Light Painting in Photography | Steve White | Skillshare

Playback Speed

  • 0.5x
  • 1x (Normal)
  • 1.25x
  • 1.5x
  • 2x

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

9 Lessons (46m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Styles of Light Painting

    • 3. Equipment and Night Photography Essentials

    • 4. Tradional Light Painting

    • 5. Orb Photography

    • 6. Light Man

    • 7. Light Writing

    • 8. Post Processing

    • 9. Final Thoughts

  • --
  • Beginner level
  • Intermediate level
  • Advanced level
  • All levels

Community Generated

The level is determined by a majority opinion of students who have reviewed this class. The teacher's recommendation is shown until at least 5 student responses are collected.





About This Class

Class Description

  • In this class, you will learn the key techniques to get up and running with one of several styles of "Light Painting", a super fun process of creatively adding light to a dark subject or scene, using flashlights and/or other devices!
  • Through time exposures and manually applying light with very specific intentions and a variety of other techniques, you will learn how to direct and produce a creative masterpiece.
  • We will cover types of "Light Painting", plus equipment, basic night photography concepts and tips, choosing subject matter, planning the shot, execution tips, as well as some basic post processing techniques that could be useful. You will learn how to create a very refined, professional result that will set your work apart from others, or how to create a very fun and whimsical image, or maybe you’ll be drawn to the surreal! We’ll show you styles, techniques, and methods, and the rest is up to you and your imagination!  

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Steve White

PPA Master, Craftsman, BFA/Photography


Hi! My name is Steve White and I'm from the beautiful state of Michigan.

I'm a Master Photographer, Craftsman Photographer, hold a BFA degree in photography and have owned and operated a 55year old 2nd generation portrait studio since 1980, 40 years now... yikes!

I generally have a passion for all things photography!

As I've scaled back my portrait business, I've started teaching classes and workshops on the local, regional, and national level. I love sharing my photography knowledge and working with like minded people of any level, as long as they have a passion for photography. I've looked forward to teaching online since I first started live classes seven y... See full profile

Class Ratings

Expectations Met?
  • 0%
  • Yes
  • 0%
  • Somewhat
  • 0%
  • Not really
  • 0%
Reviews Archive

In October 2018, we updated our review system to improve the way we collect feedback. Below are the reviews written before that update.

Why Join Skillshare?

Take award-winning Skillshare Original Classes

Each class has short lessons, hands-on projects

Your membership supports Skillshare teachers

Learn From Anywhere

Take classes on the go with the Skillshare app. Stream or download to watch on the plane, the subway, or wherever you learn best.


