As I was trying to come up with ideas for things to do at home, I looked back on some of the past topics we’ve done as photography challenges. One thing jumped out to me, and that is that we haven’t done anything using light painting.
So this challenge is all about playing around with light painting! It’s a perfect thing for you to do at home right now and to help keep you actively practicing photography. If you have kids you can even get them involved by letting them press the button or help with the flashlight.
Photography Challenge – Light Painting Fun at Home
#1 – Use an external light source for light painting
Okay, what do I mean by that? An external light source is one that is NOT attached to your camera. It must be something that you can control and move around yourself. That might include any of the following:
- A speedlight (a flash made for your camera)
- A small desk lamp that you can move around
- Studio lighting (more advanced)
- Flashlight (torch)
- A match (you have to be quick!)
- An LED or continuous light
- The light from your cell phone
I find that many photographers struggle to see light. Using an additional light source, such as a flash, studio light, or even a flashlight is even trickier and advanced. Doing this challenge will not only be fun but you’ll learn a lot in the process about light.
So, what I want you to do for this challenge is to ADD light with an external light source.
Tips for buying a flash if you so choose
You don’t have to rush out and buy a speedlight or a flash to do this, but if you do have one – now is the time to get it out and use it. If you don’t own one, try a flashlight or get an inexpensive flashlight something like this one (click the link) for under $15.
Or you can go to your local camera store and see if they have any old used flashes (speedlights). Any flash will do. A Vivitar 283 or 285 can often be found for under $30. The thing you want to make sure it has is a test button that will fire the flash when you push it. More on this later, keep reading.
Alternately, if you are looking to buy a flash but don’t want to break the bank, take a look at some by Godox or Yongnuo for under $100. Just make sure you get one that is compatible with your camera system so you can use it on-camera as well. Some have TTL (automatic flash metering and setting) and some do not. If you want to use it on-camera get one with TTL!
I’ve set up a list on Amazon for you of some low-cost options for flashlights and speedlights – CLICK HERE to see the list. It also includes other more advanced tools if you want to take it your light painting the next level.
Details of the Challenge
As it’s Halloween today, I’ve set up a little still life scene to demonstrate how I want you to play with light for this photography challenge.
Step one – set up your scene
I’ve done this indoors, but you’re welcome to do this outdoors in your own yard if that’s feasible for you (keep in mind street lights will create challenges – ideally you need an area that is totally dark, see below).
Next, pick a subject. I’ve used pumpkins, but you can use any subject you want. Pick something that has some texture and detail, as well as a nice shape so that you can easily see the effect the light has on the subject. Something that does NOT move is key here!
Wait until the light is dim or it’s nighttime, and find an area that is fairly dark so there’s little or no light falling on the scene. That way the light you add will be the main or only light on the subject and you won’t be battling the sun or another light source.
Use a tripod for this challenge too as your hands will be busy moving the light around. So set up the camera on a tripod and use a remote trigger or the 2-second timer to fire it.
If you don’t have a tripod set your camera on a tabletop, or try a beanbag to stabilize it. Or if you want to get a tripod read this: Stress-Free Tips for Buying a Camera Tripod
Step two – set up your camera
Now you need to set your exposure, the shutter speed may need to be a bit long (that’s why you’re using a tripod, but that’s okay. If you are not sure how to set the exposure just set it to the following, try a test shot and adjust as needed:
- Set the camera to Manual Exposure Mode
- Set the ISO to 800
- Set the Aperture to f/8
- Set the Shutter Speed to 8 seconds (it may look like this – 8“).
Keep in mind those settings are just a starting point.
Next, you need to handle focus because if your room is pitch black and you press the button to fire the camera, it will try to focus and fail. So focus on the subject with the lights on, then either turn off the autofocus or set your camera to Back Button Focus if you know how to do that.
Step three – lighting the scene
Now it’s time to experiment and play with light painting. Get your flash or whatever you’re using as a light source and start by standing beside the camera and aiming the light directly at the subject.
If the image is too bright change the shutter speed to a smaller number, say 4-6 seconds (4-6″) or you can simply paint for less time with the flashlight. OR move farther away from the subject with the light. Also, make sure the room is totally dark!
If the image is too dark do the opposite. Change it to 10-20 seconds (10-20″) exposure time, paint for more time, or move closer.
HINT: If you shoot in the monochrome picture style or mode (check your camera’s settings) you will have an easier time seeing the light and the shadows. So I’ve converted my images to black and white to demonstrate that for you as well.
Then try different things like move off to one side so the light is more directional and take another shot. Bounce the light off the ceiling or off a side wall if you’re indoors or use a big white reflector of a piece of white posterboard outdoors. What effect does that have on the light and the subject?
NOTE: Bouncing the light will make it less bright or intense so you may need to increase the exposure.
Try using the light both directly (hard light) and bounced or indirectly (soft light) and see what it does. Move the light up higher, and bring it down low. Put the light behind the subject aiming back towards the camera. Experiment and observe, taking images of each as you go.
Here are some samples I did in about 20 minutes.
NOTE: These were all lit with a simple household flashlight! You do not need fancy gear to do this.
These shots were all done in ONE single exposure with a simple flashlight and a desk lamp! You can do this too it’s not hard, or complicated and doesn’t require any expensive gear. Just try it! Essentially all you’re doing here is painting with light.
TIP: Make sure you do not shine the flashlight directly into the camera. That will cause a light bug (unwanted light trail) or possibly even lens flare.
Here’s a little video I did, using just the flashlight app on my phone just to prove my point. See how the look changes, watch the pumpkins closely.
Participate and share your images
In order to participate in this months photography challenge and be eligible for this prize you need to:
- Upload your favorite image (or 2-4) from your playing with light experiments in the comments section below.
- Tell us how you shot it (what lens, lighting and camera settings).
- Tell us about your experience doing this challenge? Did you learn to see light and understand it a little better? Tell us about what you learned in as much detail as you can.
- Upload your photo, shooting info, and tell us what you learned. NOTE: please do NOT save your images as TIF (they will be too big to add in the comments, it must be under 2mb) and please do NOT email your images to me for critique. I cannot give personal critiques by email, leave your images below and I will comment there.
The more you practice the better you’ll get at it, like anything – so share away.
I also encourage you to share the link to this challenge with a friend, so you can do it together!
Happy shooting, and remember to have fun with it! This is something you can do at home, with minimal camera gear and get your kids involved. Why not give it a go!