The night photography assignment that scared me the most was light painting.
Light painting is for creative people.
I cringed when I saw the assignment on the syllabus the first day of class. As the weeks went by, I worked on other assignments to learn about light and color at night and got more comfortable setting up my night shots. And the worry continued to build as the inevitable approached.
For some reason, I have this idea stuck in my brain that I’m not really a creative person. Of course, over the past few years I have learned that is not true at all.
I am creative.
For those of you who have this same internal struggle, read this post about creativity. And stop whining about how you aren’t that creative or do not have any good ideas.
How to get past your creativity block?
I mean… take inspiration from others.
In other words, copy their technique or aesthetic and apply it in a different way. Yes, copying is a good thing when you want to (or have to) try something new but feel like you don’t know how to get started.
Here are my first attempts at light painting. If you’ve never created these types of images before, steal these ideas and try it out.
Write something in light.
Everyone has seen this type of image before.
But this one is mine.
Tips: I used my travel head lamp as the light source. Take a few test shots to make sure your scene is in focus and you know the length of the exposure. Then try light painting. Try to move the light at about the same pace as you write. Check after each one to see where your writing may be a little off and try again.
Now write something clever.
Once you know you can do it, think of something a little more clever.
As you know, I am obsessed with my new transportation options, so when a friend made a joke about these little smart cars and the phrase “zoom zoom,” I set up this image.
Outline a subject to add interest (or creepiness).
In my night photography class, we talked about outlining objects with light to practice the technique. I thought it would be interesting to outline a person looking at a scene to give it a different mood.
Tips: For this image, the entire scene was important, so I took a few test shots to make sure I knew how long to keep the shutter open to capture the graffiti wall and downtown buildings in the distance. I used the same travel headlamp for this image. I started the exposure and then ran into the scene with the light covered until I was ready to start the outline. I covered the light when I completed the outline and then ran out of the scene, so there were no extra trails of light.
Use your zoom lens to create movement with light.
There was one guy in my class who made beautiful night images that applied light in a very creative way (even for assignments that were not titled “light painting.”) When we critiqued our assignments in class, we always spent the most time talking about his because we all wanted to know about his technique and how he got the idea for the scene. I stole this idea from him but applied it to a completely different scene.
Tips for creating this image: Christmas lights are an easy way to experiment. I decided to create a warm dinner table scene with these lights I hang for Christmas. I first took a few shots to gauge how long I would need to leave the shutter open. Then I experimented with zooming the lens out during the shot. Be careful not to wobble the camera and keep a smooth short motion with the zoom.
Have you tried light painting?