1. Introduction: hi, everyone, and welcome to this photography class on light painting. So what exactly is like being, and why would you want to do it? First of all, it's a ton of fun, but light painting is simply but specifically applying light to your subject during a time exposure in a dark seen often coordinating with ambient light situations like twilight or a starry night or maybe city lights. At night, you're gonna learn about several styles of light painting a variety of lady and techniques and likely all with equipment that you already have. My name is Steve White, and my passion for photography started in a dark room when I was just nine years old. I'm a master photographer, I have a bachelor fine arts degree, and I've owned an operated a portrait studio for almost 40 years now have also been very involved in my professional associations. I've been blessed to learn, teach and shoot with some of the best photography talent in the country. Besides creative portraiture, I'm an avid landscape photographer, and I've been very involved with black infrared since my high school days, starting with 35 millimeter film Goingto four by five Film and the View camera and ultimately with digital and for it now. The reason I bring these things up is that I find that every time I explore new areas of photography and I seems to expand my horizons, there's I some kind of insight that could be taken out of it and applied in some way to other areas. My entire fee, Well, light painting is just that kind of project. When you get done with this class, you will be able to create your own. Story is in light painting. Every photograph is a story, right? Photographers have been referred to a storyteller's for years. This isn't exercise in the kind of control you can have in telling your story very creatively. We're gonna learn how to create a very refined professional image, something that will definitely make your work stand out from others. We're also gonna learn how to create a very fun, whimsical image, or maybe just want something creative or even surreal. If that's what you want. It's up to your imagination as to where you go with this. Over the years, I've learned a lot about Lady, and the one thing I can tell you about light. Meaning is that you're gonna learn a lot about lady things that you can use in other areas of your photography or even that will help you recognize when good lighting exists and why you're gonna learn what creates great detail, incredible texture, amazing doubt. We're also gonna learn a little bit about night photography and astro photography, since it is related and will probably come into play. And you can't help but learn at least a little bit more about your camera and how everything works together and finally we're gonna cover some post processing techniques. These techniques could be used just to refine your image. Or you could actually shoot for planning on using these techniques. Right from the beginning, we're gonna go from light room toe photoshopped back to light room again. We're gonna use layers in masks and layer styles. You don't have to use post processing at all, like painting can be done completely in camera. So it's whatever you prefer. Either way, whether you're newbie or an experienced photographer, as long as you have a DSLR, a tripod, a cable release, the great imagination and a sense of adventure, and you're looking for a fun photography project. You've come to the right place, so let's get started Great in your new light painting masterpiece. 2. Styles of Light Painting: when it comes to different styles of light painting, I put them into just a few categories. A refined professional image, one that will make your work really stand out from others. A fun, whimsical style which incorporates many types like or photography wool spins, which I may do a complete short but sweet class on in the future. Light writing Light man and so many more. And the third category would be story or seen based. The goal for this class is to give you a great foundation to move forward on if you're having fun with it. So just enjoy these images and see if any of them look like something that you'd like to dive into in the following video will be preparing with the equipment needs and night photography essentials. Enjoy. 3. Equipment and Night Photography Essentials: Now we'll talk about equipment and night photography essentials. You'll need a DSLR camera with manual control capabilities in the cable release or a remote with the ability to lack the lens. Open in bulb mode for a long as you want. You'll need a tripod and a sturdy as possible. You'll also need light painting tools, a variety of flashlights, possibly incandescent and led lights for color variation. Eventually, you're gonna figure out all kinds of other light painting brushes, but this is going to get us started. I actually is a camera phone flashlight on the foreground of this image. It's now a 42 inch canvas print. You'll also probably want some flashlight modifiers. Here's my do it yourself versions cut from a milk jug, and they worked just fine. You may also choose to use theatrical gels to color your life. You can order Swatch books from Roscoe and a couple of different sizes. You get a bunch of three by six builders for around $24 or you get 15 12 by twelves for around $34. These are gonna give you tons of color options. I cut out little circles for my small led flashlights. They go right on the flashlight lens. Then I put my milk jug wand over the flashlight and they worked great. Or you could buy the kit for 100 bucks. You can also put the jails over your flash head. If you're planning on using strobe as one of your tools, you'll also need black clothing, shoes, socks, long pants, long sleeve shirt, ball cap and lightweight gloves. This is to keep your ghost image from showing up in the images, so let's move on to the night