John Meloy, an outdoor and commercial automotive photographer, gives his take on simplicity and a how-to on the technique of "painting with light" using Gear Aid lights.
Throughout my career, I have been lucky to work for a number of high profile clients all around the world. I regularly travel around North America, Europe, and Asia to capture video and still imagery, as well as participate in live video production events where I perform many different creative and technical tasks.
When packing for these trips I always ask myself a couple of basic questions:
- What gear do I need for the trip?
- How can I pack everything into one bag, so I don't have to check any baggage?
Keeping my kit to the absolute minimum is freeing, if not a requirement. Less time wasted at a baggage carousel, less weight to schlep onto a train, then a few blocks to a hotel, less unnecessary items to haul around. Not only does this make it easier to travel, but this minimalist approach often influences my work and encourages me to be more creative when shooting photos.
One of the key pieces of gear that I always have with me is a GEAR AID light. Often it's the smaller SPARK, and other times I use the larger and more flexible FLUX. Not only do I use these lights backstage during video production jobs when patching video cables in near total darkness, but I also regularly "light paint" with them.
The Photo Shoot
Recently, I was contacted by a client to produce some images for their motorcycle rental business. They specialize in dual-sport motorcycle rentals, so I decided to create a set of photos that featured one of their motorcycles in an inspiring outdoor Pacific Northwest location—using Mt. Baker as a key visual. Being an avid dual-sport motorcyclist myself, I immediately thought of a couple great locations that weren't too far from home and that also would provide the visuals I was going for. And then I thought, "What would make these photos really stand out? Night photography and light painting!" I waited for the next clear night, packed up my gear, and headed for the nearest hills.
Because I chose to light paint I was able to pare down my necessary equipment drastically. For a conventional shoot I'd have portable battery packs, light stands, large light modifiers like parabolic umbrellas and soft boxes, and a whole host of studio strobes to light a scene. But, for a night shoot like this one my kit was greatly simplified as follows:
- GEAR AID FLUX
- Fuji X-T2
- Fuji 16mm, 35mm, 56mm Prime Lenses
- Carbon Fiber Tripod
- MacBook Pro
Light painting is a fascinating method of creating photographs in which the photographer captures a long exposure—usually 30 to 60 seconds, or sometimes much longer and "paints" the subject with a light source. To do this type of photography requires an ability to control ambient light levels so that the light you paint with is brighter than the ambient light level. This typically means shooting in a dark room, or at night outdoors, and also having a relatively bright light source with good color quality.
My personal favorite light for light painting is the GEAR AID FLUX. It is a great light for all sorts of uses, but particularly light painting. The FLUX is 640 lumens, has three color temperatures, 10 levels of brightness adjustment, is a large light source that provides soft shadows and flattering light reflections, and the battery nearly lasts forever. I'm not kidding! I regularly forget the last time I charged the light. On its lowest setting GEAR AID says that the battery will last for 192 hours, and I believe them. On its highest brightness setting it easily runs for upwards of 10+ hours. The light is so bright though that I usually only set it to a medium brightness setting and relish in the seemingly endless battery life.
When light painting, a photographer can choose to design the lighting of their images in nearly infinite variation while only using a single light. You can turn a light on and off for distinct point lighting, or you could choose to leave a light on and move it around to create interesting reflections or to mimic large softbox style lighting. You might want to paint around an object and have the light visible in the photo for something more otherworldly. You could choose to do a long two minute exposure and light the whole scene in one go, or you could do what I often do which is take multiple 30 second exposures and composite them in post production.
Over the years I have tried many styles of light painting, using everything from cell phone flashes to pen lights to manually fired strobes or camera flashes. By far the most capable constant light source I've used is the GEAR AID FLUX. The FLUX provides a large light source soft light that produces great soft shadows. The color temperature options provide good options without requiring color gels, and not having to worry about battery life is a major plus.
My chosen method of light painting for this shoot was to capture multiple exposures and then composite them in post production. This approach provides endless post processing options since the image is lit in “zones.” When you have enough exposures you can adjust the lighting and exposures for different areas during processing. This effectively lets you alter your lighting in post processing. Want to make the background brighter, but not the subject? Easy. Want to add more light highlights on the subject? No sweat. Want to turn the brake light and headlights on or off? Toggle that layer and mix and mask appropriately.
Final Processed Images
Behind the Scenes
Light painting is a fantastic way to make compelling and creative images. In this shoot I used light painting and compositing to mimic complex studio lighting, but in an outdoor environment. If you're an aspiring photographer, professional, or even a photographic hobbyist I highly recommend you give it a try. Set your camera to take a 30" exposure, find a dark room or go outside at night, setup the tripod, grab a GEAR AID light and start experimenting!
- John Meloy
Guest GEAR AID blogger, John Meloy is a professional photographer and videographer based in Northwest Washington. Check out some of his work at johnnydanger.net.
To learn more about Painting with Light or gear used in this shoot visit:B & H Photo Painting with Light
B & H Photo Gear