Lightpainting the nude figure is fun and gives us the most beautiful results. The light can be shaped in ways that no other technique can replicate. With minimal equipment and a little practice stunning results can quickly be achieved. Equipment considerations
- Camera that you can set on 60 second exposures or on bulb
- Sturdy tripod
- Torch - the choice of torch is important. Recently I have settled on LED torches and have fallen in love with a LED Lenser (P6)
- Willing model & suitable model release
Before running out the door with all of these things I do recommend having a quick look at the weather and the outdoor temperature. Here in Sydney it is really only warm enough to do this in the summer months (Nov - March).
The other thing to consider is the location. Obviously somewhere quiet without onlookers is a serious consideration. The other thing to look for is solid objects to lean the model against. Have a look in the following photograph. Meluxine's head is propped against the tree as is most of her body. This keeps her still for the minute exposure. I do a verbal count down so that the model knows when to start being still and so they can hold their breath for the whole exposure. I also tell them when it is over so they can relax & breath again.
Before we get to taking the image the first thing you need to consider is the exposure. I like to use a sixty second exposure as this gives me plenty of time to work with the torch. I always set my ISO as low as possible, my current camera only goes to 200 ISO so that is what I use. The next step is to play with the aperture to get enough of an exposure in your background. I have been finding f 5.6 seems to work for me and I use that as a starting point. I put my camera in manual and then take an exposure (60 seconds @ f5.6) and then have a look.
If your camera at this point seems to be taking a long time before you can view the image this is because you have long exposure noise reduction on and your camera is taking a second exposure of the blackness (with its shutter closed) and subtracting the hot (white) pixels from the original photograph. This is called a dark frame subtraction. Despite this being inconvenient it is a good thing as it reduces noise in your final photograph so I recommend leaving it on. Most cameras have this default set to start on exposures after 1 second.
While determining the exposure I need to consider the final look. I like my night photographs to look like they were taken at night, so I tend to under expose them so there is a lot of black so they look quiet dark. This is my personal preference. If you want a darker image stop down your lens to f 8 or f 16. If you want a brighter photograph open up your lens to f4 or f2.8. If f5.6 is your widest aperture then you can always increase your ISO. Try doubling it.
Now we are ready for our model. To keep your model warm keep them clothed and start working on your composition, the models pose and light painting. I figure out what it will look like before you do a nude version. Sometimes these test photographs are so good that you may not go any further. The following photograph is an example of one of these tests.
Now you need to figure out your torch exposure. This is simpler than you would imagine. I start with a 30 second exposure. I walk around behind the camera painting my subject with light from about ten metres. I work evenly on both sides of my camera (left and right) and vertically as well. By doing this I get a very soft light that wraps around the figure.
The last 30 seconds of my exposure I use to add extra light to the foreground and to any of the other objects in the composition (like the tree in the first photograph in this article.
- once you get your background exposure correct don't change it
- if the figure is too bright, reduce the amount of light on it - you do this by reducing how long you shine your torch on the model
- if the figure is too dark, increase the amount of light on it - shine the light on the model for longer
- if you move closer to the subject with your torch you are increasing the amount of light on the subject
- if you move further away from the subject with your torch you are decreasing the amount of light on the subject
- initially stay the same distance away from your subjects to remove this variable
- practice, practice, practice - "Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect" - Vince Lombardi ;)
It is inevitable that your subject will move during this process. It is part of the process and needs to be embraced. Have a really close look at my examples and you will see the delightful movement in the figures. I think they really add to the technique.
Light painting is a slow and laborious exercise that creates amazing results. I have found that in a three hour session we might only create 12 images and only one or two worthwhile ones. Despite this it is well worth the effort. Keep an eye on your model and keep them warm, with hot drinks & sugar and rug them up between images. If they get too cold it is time to go home.