photography essentials. Let's talk about twilight first. Twilight can actually be dawn or dusk. The big difference is that Don means you're setting up in the dark. And when it gets to light your done at dusk, you can set up in the daylight and work through the three stages of twilight. And then you can eyes keep working in total darkness. Each of the three phases of twilight last around 1/2 on hour civil twilight. Civil twilight starts when the top of the sun goes just below the horizon, and it lasts until it's about six degrees below the horizon. It's still fairly laid out and only the brightest of planets will show for light. Painting the Sooners that you'd likely start would be late in civil twilight. Next is nautical twilight. This is probably the sweet spot for light painting. This is where I often start and then work into the astrological twilight. As it happens, the sun is between six and 12 degrees below the horizon, and depending on olive your variables, any time during the stage could give you the perfect base image to pain in. And next is astrological twilight. Sometimes you just need more time to do your painting. This is one astrological Twilight comes into play. It feels totally dark to the eye, but amazingly, with a lying exposure there still natural daylight color in the sky. At 12 to 18 degrees below the horizon, you can easily get 3 to 4 minute exposures, but you don't get many chances as the light will go fast. And after that, if you're seeing color in the sky, no matter how long the exposure is, it's likely coming from a man made situation known as light pollution. This can actually work out just fine, though, if you don't mind the color that it happens to be, and hopefully you're shooting in raw and you can easily deal with that and post anyway. Light painting usually requires painting time. If your exposure is longer than 30 seconds and you have stars in it, you will start getting star trails if you want them than great. If you don't, then you may want to get an image of this guy at a different exposure. To be able to put it back in and post the sky with just stars might be a 22nd exposure at F 2.8 with an ISO of 2400 for instance, whereas your light painting exposure is going to be several minutes at F eight or 11 with an I S 0 100 or maybe 200 so you can see they're quite different exposures. The following will be your basic game plan for most light painting. You'll start with your DSLR in bulb mode on a study tripod with the cable release or remote that you can lack or program long exposures of over 30 seconds. Often I use a normal to wide angle lens for light painting. After determining your composition, you'll need to determine your base exposure. One that will bring in the ambient background just how you'd like it. The goal is to get a decent depth of field a fairly low I s O and plenty of time to do the painting that you want to dio 1 to 4 minutes is often good. F 56 f A. D or F 11 is often very doable. And I usually have a nice low of 100 sometimes 200. So when you're limited for time with the changing twilight situation, the last thing that you have time to do is tow. Wait for 3 to 4 minutes, test exposures to get your final base exposure. This little trick is really cool. We'll just call it the exposure calculation shortcut. So start out by changing your I S 0 to 6400 said the F stop to what you hope to use. Adjust your shutter speed until you get the perfect exposure, and then change the iess over back to 100. Now, if you got one second for your shutter speed at I also 6400 then it will be one minute at I s 0 100 one second equals one minute. If you got three seconds at 6400 it will be three minutes at 100 three seconds equals three minutes. Pretty cool. Then he can ice interplay if you want any changes from that point. But this saves so much time in frustration. You'll avoid losing the light while you're doing your tests to determine exposure. As you shoot, review, adjust and re suit the twilight will be shifting. All you need to do is add more time to the exposure. Olive, your light painting and other camera settings should stay exactly the same that way. You can just keep refining your painting. Remember, you'll be running around in the scene that you are shooting, so do not stand in one spot for too long or you'll start seeing your ghost images. This is also why you need to be wearing black and remember that a windy evening could be a challenge. If you have trees or flags or anything that will blow in the wind and you don't want to show its motion. Waves on water, on the other hand, will smooth right out over the course of a couple of minutes. With your base exposure figured out, it's time to do the light painting. Those techniques will be covered in subsequent lessons of this class. This lesson will apply in one way or another to each of the other late painting technique videos, so I won't repeat everything for each one of them. You can I say, return back to this lesson. So let's get started with traditional light painting. 