How to approach a night time scene that has light trails photography
Low Light Photography
June 13, 2018

You must have seen light painting photography before. You may not be aware of the term though. Well, here it is.
Have you ever seen a night time photograph with long trails of light in the foreground as if some magician has weaved his wand and created magnificence? If so, you have already seen what a light painting is. It is nothing but painting the frame with a light source. The definition seems simple but the process is certainly not. This is one of the most challenging genres of photography to master, but with proper practice, you can be that magician we talked about earlier! Light painting is a prime example why people say that photography doesn't have boundaries. So how do we actually do it?


1) The gear
This is a form of long exposure photography. You will have to use very slow shutter speeds to capture all the light trails. With low shutter speeds, the issue of stability arrives. Hence you will need a very sturdy tripod. To make it more stable, hang a sand bag from the middle leg of the tripod. Make sure that the conditions are not too windy. You will also require a remote shutter release cable in order to avoid shakes during pressing of the shutter button. Apart from these, you will require a flashlight or a torch beam to actually make the light trails. It is always advisable to use a flashlight whose intensity can be adjusted. Carry flashlights of different colours to make the images more attractive. Extra batteries are also required since this process can be quite power consuming. Since you will have to shoot in raw mode, it is best to carry an extra memory card.

2) Location scouting
A proper location scouting has to be done prior to such a shoot. Think of your composition first and choose the location wisely. For example, in case you want to show a reflection of the entire frame as well, you need to shoot close to a clean water body. Try to involve the sky, stars or the moon to introduce a realistic feel to the image. If you don’t involve the earthly objects in your frame, there is a possibility that the entire shot may look quite artificial.

3) The technical aspect
Coming to the most important part of the blog, you must have a sound knowledge of the technical settings in your camera. Think about the painting you want to make. Practise doing the painting with the light source for a few times. This will also give you an estimate of the time required for the shutter to stay open. This will give you the shutter speed. Keep the ISO as low as possible with an aperture as wide as possible. You may even have to shoot multiple shots and do focus stacking later on in post processing. This will help you manage each part of your final image individually, thus sharpening your final image. Long exposure shots often heat up your camera sensor. As a result digital noise gets introduced. Give some time to the sensor to cool down once a set of images is taken. This, combined with a low ISO should make your image pretty much noise free.

4) The process
The concept is pretty simple. You keep the camera shutter open for a long period of time. During that time whatever movements you make with your light beam gets captured in the sensor, thus leaving a set of light trails. You may move around with the light without getting into the shot by wearing dark clothing. Make sure no light gets reflected off you. It is preferable to carry a flashlight without a centre hot spot. In case you cannot manage to get this, there are cheap solutions too. You can buy a snoot or a tape to block that centre hot spot. In case you are planning to use the focus stacking option later on, shoot each image with just a particular portion in sharp focus. With such a set of images, you can ensure that the final image will have all the parts of the frame in sharp focus. Focus stacking is an option present in Adobe Photoshop and is used by several photographers around the world.


5) The composition
Painting light trails into a night scene is a very creative form of photography. You can literally paint anything and everything. It may be a social message or an abstract design. Think of a unique composition to make your light painting even more attractive. Using the entire constellation above can be a nice way to start. This will however require a very clear sky. Travel to somewhere outside the city premises to get a shot of very clear skies. Use the entire set of stars in the frame and have your light painting below. There may be countless other compositions you can possibly create.


6) The challenges
Rebels come across several challenges. Unique art forms have hurdles of their own. One of the main challenges I have faced during light painting is the stability. A perfectly non windy condition is required, along with a very stable tripod. Apart from this, you have to be very much aware as to how you can eliminate noise from your images. Once these things are taken care of, you have to get down to the actual painting process. Painting with light in the air is a very challenging task. Your painting needs to be as close to perfection as possible. This will require immense practice. Practice several times at home before you actually travel for a light painting session.

Light painting is a very fascinating form of photography. It attracts amateurs and professionals both. However, as we have discussed, it comes with its own set of challenges. With rigorous practice sessions, such challenges can be overcome. Get out and explore this form of photography and I am sure these tips will help you to get going!

Low Light Photography
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