Mike Muizebelt is a Holland-based photographer, who among other things, is known for his diversity with subject matter. His most common subjects are animals and landscapes, and he is hitting it hard with light painting as well. To paint with light as Mike does requires both a fine-tuned technique and the right gear.
We know that we can’t reveal all his secrets though, Mike shares some insights and tips with DIYP. To me, light painting is a complete mystery. How do the light painters create those circles, waves and patterns? Their models look like they are motionless, but we suspect they somehow have set lights in motion. What is going on? We have asked Mike a few questions.
For how long have you been doing light painting photography?
Lightpainting is actually an old technique where the photographer stands behind the camera and illuminates the landscape with a small torch or flashlight. It’s a technique that I’ve often used when shooting nightscapes with some added detail in the landscape (See image below).
The technique you are referring to should be described as light drawing; the photographer is standing in front of the camera and operates his or her camera with a remote. It requires planning, balancing your settings and a steady hand to draw shapes in the sky.
I learned of this technique in 2017 and have been practicing it ever since. It’s a great way to learn about light and longer shutter speeds. I’m using the wrong term myself as well, so we’ll stick to lightpainting for the rest of the interview.
What made you start out experimenting with this type of photography?
People who are familiar with my work as a wildlife photographer know that I’m not shy with experimenting; double exposures, high key, panning and long exposures have always held my interest. I’m always on the lookout for a fresh approach to my photography. When I learned about lightpainting I was immediately interested in the technique. My initial try-outs were far from perfect. Learning to choose the right tools, settings and poses was a journey I enjoyed tremendously.
Is there anyone in special who has inspired you?
Without a doubt Eric Paré. He is a true master in this craft. To see his work continuously pushes me to try new techniques.
What gear and equipment do you use for your images?
There are a few things that you need to start out with:
– Your camera on Bulb setting. A camera that handles high ISO’s well is preferred
– A wide angle lens. Preferably a fast one to keep ISO settings as low as possible
– A tripod
– A remote trigger to open and close your shutter
– A flashlight attached to a tube
Personally, I use the Pentax K-1 with a Pentax 15-30 /f2.8 for the majority of my images. Late at night when I want to incorporate stars I often work with an open aperture and ISO 6400. This combination handles that perfectly.
For my upcoming trip through Africa where I want to combine the milky way with light painting I’ve added the Samyang 20mm f1.8 to the set.
I’m often working along the coast of Holland in loose sand and salty water. The weather proof Sirui W-2204 is my tripod of choice as no sand and water can get into it. A fail-proof option for triggers are the Yungnuo RF-603C II. They have a good range and are very responsive.
Once you have this basic set the fun part begins. Balance your camera settings with the light that’s emitted by your light. You will soon find out that minor adjustments often can have a great impact on the final result. (Warning; this may lead you to buying more stuff..)
Is light painting equipment expensive or can we use things we have laying around home?
Assuming you already have the camera, lens and tripod, your initial investment is not more than € 100.00. From there the sky is basically the limit.
I prefer to use inexpensive self-build tubes, but I also own a Fotorgear Magilight that can display images in the sky. When there is still a lot of ambient light, my Ledgo RGB stick is used.
During the last few years I’ve personally invested quite a bit, mostly to learn and try. I’ve found out that the normal tubes have a more organic look than the LED light options, so I keep falling back to my initial tubes.
What is the most difficult part when out shooting?
There are a few things that are tricky, but for my personal style it’s the balancing of the ambient and artificial light. With a background as a nature photographer, the surroundings are very important. I start with exposing for the landscape. This exposure dictates the strength of the light in my lightpainting tube. Since we are working mostly at dusk the light changes every 5 minutes and you are basically adjusting settings continuously to keep that balance in your photo.
How do you make it look like your models are motionless?
Good question! A lot of people think that the model makes the painting. But they don’t!
You, the photographer is the one that’s painting. The model indeed has to stand motionless during the exposure. I’m very lucky that my wife Margreet has a perfect balance. My exposures vary from 1 second (piece of cake) to 25 seconds (try that at home!)
When you are working with a model, communication is very important. You have to tell which shape you are going to draw and how long you are going to expose. Sometimes my drawing only takes 4 seconds, but the entire exposure may last 20 seconds or more.
Does light painting require models who are trained for the task?
There is of course no official training for light painting models. However, having a background in yoga helps in remaining fixed in a certain pose. We do analyse our images, though, and learn from mistakes. The position of her arms, hands and silhouetted face all have an impact on the final image. Like any form of photography, dedication to getting things perfect is the only way to go.
Can you share a few tips and tricks?
Most certainly. If you want to start with lightpainting you would like your tube to emit as much light as possible early in the evening. Later at night you want a very dimly lit tube. There are flashlights out there such as the Nitecore MT22C that offer variable brightness. Having this option at hand makes it much easier to control the brightness of your tube.
A clear tube becomes much brighter by putting baking paper inside. This also gives a more even distribution of the light inside your tube.
As a photographer you want to be hidden behind your model. First of all, the photographer needs to wear black clothing. Secondly, you need to put black tape on one side of your tube so you are not illuminated by the light. Lastly, when your model is wearing a skirt, you can hide your legs and feet behind it.
Practice your shapes and don’t be shy. In the summer I’m often on the beach testing out new forms and tubes without a model. When people see a grown up guy like me dancing on the beach with some colored tubes, they all think I’ve lost it….. until they see what’s captured by the camera!
You can see more of Mike Muizebelt’s images on his website and follow him on Instagram. Or even attend one of his workshops or photo tours to Botswana and Namibia All images are shared with permission.