2016 is our second year at Photoshop World, a conference where camera and imaging nerds come together to learn about all aspects of photography. We arrived a day early to partake in a pre-conference workshop (not free) in light painting with the worldwide guru of light painting, Dave Black. Of course, to paint light into a photo, it needs to be dark. It was after 6pm when we boarded our workshop bus for Nelson, Nevada. Sunset was not scheduled until 8:40pm. It was going to be a late night.
Nelson was once a thriving mining community – aka, a real wild west gold rush kind of town which has now been abandoned save for the couple that maintains it and insures its character – numerous old antique vehicles, a crashed plane, a few wagons, old wooden buildings, a water tower and a gas station.
Our leader, Dave Black, has a way with light. In his workshop introduction, he set up next to the hood of an old car, his camera focused on the hood ornament. With his years of experience of playing with flashlights, he made it look so easy, creating a masterpiece with just splash of light in the evening twilight.
After watching Dave finesse the light with various flashlights and colors, Jeff and I were eager to create our own masterpiece. After all, we are not neophytes with the camera. We cornered our willing subject, an old Chevy Truck, set up the tripods, and drew our flashlights out of their holsters.
For those unfamiliar with light painting, the process for us went something like this:
- Pick a subject (we selected an old Chevy truck)
- Set up our cameras on a tripod (the camera needs to remain steady for a long time, upwards of 30 seconds)
- Set a timer on the camera to provide a 5 second delay (one needs time to get to the object to be lit)
- Set up a long exposure (ours were 20-25 seconds) – we need time to add light to different aspects of the subject
- One of us would call, “1”, “2”, “3” – and we’d both press the timer button on our cameras
- We ran over to the truck and waited for the camera shutter to go “click.” Once we heard that, we began using a flashlight to paint light on the truck (Jeff did the headlights and grill and the bush in front, while I did the interior, the roof and the side of the truck)
- The camera “clicked” indicating the shutter had closed (“time is up!”)
- And Wala you have a photo of a subject that has been painted with your flashlight.
Jeff and I would review the image on the back of the cameras and crinkle our noses. Our picture didn’t look nearly as good as Dave’s. Unsatisfied with what we had, we would come up with a new plan. This time Jeff would focus more on the hood while I would focus more on the inside of the cab. One, two, three and we were off again.
Trying to “repeat” the same image is well, impossible. Each photo had some good elements, but also a lot of dark areas (e.g., parts of the truck were missing). Never a masterpiece. Not even close. After many tries, we seemed to be in an infinite loop of inadequate lighting. With our competitive nature, failure was not an option, but we just couldn’t work the flashlight magic.
A bit discouraged, we packed up our gear and met up with the rest of the group near the old gas pump. While waiting for the rest of the group to gather, and not wanting to miss the opportunity to shoot, I dug the camera back out.
Perhaps, the best shot of the night?
Painting the Light provided an opportunity to apply different techniques, and of course, it was all about the light, the flash light in this case!