Jordana Wright is a professional photographer based in Chicago, IL. We first met Jordana during her America By Rail project, a 45 day photography trip across the western United States. She’s been our BFF ever since, making full use of our GorillaPod, Camera Strap GripTight and GorillaTorch lines. She also hosts photo walks and workshops in Chicago, so if you’re Chicago-based, be sure to follow her on Google+ and attend her next event! Thanks Jordana for writing this awesome article for us!
Painting with Light – featuring JOBY’s GorillaTorches
Photographs and Article by Jordana Wright
Painting with Light is a great way to add artistry and interest to your light photography. It can draw out details in natural features, add intrigue to architecture, and bring drama to portraits. To get started painting with light you’ll need: a camera, a tripod, and a couple of powerful flashlights – like the GorillaTorch 125.
When a recent commercial shoot brought me to Virgin Gorda, in the British Virgin Islands, I took the opportunity to practice Painting with Light in a few of the island’s iconic locations. Armed with my Canon 60Ds, a Gorillapod Focus with BallHead X, a wide selection of lenses, and four GorillaTorches, I explored locations like Virgin Gorda’s famed Coppermine Point, The Baths, and Spring Bay, eager to create something beyond traditional touristy photographs. For these shoots specifically, I worked in collaboration with another photographer (Lotus Carroll of Austin, TX), but there are plenty of ways to accomplish similar shots on your own.
The first photo features the iconic boulders found at Spring Bay and The Baths. It is a fairly easy shot to achieve, using basic Painting with Light techniques. For this photo, my camera was mounted on a tripod, set to a low ISO (200), with a wide aperture (f/5), and a very slow shutter speed (30 sec). Remote triggers are not required, but always helpful with longer exposures. They help to minimize camera shake while releasing the shutter. You can get away with using the “self timer” mode on your camera, but a remote is more consistent and very useful.
As far as the painting itself goes, there are a few different techniques you can play with. Ultimately, you’ll find what works best for you, or what works best for each style of image you’re going for. I like to tell students to think of Painting with Light as watering a lawn. You want to do an even job of it. You don’t want any dry spots (underexposed) but you don’t want muddy patches either (overexposed).
To keep my lighting even in this image, I utilized a steady side-to-side movement while working my way from the top of the object to the bottom. If all parts of the object are fully lit by the beam, you’ll still want to move your light continuously over the object to compensate for the brightness of the light’s hotspot, and the dimness of the light’s edges. The amount of time you spend painting will depend on your camera’s settings, the ambient light, the brightness of your light source, and the distance from the light source to the object. For this image, I painted the boulders the whole time the shutter was open, so about 30 seconds. I’m sure there’s an elegant formula somewhere to help you figure out the duration of painting, but with this sort of photography, experimenting is half the fun. The more you practice, the more you’ll develop tricks, techniques, and timing.
As I’m sure you can tell this next shot was A LOT more involved. For starters, because I used the red LED setting on the GorillaTorches, the duration of painting was much longer (red light is inherently dimmer so I needed longer painting times to achieve the same level of brightness as I would with white light). Also, to create the silhouette effect, you will need a second person to stand in the frame.
We painted the foreground by hiding one light in among the rocks of the structure and leaving it turned on for the whole exposure. Once the foreground light was placed, I triggered the shutter, carefully scrambled up the structure and hit a pose. When going for the silhouette effect, make sure your model chooses a pose that they can hold for several minutes. While I posed, Lotus painted the structure from the inside using two Gorillatorches, being careful to fill in every nook and cranny. In order to get the full inside of the ruin, Lotus did a fair amount of crawling around and hit it from all angles. We composed this shot several times to get a variety of exposures levels and shutter speeds. For this specific image, the camera was set to ISO 100, at f/9, for 30 seconds.
The ring and moonlight that backlit the ruins were completely atmospheric and visible to the naked eye. We certainly composed the image to accent the dramatic sky, but the halo effect itself is just an example of being prepared to adjust to your surroundings when they give you something great to work with! 🙂
Another way to paint with light is often seen with light sources like glow sticks, steel wool, and bright LEDs. It involves facing toward the open shutter while moving your light source to create a shape or pattern, or even to form letters. When painting words, you can make each letter from your perspective – which will be the mirror image from the camera’s perspective – then, flip the image over in Photoshop. Make each stroke of the torch several times to sufficiently burn in the letters. Between letters, be sure to cover the light source with your hand or a black cloth to keep from connecting the letters with accidental light trails.
Painting with Light is becoming more and more popular among photographers of the digital age. Now that we have powerful LED technology it is even easier to add the technique to your repertoire. So, grab your camera, a tripod, and some of JOBY’s GorillaTorches and start experimenting!