4. Tradional Light Painting: Let's start with traditional light painting. This could be a still life, a scene or a refined professional image. So let's just go through the process. I'm going to choose a scene for this video. My subject is going to be the old boathouse. Next, I need to pre visualize the image. So I'm seeing this boathouses having very distinct texture and shadows. Maybe we'll play off from that sign and broken post off to the right as a secondary element . And I think late civil twilight sky through the woods would be dramatic. We'll also late the trees in the background in a general, but very distinct way in the grass with texture for the foreground. The next step will be to strategize the actual painting and then the walk through whenever possible. It is good to get to this point ahead of time with a little bit of daylight. During the walk through, you will strategize different lighting directions may be different lighting tools, which flashlights you'll use for the texture. What direction you may go if you have more than one person working planned out to not cross paths, there are certain things to look out for First of all, you never want the flashlight pointing back at the camera. If any of the light spills out toward the camera, it will pick up across your image so this could get a little tricky. And it's easy to forget as you're working along. The sign in Post Element are also a very important part of this image to me. So I need to decide how I want to light that I want. I know I wanted to be very strongly, Let's so it does get your attention, and I have to decide how I'm going toe light in behind it and around the edge, lighting in just what I want to do. So it's important to go right in there and do a trial run to determine what challenges you're actually going to end up with. I was fighting through some brush and the fence that I had to reach through, and once I got it figured out, I knew exactly what to do. When it's time to do the actual light painting, I will also need to decide what trees in the background that I would like to light, and by what means what you don't want to do is to let your subject straight on from the cameras point of view that will just give you flat, boring lady light with intention not just for the sake of letting your subject any away. Just look at how lighting the subject from the side creates far more dramatic shadow texture in detail. This is a special opportunity that light painting gives you another thing to be careful of . Once you painted an area with a beautiful, strong angle of light, don't go back over. It was strong lighting from the opposite direction. You'll just cancel out the dramatic effect. Different directions of light can be used in different areas, however, and sometimes Kenly lead to striking results. You may also want to outline, edge, light or back like key areas of emphasis. So just how long should you paint an area during the exposure? What power should use TRO be set to, or what color temperature of flashlights should use? Well, you start with your base exposure to accommodate the ambient background situation while having a long enough exposure for painting. Remember our shortcut formula and then take your best guess on the rest and dive right in after your first attempt. Review, adjust where needed and try again. Several attempts may be needed, but eventually with experience, you'll be able to get a much more accurate starting point. So keep the faith and just have fun. Later we will learn how to combine the best from different exposures and post processing. But for now, let's take a look at the final result of the old boathouse project, but before and after. 5. Orb Photography: crop circles have been reported on the beaches again. Today, something tells me that this is the perfect place for orb photography. Like painting. Your objective is to spend the late over a central spot as you step backwards around the circle. The center point represents how far the hand that is holding the rope is away from your body, and you pivot around that point. Keep the vertical and spending through that center point, and you should end up with a very tight light pattern on near orb. You can use the flashlight to focus on as it will be darker than this demo video appears. So get focused with your auto focus and then turn your out of focus off. If you're using back button focus, then you should be all set. Set yourself timer with a 12th delay to open your camera in bulb mode. Try to get to your spot and start spinning before the exposure actually starts. If you can't make it, just get to your spot with laid off. Turn your back to the camera, turned the light on and try to get up and running with your spin quickly. The speed of the spin is not that important. Just the consistency. I let the weight of the light and the flow determine the speed, but I try to make it two or three times around the circle. Remember, you will need to determine your base exposure to give you the desired ambient light background while at the same time giving you enough time to complete your spins. I ended up with these settings. I s 0 400 for two minutes on bulb F 11. His twilight changes from civil twilight two nautical twilight. You may find the need to add exposure time for the ambient light, but everything else should be able to stay the same even if you quit your spin while the ambient exposure continues. By the time you get to astrological twilight, the only ambient light will be man made, which can still be very usable and at that point would also likely remain consistent. So determined. Your location and composition is a study tripod camera in bulb mode and a cable release that will lock bulb open and then go for it. Review, Make adjustments and go for it again. Most importantly, have fun. Now let's see what we've got. I want you to notice the ambient background in both of these. The first was done in civil twilight, The second nautical toilet. Both have an element of man made, well light pollution, which is seen as the warmer tones and is why I chose orange for my orb color. But notice the extra brightness and stronger blues during civil twilight. I also really enjoyed the contrast between the blues and the warm tones. So I hope you've really enjoyed this, and I want you to have a lot of fun with your orb photography light painting. 