ILLUMINATING PEOPLE IN LIGHT PAINTING PHOTOGRAPHY
There are various techniques for making a model visible in light painting. I will introduce you to some of them in this article.
In the euphoria of working on your light painting, you should consider some aspects that are easily forgotten. You should always stage your model just as carefully as in a normal photograph. This is often difficult because of the long exposure times, but it works, as you can see in the picture. As a general rule, you should not drag out your performance unnecessarily as soon as a model is part of the light painting. Explain to your model exactly what you are going to do. And above all, tell your model immediately when the shot is finished and he or she is allowed to move. Some light painters tend to forget this.
METHOD ONE – FLASH
An obvious idea for many light painting beginners is to simply use a flash to light up the model in the light painting. In principle this works, of course, but this method has some disadvantages. For this to look sensible, I need a powerful flash with a large light former. If I have that lying around in the studio, I can of course use it there. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to lug a big flash unit to a location like the Oybin castle and monastery ruins in the cover picture, in addition to all the other stuff we already have with us. I’m already knocked out before I’ve pressed the shutter release for the first time. With small clip-on flashes, it is usually not possible to illuminate the model in a favourable way. For other purposes in light painting, however, you can use the little things well, for example to freeze movements (in the air).
But what is much more disturbing than the size and weight of the technique is that I almost always unintentionally illuminate a more or less large area around the model. It is almost impossible to get the flash exactly on the model. Depending on the reflective properties of the materials around the model, this light can be very distracting in the light painting image.
If you still want to try to light your model with the pop-up flash, I recommend using a mini softbox like this Mini Softbox Rectangular or Mini Softbox Octagon. These things are small, light and don’t blow a big hole in your wallet. They’re also great to use with a powerful torch for soft lighting a location. And if you don’t have a clip-on flash yet, I can recommend the Yongnuo YN-560. We have been using several of them for a few years now. So far they all work without any problems and above all they are much cheaper than the flashes of the camera manufacturers with their lunar prices.
METHOD TWO – TORCH
As a light painter you always have two things with you, gaffa tape and at least one torch. So why not simply light up the model with the torch? With a little practice, this will look much better than the example picture from our early days (the picture is from the beginning of 2013). This method is quite common in light painting. I don’t need any additional equipment and with the torch it is quite easy to get the light exactly and exclusively on the model.
A focusable torch is advantageous here, then there are not so many spots on the model as in the example picture. To actually achieve a nice, homogeneous illumination of the model with this technique without shining parts of the surroundings into the picture, however, you need some experience and practice.
In principle, it is better not to change the direction from which the light hits the model. In most cases, this does not look good if the light hits the person sometimes from above and sometimes from below. In any case, this method is not particularly advantageous for our model. The illumination with the torch takes more time than the flash. So our model has to stay absolutely still in the position for a longer time. With many uncomfortable poses, this is hardly possible without having ghost images in the picture because the model has moved during the illumination.
METHOD THREE – LIGHTPAINTING TOOL
Two in one, so to speak. With the Light Painting Tool, in this case a bundle of black glass fibres from Light Painting Paradise, I simultaneously illuminated Erik and painted light traces into the picture. This has the decisive advantage that I only illuminate a very small area at a time. So if I move the tool from top to bottom, the model can blink as much as she wants when I’m past her eyes. This will not be visible in the picture. However, you should be careful to light each spot only once, otherwise you might get ghost images.
For this technique, I always put a powerful torch in the adapter. The black glass fibres absorb quite a lot of light. If you then attach a colour filter between the lamp and the glass fibres, even more light is lost.
Lately, I have been using my new favourite torch, the Fenix PD36R, almost exclusively for this purpose. With this lamp, it is very convenient to flash briefly into the picture by just tapping the rear switch. With most torches, this either doesn’t work at all or the lamp changes mode with every click.
You can also use other tools, such as acrylic blades, to illuminate the model. However, as the light does not come out of the tool in a bundled way, this is quite difficult, but not impossible.
METHOD FOUR – SCANNER
Last year Erik and I repeated the painting from our early days. For the light painting I used the same tools as back then, acrylic rods from Led Lenser V24 lamps. These lamps are absolute junk, to say the least, but the sticks are very neat light painting tools.
The key difference from the old painting is that Erik’s lighting is much better. This time I had used a scanner. This is a very narrow light source. It is used to “scan” the model from top to bottom, or in other directions, just like a scanner. The advantages are obvious, as with the technique in the previous section, only a very small area is illuminated at any one time.
So when the light reaches below the head, the model can make faces until the doctor comes, but this is not visible in the picture because this part is already illuminated. It is important here, just as in the upper section, that each spot is only illuminated once.
With the scanner I have a good technique to bring the light exactly onto the model without illuminating too much of the surroundings. I can change the direction of the light very easily by tilting the scanner a little. This technique is actually quite pleasant for the model because she doesn’t have to hold absolutely still for so long. However, with the quite large distance between Erik and the camera, the light from the scanner was very bright. It’s not so easy to keep your eyes open and look into the bright light.
I have continued to develop our scanners over the last few years. It all started when I narrowed the light beam of normal torches to a narrow strip by simply making a piece of cardboard. A little later, the esteemed Pala Teth built a scanner out of a file folder. This is actually a cool idea, but it is quite big and bulky.
Our next scanner consisted of a narrow LED daytime running light. I glued it into a cable channel and the scanner 2.0 was ready. A small controller is attached to the daytime running light so that the brutally bright light can be dimmed and the model doesn’t go blind. The whole thing didn’t even cost 10€. If you want to rebuild it, I’ll send you links to the parts you need.
But it’s also much easier; with a narrow LED work light. We currently use two versions. A foldable and rotatable lamp and a rigid lamp. Both have an integrated battery and can be charged via the built-in USB port. The lamps cost about 14€ each. The brightness can be adjusted continuously, the light colour is neutral. To limit the light a bit more, I glued narrow pieces of cardboard to the sides, they stick out about 3 cm above the lamp. This reduces the risk of the lamp itself becoming visible in the picture if you shine the light quite steeply from top to bottom. I taped the short sides with gaffa tape and stuck pieces of a life blanket on the inside so that not so much light is lost.
Since the only switch turns the lamp on and off and controls the brightness, I added a small button. So first I set the brightness, then I use the button to switch the scanner on and illuminate the model. When I release the button, the scanner is immediately off. Alternatively, you can cover the camera when you have finished scanning.
I have attached self-adhesive Velcro tape to the outside of the cardboard wings. The opposite side of the Velcro tape is then attached to suitable pieces of colour filter foil. With this I can easily change the colours, even during light painting, or use several colours next to each other as in the pictures below.
Depending on the situation, each of the above methods may have advantages. Combinations of several methods are also conceivable. The scanner is usually the best choice for illuminating people in light painting. It is easy to operate, its size and weight are low and its acquisition costs are low. The scanner can also be used for other purposes in light painting, for example to illuminate specific, smaller parts. However, it doesn’t hurt to practice illuminating perosns with a simple torch. It could happen that the battery of the scanner is empty or the high-end part from China refuses to work. Then you can always fall back on the alternative technology.
Good light all the time