Man On Fire

Location: Pine Mountain, CA

See more in the  Animation / Licensing  collection.

See more in the Animation / Licensing collection.

The other night I checked out a nearby spot that has a burned down section of the forest. A stark reminder of what can happen over the Summer when the weather is hot, dry, and windy.

This must have happened a handful of years back, you can see smaller growth making a comeback but it could be many more years until we see trees here again.

burned forest

Here's a blend I did of all the frames in the animation above so you can see the frame by frames. The steps are a little wonky, but hey - he's on fire! Fire effect produced with red El Tape.

stack

The next light-art challenge is a different type of photo-merge. This one is done in-camera during a long-exposure. It's essentially a double exposure using the lens-cap and two tripods. 

Light-painters call it the 'Lens-cap Trick'.

The best way to accomplish this 'Lens-cap Trick' yourself is to have two tripods with the same quick-release plate, that way you can quickly set up different positions and remove the camera and set it up easily on another, just remember to cap your lens while you move the camera from one location to the next and re-adjust your focus each time.

If you're in the market for a killer tripod that won't break the bank, check out this lightweight and ridiculously strong Pro-series 'Dolica' Carbon Fiber Tripod for about $100. I've been using the same model for the past year or so and I am thinking of getting another soon - for this price it can't really be beat! Other carbon fiber tripods can cost 5x the price!

Back to the 'Lens-cap Trick', first set up the tripods in two different locations, I chose one up close to a fireplace (close focus) and another further away from the camera to draw the heart (long focus).

The idea is to line up the two separate compositions so that they are relatively seamless and look like one surreal photograph. It requires getting the exposure accurate and in focus for both composites - this takes a bit of trial and error to get just right - you have to remember the focal length for each exposure.

I recommend getting a good shot of the plate first, then trying the light-art until it's lined-up correctly separately, after these are both dialed in, then go for the make of both. Here are my practice shots, I try expose a little darker so that the blend works out:

stove

Sometimes it's the simple things that are most difficult! This heart took quite a few tries to get just right, but now I have a sweet burning heart .gif:

heart on fire

Here is my end result:

liketolight_7640_DT.jpg

After the make, I wanted to try another more ambitious shot where I set the tripod up outside in my backyard by an interesting V-shaped tree.

For the image below it was more like 3 exposures - First I exposed the stove (lit w bare Night-Writer), then I capped the lens and started a small fire in the stove. Next, I took the lens cap off to expose the flames (2nd exposure) and capped it after the fire had burned a bit. Lastly, I moved the camera to the outside where I refocused and exposed for the 3rd time toward the 'V-shaped' tree in my backyard and drew in the light-skeleton with a clear-tipped Night-Writer

Give it a try the next time you're in the right place for it!

The 'Lens-cap Trick' is one of the more advanced techniques for light-art and takes a bit longer to master than almost any other kind of shot, so please be patient and give yourself plenty of time to try and fail... If you don't give up, you will eventually succeed. Stay Bright!

How to Light-paint with a GoPro

Here's a neat little trick I've been using to capture light-paintings using a GoPro Hero 4 Silver along with a clever stacking technique in Photoshop.

In this article, I'll go over how to set your GoPro for Night-Lapses at 15 secs each, and then show you how to combine 10 selected images in post-production using Photoshop to make one long exposure equivalent of 150 seconds.

LP with a GP

In the gallery below you'll find an easy  7-step guide that you can follow along with to set your camera for light-painting, click an image below to see it larger:

Now that you're all set for the light-painting part, I'll shift gears into what happens after you take a bunch of 15 sec images. For this part we will probably need to hop on the computer.

You'll want to use a program like Adobe Bridge so that you can see all your files visually in one place - you're looking for the puzzle-pieces that will make up a good light-painting. We'll be using Photoshop to open one layer and then stacking other pics on top of it, building out our light-painting 15 seconds at a time.

Click an image to see it larger:

After we've followed these steps, we should have a stacked image that would be the equivalent result of a 150 second exposure - not bad! 

For more tips and tricks, check out my EDU section.

How to Light-paint with an iPhone

Here's a how-to post for anyone that's not sure about buying an expensive DSLR camera, but still wants to experiment with light-painting and night-photography.

Don't believe you can shoot a decent light-painting image with a cellphone? Check out this gallery of images I've collected over the past few months - I'm pretty happy with them! Shot using an iPhone 6 and 6s Plus along with the Night-Writer & various Color-tips as the light-source:

To shoot these type of images you have to be totally dialed in! It takes a bit of practice, but once you get the hang of it - it's a great option to have on hand when you don't happen to have a DSLR handy!

Step One: Download the Right App

I used Night Cap Pro to shoot these images, but there are other good options like Slow-Shutter app.

Step Two: Dial it In

The right app settings are crucial to pulling this off! 

Here is a cheat-sheet for Light-painting with NightCap Pro:

1. Start off with selecting 'light trails' - tap the star icon on the right to toggle this option.

2. Just above the star is a lock button for once you get your settings down - don't do it yet, but just know it's there and that the green light should be on for at least 'FOC (focus)' and 'EXP (exposure)' options before you start your shot. 'WB (white balance)' is not something I used very often - I think it's set to 'auto' if you do nothing, which looks fine.

3. Adjust the exposure setting by sliding your thumb up on the right side of the viewer - I go with 1/2 - do this unless you want your light-lines to be dotted (no thanks!).

4. Set your ISO - I went with 50, but I've tried higher - 400 is ok, but it starts to get pretty noisy after 800.

5. Set your focus using the bottom slide-toggle - '0' is for super-macro stuff while I'd assume '100' would be for far away star-trails. I usually go with something from 69-75 - this is good for that 35mm look that most of us are familiar shooting with.

