A giant motel sign, a ghost town, a beautiful evening and a camera. This is how I made this night selfie using light painting.
The nighttime selfie shot above is a mix. The base shot is 2 minutes f/8 ISO 200. The selfie shot was 3 seconds f/3.5 ISO 3200. I used the selfie shot almost exclusively because it was so surprisingly clean. In the end I decided to use the 2 minute photo because the colors on the motel sign were more vibrant due to the light painting I added. This is what I did earlier this month during our Nelson Night Photography Workshop. I used a Pentax K-1 DSLR camera and a Feisol tripod to keep everything stable.
What is light painting?
Light painting is a term often used loosely to describe any addition of light to a night photo. But really, light painting is a technique that uses a portable light source to illuminate a scene over a long exposure. You literally paint the scene with light. Night photographers have been using this technique for decades.
Three steps to take the picture
Step one: low ISO photo
I took a two minute low ISO shot of the motel sign during a full moon. During this shot, I also light-painted the huge motel sign from camera right. Why that direction? The moon was shining from the right side and I wanted to mimic the moonlight to make it look more natural.
Step Two: High ISO Photo
I took a second photo. This was a three second high ISO photo of the motel sign I was standing on. The moon shone beautifully in this area. I knew that if I stood there, the moon would illuminate me nicely and in the same way that the natural moonlight and light painting did the previous photo.
Step Three: Mix
On my computer, I simply overlaid the second photo on top of the first in Photoshop CC. This was because the photo was taken at a higher ISO. After all, I wanted it to blend nicely with the first photo, which had less noise.
Then, using a black layer mask on the second photo, I simply brushed the image of myself into the photo. Finished!
Bonus tips for making your night selfie look great
- If you’re blending a second image with yourself in the photo, try applying noise reduction to match the first image. You’re trying to make it look like you were standing perfectly still for the longer exposure. I used Lightroom Classic Denoise AI to do this before sending it to Photoshop. I might as well have used Topaz Labs Denoise AI, which is also very capable.
- Always blend in your shadow. This is surprisingly often overlooked. Unless you’re going for a vampire look, blending your shadow will make the photo look natural.
- I can’t stay very still, and even three seconds sometimes seems like a challenge. To stand still so that you get nice and sharp in your image or to lean against something. If you can’t do this, I’ve found that wide stance often helps me stay more still.
- You do not need to use Photoshop for this. GIMP or anything that uses Layers and Layer Masks will work.
- I’m hardly a Photoshop guru. If I can mix this, YOU can too. It’s like painting. Relax and brush, brush, brush…