I absolutely LOVE light painting of all types, so if you want to give it a try, Table Top light painting is the perfect way to start out. First, you need to come up with a theme and gather some cool things. You can always borrow items from friends, family or neighbors. Most people will be flattered that you admire their things, and you can always offer to give them a print of the finished product. Scroll down to start the 10 Easy Steps!
It will be much easier to control your results if you light-paint in total darkness.
Set up an interesting table top arrangement. Don’t be afraid to overlap and crowd things up a bit.
Place your camera on a tripod. Try a few angles from above and eye-level.
Start with something like ISO 200 – f/11 – 30 seconds. If the light is too bright, make some adjustments. See # 8, below.
With the lights on, focus on the focal point, then switch the Auto Focus to Manual, so the camera won’t try to refocus during the light painting.
Turn self-timer to a 5 second delay (to give you time to get in place), turn off all lights, then press the shutter.
Light the scene with a small LED flashlight from the sides of the scene for “off-camera lighting.” In other words, avoid lighting the scene from the same angle as your camera. Use your flashlight like a paintbrush, with circular, feathered motions from about 5 – 15 inches away. Move around the scene, spending a few seconds on each area. To avoid light trails (random lines of light from the flashlight), do not point your light directly at the camera. Also, you can use black “gaffers tape” (or duct tape) on the end of your flashlight to reduce and shape the light source. This will also help you reduce the light trails.
Check your results, then adjust the ISO, shutter speed and f-stop for more or less light. For example, if things are too bright: Change the ISO to 100; Change the aperture to f/16; and/or Reduce the shutter speed to 15 seconds.
For a more artistic result, be sure to leave some areas dark. Since this is a light painting you should leave part of the scene dark. The light is much more creative if it is subtle in some places. Light up the focal points and the interesting colors and textures.
Repeat many times for optimal results. It will take many hours and many setups to get great results. This is one of my favorite styles of photography. It is a passion of mine for the past year, so I take it very seriously and practice whenever I can spend a few hours in the dark, without being rushed. It is not easy, but very satisfying for me. I hope you enjoy it.
If you want to try something much easier to master, use a smaller light source (pen light, laser pointer, colored glow stick, cell phone) to paint in mid-air or trace an object with light. This style of light painting is completely different, but equally fun… and much quicker to learn and produce satisfactory results.
Camera: Nikon D7000
Sharp Lens: Nikon 85mm f/1.4 AF-S G
Pistol Grip Head on Tripod: The Sunpack Pistol Grip (Click Here) (Sunpak 620-PISTOLGRPQR – larger style on Amazon is $30 – 40) – I LOVE how I can quickly lock in any angle with this tight Pistol Grip Ball Head. You can remove the head on most tripods, so I just replaced my old Bogen/Manfrotto head with this new “squeeze, position, and lock” pistol grip, and I save a lot of time getting the precise angle I need. It just takes too long to keep re-twisting the turn-handle on a ball-head, and I don’t like the three-way pan head either. The squeeze-and-release locking method with the Pistol grip is the way to go!
LED Light: Mag-Lite XL100 (Click Here) (Amazon Price: $25)
Most of these light paintings are COMPLETELY UNEDITED because it is easier to control the light, focus and composition when you light paint and use Manual mode with a tripod. It is a deliberate, planned photoshoot that produces fabulous results most of the time…Once you get the hang of it.
My inspiration for this shoot is a combination of my interest in Sherlock Holmes mysteries and a collection of old desk pieces of my fathers, who was a CPA, and had all kinds of interesting gadgets on his desk. I used to love going to his office to check out his stuff. When my mother died a few months ago, my father moved from Idaho to Arizona, so he gave away a lot of old things. The old books and the brass counter are his. The black gloves are my mother’s. I acquired the typewriter for $10 at an awesome estate sale last summer along Highway 20 near Ashton. I found the old flashlight, telephone and binoculars at various antique stores over the years. I do love finding deals on old things, as much as I like discovering old buildings and ghost towns. I bought the old hat at a neighbor’s garage sale, when her husband passed away. These items were popular in the 1940s, so they remind me of something that would be on the desk of a private investigator in that era.