Step Three: Steady as She Goes

Please know that the camera has to be totally still while the long-exposure is happening! So use a tripod. If you don't have one handy - a coffee mug on a table will suffice (the dude abides): 

coffee mug tripod

Now that you've got your settings locked (Exp + Foc have green dots) you are ready to start your light-painting! Tap the large button to start (it turns red when on) and tap it again once you are finished with your light-art.

Step Four: iPhone Presets

Turn your Auto-Lock off. You don't want your camera shutting down during the middle of your light-painting, right?

Here's how you do it: Go to 'Settings', select 'General', select 'Auto-Lock' - switch to 'Never'.

Bonus Tip: Dim that light-source for best results!

My first results light-painting with the iphone were pretty dismal - I found out quickly that the bare Night-Writer light was too bright for the lens. I tried diffusing the LED with a crumpled-up receipt which resulted in more balanced exposures. Color-Tips worked great for diffusing the light also.  

The reason you need a fairly dim light-source is because your phone has a tiny lens, with a tiny sensor, and mostly automatic features - like what aperture to use when shooting in dark environments.

You're best option to get a well-balanced exposure is to control the brightness of your light-source. Bright light is great for casting toward environments, but not for using toward the lens (light-writing).

A good rule of thumb: If you can glance at the light without hurting your eyes, so can the camera.

Check out the video tutorial below:

More tips and tricks for light-art photography can be found in the EDU section.

 

Shoot for the Stars

Location: Rocky Mountain National Park / Settings: (14 vertical images) shot at F2.8, ISO 6400, 15 seconds

The first thing to note about this image is that it was taken at an elevation around 12,000 feet. The red you can see projected on that rock in the left third of the frame is due to a passing car on the nearby Trail Ridge Road.

To shoot a similar image, you'll want to be visiting a dark area away from city lights - priority number one in seeing any stars. A high elevation seems to have helped also but that's not 100% necessary. Another few important factors are the season you're shooting in, moon phase and astronomical timing (where and when the Milky Way will be most visible) - each of these can be figured out with the following online tools:

Online Tools:

Dark Site Finder - This is an awesome global map to help figure out where the best dark skies are in your location.

Sky Guide App - Use this to figure out where and when the Milky Way will be visible via GPS on your phone.

Camera Gear:

In terms of camera gear you'll probably want a camera with a great full-frame sensor - that means one of the following is your best bet:

Sony A7R ii - A great camera with a killer low light performing sensor, what a lot of the low-light pros are using nowadays. It'll set you back around $3.5k.

Sony A7S ii - Another great offer from Sony in the low-light department - most of what I've seen and used on the older model A7S carried over here with a greater emphasis on filming - this thing is insane at night, the only drawback is the smaller image sizes (roughly 12-17mb files). This camera (body only) will set you back about $3k.

Canon 6D - This is what I'm using now, full-frame sensor, good battery performance, quick, great low-light performance, awesome lens selection, and decent video capabilities. A bit more heavy compared to most mirrorless cameras, but at 1300 for the body and an accessories bundle, a pretty sweet deal overall.

Canon 5D mkiii - Another great low-light camera from Canon - I won't go into details about what this is a good full-frame camera, or why I'd go with this over the Nikon D800, but I will link a video here telling you all the reasons you might consider buying one over the other.

Super Wide-angle Lens:

In terms of Lenses, I'll just say that wider is better in terms of capturing the sky, and you'll need a very open aperture to capture the low light.

A good option that I've found is the Rokinon 14mm, they have one for almost every camera make, and at around $300, it's a pretty good deal for glass.

Rokinon 14mm F2.8: CanonFuji X-mount, Pentax, NikonSamsung NX, Sony Mount.

Now let's keep in mind that this is 14 vertical images stitched together using Adobe Photoshop CC's 'photo-merge function'. Here are all but 2 of the individual frames as viewed in Adobe Bridge:

process

The first step in actually shooting something as large as our Galaxy is to visualize what the end result should look like. Backtrack from there and figure out how many shots it will take to achieve, leaving a little room for error/aberration at the sides and verticals. 

Last step is make sure the tripod you've brought out is level throughout the pan. Shoot one frame for each slight rotation, moving the camera across the environment to capture it in overlapping frames.

You may want to try live-view focusing on a distant bright star if you can (must be using the zoom 10x feature). Otherwise, a focus set to infinity works pretty good, but it's not optimal all the time.

Onto the Post-Processing:

Here's an illustrated breakdown of how to combine your images into a Pano via Photoshop CC photomerge function, first open Photoshop CC (or equivalent version):

Give the computer time to take care of business:

You may as well make yourself a cup of tea or coffee during this period, because your computer may crash in the process of putting these huge files all together.. Either that or it will turn out awesome!!! Now flatten and crop the massive image - enjoy the view!

To see more beautiful landscapes and purchase prints, check out my Nature Gallery. For more tutorials, visit the EDU page.

Light-paint a skeleton (step by step tutorial vid)

Location: Mt. Pinos - Frazier Park, CA

Here it is, a little how-to video on the subject of light-skeletons - I've been asked, and the idea of other people illustrating their very own skeletons with light makes me pretty damn amped!

Good luck out there with your creations! Please share them with me if you think you've got a good one - If you're on instagram, you can tag me @dariustwin - otherwise, email works ok too.

To learn more about light-art photography, you can visit my new EDU page devoted toward the education of light-art photography.