6. Light Man: I think that light man falls under the whimsical category of the light staining world. This is a fun and fairly simple technique. I used one of my homemade ones on an led flashlight, and though it is green in the demo video, I used orange in my actual image. Remember that when the civil and nautical twilight gets right, it will appear much darker than it does in this video. The technique is toe lack yourself into opposed so that you can remember where each limb is . Make sure that your light is always exposed to the camera and start wrapping it around your body's contours. As you see in this video, at some point, you will need to switch hands. That's when it's important to get back into your original position when my right arm is painted. Using my left, I switched back again to my right, but you wouldn't have to. Movement is not a big deal because the light actually creates the shape. So as long as your body parts are in the right place, when you're doing the tracing or the light painting, it will work out great. If you wear tight clothing, it's easier to keep the late tight to your body, thus giving you better form in the end again, this is one that's just a lot of fun. So go out and create your light man PS. When I lay painted myself, those words appeared. What's up with that? 7. Light Writing: light writing could be pretty cool. And again, it's just a fun type of like candy to play with. Once you have your ambient light exposure determined and your flashlight power and color figured out, the key to light rating is keeping a consistent height than whipped. And did I mention that you have to write backwards? A few dry runs is a great idea. A good way to get that consistency, though, is to have something to line up the bottom of the letters with, like a log or, in this case, the lake's water surface. Then you something like the top of your head for a height reference, or maybe how far your arm can swing up to a natural stopping point. After that, you'll also have to make sure that you don't overlap your letters, so you'll need proper spacing. You must hold the flashlight so the camera sees it at all times, and you'll have to have the on off button handy at all times as well, to be able to turn it on and off between letters. And as usual, it is very important to wear all black to avoid ghost images to make sure that you're using a good power. Last light rating at the rate speed, Have the right color. If you're using the Joe, do a couple of quick tests without getting too worried about perfection. Get those kind of details under control quickly and then work on your penmanship. Like all light painting, experiment with different tools and backgrounds. Sparklers are a popular late writing tool as well. Catch the perfect twilight and your result can really be beautiful. 8. Post Processing: So here's just a brief look at how I might go about leading this to get the strong angles and toe late separate areas so that when we take it into light room in photo shop and then back to late room again, you'll know how we did the lighting to begin with. And it will all make sense to you when you see how we handle it in light room in photo shop and then back in light room again. So enjoy this. We'll get to the editorial in just a minute. - Okay ? So I brought those images into light room and I've already kind of selected them. But I'm gonna go through and we'll just take a look and I'll let you know what I was thinking. So on this 1st 1 I love the album. That's what I was lighting for on the 1st 1 Um, our objective was to lay each area with very distinct shadows, uh, distinct lighting for each area. So I gave this a star and I really like this area appear with the watches and the modeling of light. So we kept that I love this texture on this book in this area. However, I forgot to put some old keys up here that I have. Ah, they have already used on this. So I wanted that in there. So I've added that. So this is my keeper for this area. And then this area is really nice with watches again. The other one I had was this and they actually think they liked the watch is better on this one. But there's other things I like about this one. Um, this gets pretty bright over here and weaken tone that down using this area of this one. And there were some other subtle things I like to. And then this one was Ah, really nothing to distinctive about this one anyway. And my flashlight got into it a little bit there and probably my blurry hand to, So that's a no go. So I'm gonna filter to the one stars and that will leave us these four files. Sometimes you might have 678 files. This was a nice control little project, So I can so I can show you the concept pretty awesome. And you can do this with light painting outdoors where you have ah, bigger area. We get all forwardly selected. Um, and I'm gonna pretty much reserve doing adjustments to these individual files cause they're in pretty good shape. And I had I actually added a little bit of warmth and did some very minor adjustments on each file, which I've already done. So we're gonna select all of these right click, add it in and go down here to open as layers and photoshopped. So here they come. Slowly but surely you get 68 10 layers. It starts getting really confusing to so it's it works. Well, if you really have control of your areas and you're not trained toe fix a mess. If you're shooting for it to begin with, it works a lot better. Okay, so here we are. And let's start looking at each individual file here in Photoshopped. So here's the top one. Then the next one in that one and then that one. So it's nice to start with a fairly dark one on the bottom. Um, this one's pretty dark, too. Um, but this landed here, and I actually like it for a bottom one. So what we'll do is go back one at a time If we turn that on. You can see that this area's really let nicely turned it off. And this area is really nicely. So what we're gonna do is we're going to utilize the blending modes. If I could get rid of that, I know I get to that. Okay, So, um, right now, the blending mode is normal, and I want you to look at what happens when we go to the light mode. Now, lighten Means anything later is what's gonna show through. So when you have two layers, anything that's later Well, uh, our