Have fun with this wet method of light painting a waterfall with colourful neon lights
There are so many ways to explore light painting, the possibilities are endless. One way to light paint a waterfall is the traditional method of using some sort of flashlight and shining the light up and down the waterfall while you use a long shutter speed. That can certainly produce beautiful and ethereal results. But Peter Juhlin from Gothenberg, Sweden decided to try a completely different method and ended up with this spectacular colourful result. Read on to discover how he did it!
Peter told DIYP that he came up with the idea of light painting this particular waterfall (image above) after he’d been out photographing it on a rainy Winter’s day. In Winter in Sweden, the daylight doesn’t last long, and Peter found himself returning to his car in darkness (luckily he had thought to bring a flashlight!). He immediately thought it would be interesting to see if he could somehow make the light float in the actual water, defining the streams as opposed to just lighting up the waterfall in the traditional way.
Peter enlisted the help of his niece and her boyfriend to carry out his light painting plan, as they are both experienced rock climbers and would be confident moving about a waterfall in the dark safely. “Although not photographers themselves, they were both keen to help out,” says Peter.
- Canon eos R6 mounted on a Gimbal head and tripod.
- lens Helios Anamorphic 58mm.
- External remote
- Net like a fishing net that can be secured with rocks or weights to catch the light sticks.
- Big wide flashlight for the light painting of the background first 1.5-2 seconds before the drop of the light sticks
- light sticks (any will do, but here at DIYP we would recommend the KYU6 LED light sticks from Spiffy Gear
They arrived at the waterfall an hour before it got dark in order to find the best vantage point to set up the camera, find the composition and focus, and set up a net to catch the light tubes. They also practised what they would do in the daylight as it was something that they hadn’t tried before. They tried out several lenses before finally settling on a manual Helios 58mm.
“We found out really quick that it was very difficult to paint the whole waterfall so we concentrated on one piece of it,” said Peter. “This partial drop is approx 14 meters in height.” Then it was time for a short break and picnic while they waited for nightfall.
First of all, they took an exposure of the waterfall lit with the normal flashlight (image above). This served to light up the waterfall a little to provide a little more ambient light and to also get the focus correctly.
They put two light sticks of each colour inside a plastic bag and inflated the bag so that it would float. The idea being that the bags containing the lights would be dropped into the flow of the water and would light up the waterfall as they went down. There were many difficulties and problems that needed to be solved, however.
“The first shots with these glowsticks looked good but failed many times,” Peter says. “At the beginning of the session, they leaked water and sank so they disappeared from the view.” They ended up having to re-tie the bags and shoot many times over before they achieved any images that lived up to Peter’s visualisation.
One of the biggest problems Peter tells us was that the noise of the water was so loud that they couldn’t speak to each other to communicate when to drop the lights and fire the camera. To overcome this, Peter devised a communication system of light flashes. 2 pulses =I’m ready, 3 pulses = they start, 4 pulses = wait, 5 = re-start, and 6 = all perfect.
“I had two jobs in this shoot” explains Peter. “The first was to fire the camera, while the second was retrieving the light sticks and bags from the net in the water.” Sounds easy enough, but let’s not forget that this is Sweden in Winter! “The water was 12 degrees Celcius, I took an evening bath about 4 or 5 times that evening” laughs Peter.
The final settings used were BULB-mode, f/5.6, ISO 800, 2 exposures at 15 and 8 seconds.
In the end, this was the final image that they were satisfied with:
It’s an interesting technique and one that obviously yields some amazing results. I might be tempted to wait until the weather warms up though before I try it, freezing cold water is not my friend, though I’m happy to stay up late for nightfall!
You can follow Peter on Instagram.
Have you tried this way of light painting waterfalls?
Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe