Impressionistic Light Paint Photography

Impressionistic light paint photographyAs you probably know, one of my favorite techniques is light painting.

This is why I was so happy when reader and artists Chris Kroeger from Light Paint Photography agreed to share one of his special light painting techniques with DIYP readers. Just a word of caution, this is not your ordinary light painting.

The art of light paint photography is thought to of begun with Pablo Picasso. His simple black and white image with nothing more than a few light scribbles spawning a new art. Today most light painting closely resembles Picasso first image, a image that light painting is added to draw in something that is not in the original image.

I hope to help change all of that.

Items needed

  • Impressionistic light paint photographyA small set of colored LEDs that can be turned on and off quickly. (Example pictured to the right). Or Zeke K’s Gel flashlight tutorial should work perfectly with “regular” LED lights.
  • Cotton balls
  • Duck or Gaffer tape
  • Black chalk board, I mostly use a 11×8
  • Colored chalk
  • Tripod
  • A camera that has a bulb mode
  • Wireless camera trigger
  • A 3.0x Neutral density filter
  • At least an 80mm lens (or ~50mm on DX) but longer lenses will work better.
  • Photoshop, The GIMP or any other image editing software.

Setting up the LEDs

First set up the LEDs. You will need the tape and cotton balls. Thickly wrap a small cone of tape around the end of the LEDs, the size of the cone will determine the size of your “paint brush”. Fill the cone with ripped up pieces of cotton balls, until there is a nice even glow when you turn on the LED.

If you are using Zeke K’s gel flashlights you will need to add the cotton behind the Gels, until it is even. I find it works best when you use one flashlight per color so I’m not scrambling around for a gel wile the camera shutter is open.

Now meter each LED to F/1.4, 1/30sec @ 200 ISO. Adding more cotton till the desired amount of light is showing through. A hand meter works best, but an in camera spot meter will work just fine. Many different styles of brushes can be made using the above technique.

Creating A Template

Next, you will need to select an image you have taken or a picture you have drawn and transfer it to the Chalk board. Please keep in mind that each different color that you want to represent on the canvas has to be made using a different LED. So if you have 3 different colored LEDs, you can only have 3 different colors in your image.

Now draw an outline for each component of the picture using different colored chalk to define each different colored element of the image.

For example, if I was doing this Picture:

Impressionistic light paint photography

The chalk board would look something like this:

Impressionistic light paint photography

Each color is for a different color LED, except white. For all areas that you marked using the white chalk, trace over a second time with the same color LED that was used for the outlined element. White is used to show highlights in the image.

Taking The Image / Making The Painting

When painting you will need to go over each color with the correct LED, going over each part as if you were painting the picture. Then go over the white parts a second time. For the above example, you will want to color in the entire area for the road and the grass, not just the outline. For the sky, color in the entire area, and then paint over the bottom half a second time and the bottom 1/3 once more to make the sky progressively brighter.

Place the Chalk board on the floor or against a wall and set up the camera so the chalk board fills 90% of the frame, with the lens completely out of focus set at infinity. Camera should be set up at f/2.8 bulb ISO 200 remote release. Place the ND filter on the lens. Line up each color LED next to the chalk board in the order you will be using them, you will only want to pick up each color once.

Make the room dark, very dark, you should barely be able to see the edge of the chalk board. You will want to sit in the dark room for about 15 minutes until your eyes adjust to the light, and you are just able to see the drawing on the chalk board.

Place your head right along side the chalk board so you do not bind your self with the LEDs. Open the shutter with your wireless remote and trace over each area with the LED that corresponds with each chalk out-line. You will only have a few minutes before the camera exposes the chalk, so paint quickly.

Load the image into photoshop (or other photo editing program) and it should look like a jumble of colors that resembles your selected picture.

Post Processing

To adjust the colors in Photoshop go to Image – Adjustments-Hue/Saturation and change the LED color to the desired color. For fine tune editing go to: Image –> Adjustments –> Color replacement, and select each color and replace it with the desired color. (You will be doing this a number of times so setting it to a hot key is a good idea). Bring up the contrast and clip off some of the blacks with Ctrl+L or Command+L on mac.

Impressionistic light paint photography

Do you light paint? Do you use this technique? Another?  Share your images and light painting tips on the comments below.

This is just a start, there are many other techniques to create full bleed light paintings. More of my work can be found at LightPaintPhotography.