Light Painting 101: Less Is More;  Keep the shadows

Light Painting 101: Less Is More; Keep the shadows

Keep the shadows and create more mystery. Sometimes less is more in light painting. I will show examples of creating drama by exposing less of the subject.

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.

Abandoned airport terminal

The full moon had just begun to peek out from behind the mountains. Still very low on the horizon, I loved the way it lit up the abandoned 1920s airport terminal.

What I painted with light

I wanted to keep this feeling. I walked to the camera on the left. The moon shone from here. I wanted to mimic the angle of the moon, but give the illuminated front of the airport terminal even more definition, so I illuminated the exterior with a nice warm white light from a portable LED flashlight.

I also walked around the interior to illuminate all the rooms. The exposure was a nice, long three minute exposure, so I had plenty of time to do this.

Which I do not paint lightly

I did not paint the side of the building with light. Sure, this is a big part of the topic. That’s a lot to keep in the shade. But sometimes it’s okay not to light everything up. Sometimes it’s good to create contrast and a sense of mystery. And sometimes it’s also good to be aware of the light around you and stay consistent with it to make the environment look more natural.

1689690313 92 Light Painting 101 Less Is More Keep the shadows | Theedgesm
Milky Way, Central California.

Radio telescope under the stars

I wanted to create a lot of drama. Here, there were few light sources, natural or man-made. If I hadn’t lit the radio telescope, it would have been all black, a silhouette. I didn’t find that very interesting. But I also wanted to do something other than light it all up.

What I painted with light

I ran to about 75 yards (70 meters) from the radio telescope on the right. I then used a warm white light, using a portable LED flashlight. Although far away, I didn’t really need much light because the metal object was painted white. Then I replicated the same angle on the other side. Yeah, that was a lot of running around. Night photography with light painting is rarely passive. It’s the most actively creative form of photography I can think of.

Which I do not paint lightly

i did not paint the center lightly of the radio telescope. That remains in the shadows.

Lighting from both sides creates a lot of drama. It’s why many photographers who shoot sports portraits choose this method. It looks stark, bold and dramatic.

Enlightenment and inspiration

Light painters can be inspired by the lighting of many other photographers and painters. Photography is about capturing light. How cool is it that we have so much control over the light in night photography!

Learn more about light painting and night photography!

If you are interested in mastering this genre and much more, and love vintage cars from the 1930s, consider the Old Car City USA Night Photography Workshop in October 2023!