Painting With A Light Brush

At this point the turkey has been cooked and the mash potatoes look as if a bomb went off. I don’t know about you, but once again I ate too much and ended up being incapacitated (read nap) for about four hours after. All I knew is that I woke up and I found myself foraging through the fridge for the pumpkin and pecan pies. I guess Pooh Bear can’t keep out of the hunny jar! I hope everyone had a happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday.

Some of my recent posts have been lengthy so I will try and keep this one brief. Being in the holiday spirit, I was thinking of something new to try. I received an article on light painting. I had to give this a try. This is a low cost, very creative type of photography. If you aren’t familiar with this type of photography, it’s easy; all you need is a constant light source such as a flashlight. The only other real piece of equipment that you will need is a tripod. If you don’t have a tripod, use a chair with some books to improvise.

The trick with light painting is that the only source of light is your flashlight. This means that it has to be COMPLETELY dark. I set my camera up in our kitchen on a tripod and set it up with a 10 second self-timer. I used the manual setting and used ISO 100, 30 seconds at f/8. I did a test with all of the lights off and it produced a black frame, which is what I wanted. I also was doing this at 2:00 in the morning to ensure that I wasn’t going to get any light leakage. (This is when all of this crazy stuff is done, when my wife has gone to bed so she doesn’t have me committed!)

Here is another tip, turn on the lights and let the camera focus. Once it has locked on, disable the auto focus. On my Nikon there is a switch that allows this to be done. I’m sure that other manufactures have something similar. Turn off the lights again.

As for the light source, you want to make sure that they are all the same temperature. Let me explain. The older flashlights have a orangish glow and the newer LED flashlights have a more blue light. As you are looking for your light sources, just make sure that they are all either LED or non-LED. This will ensure that the white balance of the photos will be the same. I started with three different sizes of flashlights. I had a general size flashlight that takes two D batteries. I also have a smaller MagLight that takes two AA batteries and finally a pen MagLight that takes one AAA battery. I like the MagLight brand as I can twist the head and change the beam of light from spotlight to flood light.

We were fortunate to have some family down a couple of weeks ago, and when they left, we found two pumpkins on our table. These were perfect for our little fall decorations. I also found some apples and other decorations. I warn you now I’m no stylist. I had everything set up and this is what I got.

 The four letter word….Oops! – Spencer Pullen © 2011

Ok, having never done this before, I expected this was going to take a few tries. The white light streaks are from pointing the pen light back towards the camera. Thinking that I was being slick, I put my thumb over the light to go around the table and start painting again. Well as you can see, the red streak is the light going through my thumb. Ok, time to regroup and give it another go. What I came up with is that I used a piece of black gaffers tape and put that around the end of the flashlight to create a snoot. If you’re out of gaffers tape, this may work as an alternative. Take some masking tape and wrap some around the end of the light so there is about half of the tape hanging off the end. Take a black marker and color the outside of the masking tape black. Also, for the following images, I pointed the light at a higher angle out of the frame of the camera.

After about 30 minutes, here is what I was getting.

 Autumn Harvest – Spencer Pullen © 2011

Each of these photos is going to be different. You are revealing the photo with the light. If the light doesn’t illuminate the subject, it won’t register on the sensor. Here’s the thing, since it totally dark, if you find that you need a longer working time, just adjust the shutter speed to 1 minute, 2 minutes, however much time you need. For this small scene I found that I was actually finished before the shutter closed.

After playing with the fall theme, I wanted to get fruity (I can hear some of you laughing now). I went through the fridge and pantry and actually found some. We are the kind of people when the doctor asks if we eat fruit, we can honestly say “yes”. We just omit the part that it’s usually in the middle of a pie! Here is what I came up with after a few tries.

 Fruit Of The Pullen – Spencer Pullen © 2011

This is really a cool type of photography. I have seen photos where some photographers do outdoor scenes that take all night and they composite hundreds of photos in Photoshop to get a final result. This is a cheap and limitless process. The biggest piece of equipment that I found that I needed was patience. It takes a little time to get in the groove and start to feel what is working for your scene. Just keep working it and see what you come up with.

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. You do these things at 2:00 a.m. Staging fruit while your Wife and Mother are sleeping. Then you call your picture “Fruit of the Pullen”; I would call it “Fruit of the Loon”.

  2. Very interesting. I like the reflection that you created by using this lighting technique. Photography can fun and rewarding.

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