Drawing with light is extremely easy and fun. Simply wait until night time, put your camera on a tripod, and set your exposure for long periods of time (these are usually 5 seconds-5minutes), your aperture, and ISO. I usually use f4 at iso 200 or 400, but these settings need to be determined differently according to each situation. Then, DRAW! There are many different light toys that create different effects. Things that have been used before include sparklers, glow sticks, flashlights, maglights, fire/torches, RGB strips, Christmas lights, illuminated cell phones, iPods, laser pens, and of course, any kind of LED.
If you are interested in incorporating long exposure effects and light painting into your night photography, I would highly recommend "Night Photography & Light Painting" by Brent Pearson, especially if you are light painting landscapes.
Long Exposures During Day
You can also create long exposures of landscapes during they DAY by using an extremely dark filter that attaches to the front of your lens. The filter you can use is a B+W filter, an ND400 filter (I'd recommend this one), or even an Infrared filter. Taking long exposures during the day is useful for creating foggy/ghostly seascapes, blurring clouds, blurring water and waterfalls, and even removing people from a scene (if they are constantly moving).
These are a great challenge, and the best part is, you don't know what the photograph will look like until after you've taken it. You will need to have your camera on a tripod, manually focus to infinite, use the widest aperture you can and a low ISO. If you want to take 20+ minute long exposure, you will need to buy a cable release made for your specific DSLR. However, taking super long exposures can cause a lot of noise in images. An alternative wave to doing star trails is to take a bunch of 30 second exposures and then overlap all the images on your computer using a program called Startrails. There is a minor drawback to this method: for every 30 seconds of an exposed photo, there is a 1-2 second time period where the camera isn't taking an exposure. This makes it so there are little tiny spots not visible in your star trail. It is a very minor drawback, but ultimately it is a better method because there isn't as much noise.
Other Fun Long Exposures
There are also other things you can do with long exposure photography. Long exposures during the day allow water and clouds to blur, leafs on a tree will also blur (if there is wind). In addition, you can also take a long exposure in a very crowded city where lots of people are walking, and completely make the crowd invisible by taking a long exposure during that day.
You can also use a long exposure and then fire multiple flashes to light your subject in different ways, and/or to multiply them in number. You can also spin your camera to take perfect straight blurred out lines, or you can zoom in and out with your lens while the exposure is taking place.
Long exposures also come in handy during lightning, simply take a long exposure and wait for the lightning to show up.
The challenge: create a long exposure that has all of the above. Light painting, light spraying, star trails, and lightning; all in one photograph. (Okay, I realize it would be hard to get lightning, but try to include them all if you can 😉
Because long exposure photography is such a large topic, there is only so much I can write in a blog post. If you want to know more information on lights, techniques and effects, check out my Trick Photography and Special Effects eBook. It has over 60 pages of content solely dedicated to light painting techniques and long exposure effects.
Taking Long Exposures At Night:
Taking photographs at night doesn't mean they have to look like they WERE taken at night. The moon is exactly like the sun in terms of lighting, only a lot dimmer. Which means you can take a picture at night when the moon is out, and if you use the right settings, the moon will look just like the sun. I had my camera over exposed 2 stops for this picture. The shadows (and their angles) seem to be more intense at night than day.
Why you would want to take a long exposure when using the moon:
- To get lighting at a different angle than the sun regularly provides
- The decrease your depth of field, so you can use smaller apertures, like f/1.4
- to take longer exposures, so you can see cloud motion blur
If you want to take a long exposure at night time, have your ISO set to the lowest setting (like ISO 200), and then put your camera on Shutter Speed mode. On my camera, the camera can go up to a maximum of 30 seconds, so I used that. If you need even longer exposures, keep taking 30 second exposures one after the other, and then blend them together in photoshop using the Lighten blend mode. Or, if you wanted to go more extreme, put an ND filter on your lens, and take a 1 hour exposure 😉
If you simply want to take short exposures at night time, use a higher ISO, like 1600, and the time will be much shorter to take the picture. You will still need a tripod, and the exposure time will still be longer than if you were to take the picture during the day.
Taking Long Exposures During Day:
In order to take long exposures during the daytime, you need to have very dark filters for your lens. The two filters that I recommend using are the ND400 and the Hoya R72. The ND400 is a filter that basically blocks A LOT of light, enabling the photographer to take long exposures (30 seconds+) in daylight. The Hoya R72 is an infrared filter that also blocks a lot of light. The r72 will not give your picture original colors though, since it is in infrared. Here are some examples of what infrared pictures look like:
As you can see, they are quiet different than normal colored photographs. Not all cameras sensors are compatible with infrared filters though, so google your camera name and model along with the term "with IR" beside it. The older Nikon cameras, like D50 and D70 are compatible with the IR filters.
If you want to take regular SHORT exposures with infrared, you can get your camera modified by LifePixel. Your camera will permanently take infrared pictures at regular shutter speeds.