How to create striking colours in-camera with DIY light painting tubes

Jun 28, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

How to create striking colours in-camera with DIY light painting tubes

Jun 28, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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As well as often producing fantastic images, light painting is great fun. While you might have an idea in mind, you never really know what you’re going to get until you see the final shot. For some, that’s the whole point. The excitement of seeing if you can pull off your vision, and the unexpected surprises you encounter.

One difficulty in light painting, though, especially when your light source is in the shot is blowing out the highlights. In this video, light painting master Eric Paré offers a demonstration on how he builds his light painting tubes. Specifically, how he gets them to have such vibrant and striking colours. It all boils down to having the right gels.

YouTube video

The video comes in response to being asked a question about creating colour in-camera. Given Eric’s sense of humour, the video begins with an obvious way to get more colour “in-camera”. By dripping paint into it.

Of course, this isn’t quite what the person asking the question had in mind. So, Eric explains his process for creating his coloured light painting tubes. Which, not surprisingly, begins with a tube. A long transparent plastic tube, to be precise. These are available at hardware stores, or online at varying lengths.

Depending on the look you’re after, you can either use the tubes at whatever length they come. Or you can cut them down to your desired size. Then it’s a case of slotting a gel inside it. This lets you turn the basic tube into any colour you wish.

These work well, but this isn’t the final step of the process. To really create a nice smooth tone across the entire tube there’s one extra element that needs to be added. A long thin piece of white paper cut to the same size as your gel. You want something semi-opaque, like baking paper or tracing paper to give a nice smooth spread of light across the tube. The gel and paper are layered together and then rolled into a tube with the gel on the inside.

With this slotted inside the plastic tube, and a flashlight in one end, you can really see the difference. The transition and spread from one end of the tube to the other is much smoother than just using the gel alone. Eric shows the tube that was used to create the image at the very top of this post using both gel and paper.

And it was also used to create these images, too.

Eric also showed the advantage of gelling the entire tube rather than simply putting a piece of gel over the end of the flashlight. Gelling the end of the flashlight is obviously much cheaper, as you only need a small gel. But, it does provide a very different result.

As you can see, it’s quite a dramatic difference. I’d say neither method is right or wrong, they just give different looks. Sometimes you prefer one, sometimes you prefer the other.

After you’ve made your tubes, though, it’s time to just get out there and practice.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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