camera was perfectly registered, never moved. So everything is right on top of each other. And so watch as I hit the latent mood, I'm gonna go back up to normal and then back to Layton. Okay? I'm gonna hit, lighten. And now we have the later parts of both images. It's a beautiful thing. Okay, so let's just go under next one. I'm not even gonna do any masking yet. We'll probably get to that. So let's do the same thing. Let's go up here now. I went up and it says Leighton, that's because this layer still highlighted. So we're gonna go highlight the one that's on now. And so here's normal. And here's late. Normal is just the one file. Layton is all three taking the lighter parts of everyone. Okay, see what happens with that? So you can see how everyone works with each one in different ways. So we're gonna have all that to play with in just a minute. Okay, So here's our top file. Or let last one. Here's what we start with. There's lighten normal. Layton. Okay, so now we're going to going to fine tune. And so what I like to do is just see, Okay, what's this doing? And is there anything I want to take advantage? I'm not going to start with that one, okay, I can use this file. I can use this layer. I'm watching it. All the things that does when it's on, watch the spine of the book, the edge of the watches. And the obvious thing is on the outside of the wood. So I love all that, but if I wanted to tone down, uh, some of this what I'm kind of indifferent about, actually, but let's just say I do. I'm gonna put a layer mask here Okay, so if I give it a full 100% I'm asking. That's just way too much. I'm gonna go down to about 20. Tone it down a little bit. No, I had a little bit more on a little more, and that's good. Now I want to see what's which one is affecting this break edge up here. So let's see. It's not that one. Not that one set with a little bit, a little bit of this. So let's get back into here and still using black. But now I'm gonna go up to 60%. I'm gonna go to 100%. Totally get rid of anything up here from that layer. Okay, So that was doing that. I don't want that. Have you handled that area? Okay, Now let's see what's going on here. We need to mask anything out here. Yes, we're gonna mask some of this other side out. Do not start with about 50% because I don't want it that great out there just when it gets to the edge. Okay. All right. So we're gonna do a little bit here. In essence, I'm gonna vignette this a little bit. That much, so I'm gonna go up 10% and just tone this some of that down a little bit. We know too much of a hot spot. OK? All right, so we're gonna mask there. Let's go toe 40 on that will spot down there. So you're ice stays up on the book. Let's go X clean that up a little bit. There on plan a mask up there. We're gonna go to about 20% to 40% on that edge down toe list down. So tone this down, but I'm probably going to crap it eventually anyway. - Okay , so let's call that good, and we're gonna It troll s for save. And let's go back to late room and there we have it. Okay, so now we're in late room. Let's go ahead and go to the develop module. And the first thing I would do is transformed this and to just go. I'm gonna start tipping that forward. Let's go about their and we're gonna do a 1 to 1 crap on this Centred up a little bit. It's pretty good. Okay, So now we have to do is to do some fine tuning in here and probably should have done this in photo shots. We're just gonna make that really dark so you could see it. So we're gonna and the tone that down a little bit and let's get going on here. De hes just a little bit. A little bit of a little bit of clarity. Alright, bring highlights down just a little bit that much. And I am gonna bring saddles in a little more, Get back to the richness. I'm gonna add a little bit of warmth there. And let's just get this brush will do some highlight. Toning down. That was too much. All right, so let's go back up with that a little bit, okay? Still new. All right. All right. Looking kind of pretty. So that's done. Let's go to detail. I'm gonna sharpen this just a little bit. Just add to the fact that we're enhancing that now we will have you had a little more sharpening to begin with, and then little mask it out. So everything that's turning black now is not being sharpened. So we're just sharpen the edges of things to whatever degree. I think that's what we'll do. All right, look at that detail there. Watches the book, even the scratches, the keys. Super nice, agile ating. Pretty hard to get that with a normal camera room set up. Okay, I think you get the idea. So there we have it. And, hey, sometimes you might just have one problem area. You'll take one of your sites and fix that one problem area. But I think you can see from what we did here, just how you can shoot for it. Or you can just take care of little problems as you go. Thank you. And I hope you enjoyed this, uh, lesson on late painting and post processing. So we'll see you in the final video. 9. Final Thoughts: So if you made it this fire, thank you. Like painting is a lot of fun. And there are a lot of nuggets of information skills techniques that you can put to use for your other photography. It's not the special effects. Photography is my specialty by any means. Photography is my specialty, and I always have a blast doing it. So now it's your turn to paint with light. Make sure to post to our project gallery. I can't wait to see what you're gonna come up with and feel free to post it different stages to. Do you have any questions on any of this? Let me know. There's a lot to take in here, but for the most part is just getting out there and doing it and gaining that experience. If you enjoyed this class, I have some other photography topics that I'm considering teaching. So let me know. And if you follow me, I'll make sure and keep you posted, so thanks again and we'll see you next time