Happy New Year (light painting in the starry night)

Light painting is a fascinating way to communicate a message. If the background and light is right, it is only up to your imagination what you add to your photo…

Here is how to create a light painting (how I created this New Years greeting):

  • Find the right scene:
    you need sufficient space to move
    you need a sufficiently dark background to “write on”
  • Set up your camera on a tripod
  • use a wide-angle lens. With a tele lens you have to stand quite far away from the camera
  • use a timer remote or have a friend operate the camera. Otherwise you will have a workout running back and forth 😉
  • prepare a flashlight, which is not too strong. A red or otherwise colored flashlight creates beautiful effects! You may cover your white light with colored filter foil as well!
  • wear dark, non reflecting clothes! Or you will appear like a ghost beneath the text in the image
  • try to memorize, which message you want to write
  • find the right spot where you will write, so that the text is at the right location in your image (take test shots to verify!)
  • find the right size to write your letters. The text has to be readable and within the bounds of your scene or camera frame
  • determine, wheter you will write in single strokes, or multiple strokes. This depends on the intensity of your flashlight and the desired effect, how the letters should look like. Single strokes look quite clean, whereas multiple strokes create a bit fuzzy look, which is often more appealing. Though multiple strokes are more difficult to make, as you write in thin air and have no reference, where you put the previous line.
    Therefore keep in mind: you only move your hand when writing one letter. Move your body only when advancing to the next letter or word!
  • test, how long you need for the message to write. This defines the minimum exposure length!
  • Set the right ISO value and aperture for the desired exposure time. Test the exposure to not over-expose. If you choose a too low ISO / too high aperture, you dim the flashlight. This makes the text you write hard to read
  • Now for the tricky part:
    The text you will write has to be written mirrored! It is the camera who “wants to read” the message, not you!
    Memorize your message in mirrored letters, written from right to left. It helps to close your eyes and just move your hand writing the mirrored text a couple times. Don’t get too frustrated when you make errors! Depending on the letters, I need several attemts to have everything right as well 😉
  • Now you are all set. Get in position, switch on your flashlight. Trigger your camera and start writing!
  • Tips:
    – cover the flashlight with your hand when advancing to the next letter / word!
    – move brisk but fluently
    – direct the flashlight to the camera
    – make equally spaced steps between the letters or words

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