A Neat Trick For Balancing Fire And Night Skies In Light Painting

One of the harder elements on light painting is balancing night skies and fire. Fire requires small aperture, while sucking in the light from the stars requires a long exposure at the widest aperture possible.

A Neat Trick For Balancing Fire And Sky In Light Painting

Light Painter Dennis Calvert shares a great tip on how to balance the both without the use of photoshop.

The trick is to use a lens with an aperture ring, and change the aperture during the exposure. Now those lenses are getting harder and harder to come by with newer CPU equipped lenses are controlled from the camera.

Dennis used a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 – a fully manual lens which aside from being pretty affordable it is darn sharp. Having an aperture ring allowed changing the exposure parameters midway through the exposure. Here is how Dennis Describes the trick:

To create the image at the top of this post [hi-res here], I taped (duct tape, for the obsessively curious) a sparkler fountain to a stick and moved it around behind a friend. For the first 50 seconds of the exposure, the camera was set to f/8, ISO100. After I finished with the fireworks, I walked over to the camera, opened the aperture up all the way to f/2.8, and let the sky burn in for another three minutes while my friend stood perfectly still. The total exposure time of the photo was 212 seconds. Having your friend stand barefoot and motionless in a cold lake for nearly four minutes after raining hell fire down on him really brings out the sadist in you.

If you have some old manually controlled lenses, don’t head out to eBay just yet – you may need one if you are doing complex light painting.

[Balancing Fire and Sky | Dennis Calvert]

  • http://tsfoto.com.br/ Thiago Souza

    hmm using a ND filter would be also a great solution, even better for those who doesn’t own a manual apperture lens :D

    • multiphrenic

      A ND filter wouldn’t solve either of the problems. it would only mean you’d need a larger aperture/greater shutterspeed for the sky. The difference in exposure between the sky and the fire would still be the same. A ND filter would be useful if you are outside in bright sun and need to darken the sky so you can work at a reasonable aperture when shooting at 1/250 to sync with a flash, for example, or if you are trying to reduce the depth of field.

      • KS

        Unless you removed the ND filter DURING the exposure. Good call Thiago Souza

        • http://tsfoto.com.br/ Thiago Souza

          Thats what i meant. the Apperture and the ND filter will work exactly the same way in this situation .

        • multiphrenic

          And what about the inevitable camera shake and sharpness loss that you’re going to suffer as a result?

          • Todd Gardiner

            That doesn’t have to be worse than the loss you already have from manipulating the aperture control on a manual lens.

            If done quickly, this would account for less than 1% of the total exposure time. Hardly a hit, although it is there for the pixel peepers. But then, so it having a model stand still for four minutes.

          • http://www.avpixlat.info/ Thomasson

            An addition to what Todd said; There are ways to use filters/sheets of glass that does not require actually touching the camera at all aswell.

    • Dennis Calvert

      That’s a great suggestion, but the two solutions aren’t really equal. I would have lost sharpness in the fireworks by opening up the aperture and using an ND filter.

      • Todd Gardiner

        Your sparks are already moving trails. How sharp can they be?

        It’s the background where you really take the sharpness hit with a wide aperture, but then you already did that for your sky exposure, so I’m not sure this is a weighty argument.

        • Dennis Calvert

          Narrow aperture produces tighter trails. Try both approaches for yourself and you will see the difference.