perfect" because in perfection there is no more growth, no more learning and we're stuck with a result. With improvement, we learn, we get growth, we challenge ourselves to do something different and better.
"Practice makes improvement."
Setting up inside made me question if the gate lights were too bright to get that saturation I wanted. So, I kept that in the back of my mind and worked inside a bit more with testing different lights. I honestly started to question if choosing a light painting portrait was a good idea for a school project was my brightest idea, but I was determined and I had put in so much work, I wasn't stopping.
After making the decision against using rear curtain sync and using the light wire, I purchased some cheap little fiberoptic lamps off of Amazon. I wasn't quite ready to make the investment in light-painting brushes since I was still very much in a learning phase and trying to decide what I wanted for my final piece. I started to play with the fiber optic lights and felt completely discouraged. The back of the camera just showed blobs and streaks of light. I started playing more with an extremely nice light wand a friend from class let me barrow instead just for fun. At the end of the night when we called it quits, I almost decided to just format the card, but decided to open them up in Lightroom just to see if the back of my camera was misleading, and boy was it!
I was sold. Fiber optic lights were wanted I wanted... But then the challenge, how to use them for sports? I had tried to do as I had in the shot above, by running the light over the face like a paint brush. I was unable to maintain enough detail for anything baseball to be understood. I had to take a step back and reevaluate how I wanted to use them. The color is exactly what I wanted, but now I had to nail the execution.
I tried bringing in a flash again to freeze any movement and get a sharp subject, but was finding it was taking too much away from the color in fiber optics. I had already returned the light wand I had borrowed back to my classmate, so I purchased a cheap wand I had stumbled across in Wal Mart's electronic section. I used the wand to light him with a quick pass before painting with the fiber optics. The wand was lit all the way around, on all sides of the wand. The camera will record a streak of light in front of the subject if there is a light pointed at the camera in front of your subject. So, I took black electrical tape and covered the backside of the wand. Using bulb mode and my Canon app on my iPhone, I did a quick swipe with the want from foot to head and powered it off quick. I switched to the fiberoptic and painted around and lightly on the sides of my son. I got exactly what I wanted. I was quick enough with the wand and made sure I was careful with how long the fiber optics were in a particular spot to not get ghosting. I did it all in a single exposure, no composites. I may have squealed a little. Now it was time to create a series and think of how to pair them together.
I decided I liked the way the vehicles passing recorded the red/orange/yellow streaks in the background. So, I timed each exposure out with passing vehicles. I'm in a rural area, so at times there was more of a wait, not to mention as the time passed, there were less and less cars. So, I was unable to complete this in 1 night, and lining of the shots would be a bit more work. Weather played a big part as well. Windy nights didn't work great for freezing motion with the wand and we had some rain that came through. But the moment I got the 3 images I wanted, it was such a sense of accomplishment!
I played with presentation some, combining all 3 images vs keeping them as individuals. I also did some brush work in Photoshop, adding some splatter matching the colors of the light work to give it more pop. In class, we printed to help in making decisions for our final prints. Seeing them individually and combined as 1 print, I decided they viewed better as 1 individual print. I was asked why I felt they viewed better individually and the best way I knew how to explain it is like a period at the end of a sentence telling you to take a breath. Better words might have been to say that it allows you to stop and look at each part vs quickly pass by without appreciating each section of the series. I decided I preferred the shots with the brush work, and feedback from my class seemed to be the same, but with some masking of some of the brushwork to not take away from the fiber optic colors.
I decided as the final part to my presentation, I am having these printed on acrylic. I think the vibrant colors paired with acrylic will be the perfect pair. I considered metal, but I don't think the color will be there like I'm hoping for. So next step, get them ordered and ready for hanging at the school in about a week! That will be another challenge as acrylic isn't cheap, and the faster services are even more expensive. I really didn't consider costs before I chose acrylic as my medium. But, again... I've committed and do believe it will be the best for my series, so we're going for it!
I hope you enjoyed my journey to this point. What are your thoughts about light painting?