Since I began experimenting with color, I knew I wanted to push that boundary further. Every shoot with color, I put more thought and technical knowledge into making the image more eye grabbing. I watched parts of my color tutorial over again and watched the light painting tutorial with Jake Hicks on Pro Edu. He is the “expert” in color and the fact that he has tutorials about most of his techniques is super helpful.
WARNING: There will be some nudity in photos below.
This shoot was the first time doing light painting so I knew knowledge was key in putting together a successful and educational photoshoot. First thing, I contacted a model I do a lot of my experimental color shoots with and showed her example images and a mood board. After working on dates and times that would work, we went with a morning timeframe. The only locations we had easy access to were her house, which has a bright sunroom, and my place. While the sunroom is great for some ideas, an almost absolutely dark room was required for the image. Luckily, I just moved into a new place with a big and long bedroom that had enough space for a small photo setup for shoots like this.
The model liked a few different images from the mood board so we stuck with 3 looks during the shoot to experiment with: a colored silhouette image, light painting with camera on tripod and manually moving a flashlight around, and hand holding the camera and moving slowly to let background light paint the model. With a small room, a few lights, light stands, and a white backdrop, I was able to make a studio that could have 3 setups by only turning on and off lights. Now that's efficiency.
Setting Up The Studio and Gear
I started by setting up a white backdrop. I used the savage pure white 53” x 36’ backdrop which is big/small enough for one person. Now in order to have color work, it has to illuminate a dark/shadow area. If you shine another color or white light where a color currently is, the color is washed out. So I set up one light to only illuminate the backdrop, one light to the right and behind as a backlight, one light almost right in front and above facing 60 degrees down, and the last light on the ground in front facing up at the model. In total, I had a main light, fill light, hair light, and backdrop light. I used an Alienbee modified with a strip and a green gel for the background light, my Dynalite modified with a 7” gridded reflector and blue gel for the hair light, a canon speedlight modified with a Wescott 36” gridded octabox with no gel for the main light, and lastly another canon speedlight modified with a gridded softbox and blue gel for the fill.
Connecting the Lights
You might be thinking, thats 4 lights and 4 different brands (Canon and Yongnuo speedlights). I solved this by having 4 transceivers. I hooked one transceiver to my camera to fire the rest on the lights. The 3 others went on the speedlights and the Alienbee. My Dynalite has a mode and sensor that lets it fire when it sees another flash so I was able to connect 4 lights with only 3 lights having a radio transceiver. This is all pretty technical but you have to know how to connect lights and know how they operate in order to have more sophisticated shoots. After a few quicks shoots the night before and on the morning of the shoot, I was ready to go.
Planning and Silhouette Shoot
We planned the shoot in the morning at around 7am to account for sunlight sneaking into my room through the blinds. I planned ahead and put up a lot of my foam core boards, black and white, to attempt to diffuse most of the sunlight that might spill in. The model arrived and we went over the looks again and how it would work. We started off with the silhouette since it was the least technical of what we were doing. This was shot with only using the backlight and was definitely the most to learn from since I was not refocusing every few shots. Think about it, you are in a dark room, with only the flash of the light to illuminate it. In order to focus the camera, it is easiest to turn on all the lights or use a flashlight. I found it easier to focus by using a flashlight since it was much brighter and could get focus quicker. In this silhouette shot, I messed that part up so after the shoot, I noticed some of the outlines are blurry.
Light Painting Begins
The next shot became the most technical. In order to light paint, you need a flashlight or some other light source. After watching Jake Hicks tutorial and reading more of his blog, I found that he also recommended using your phone because you can add whatever colors you want and it is free. So, I downloaded some different solid colors and gradients to use when light painting. What also is important is having the camera on a tripod and re-focusing after every image.
Now if you haven’t noticed or it is something I need to mention, this shoot was nude. For the most part it was because it was easier to see where colors were going and understand light better. Also, the model is very comfortable posing nude, I have worked with her a few times before, and she didn't have any shiny clothing. Again, this is mainly a trial to see if I can put my knowledge to the test.
We started with a green color on my phone for painting. One trick for light painting is to wear dark gloves to keep your hand from reflecting light from your phone or flashlight. I used some simple gloves from Home Depot to achieve this. Next we tried blue. It was ok. At the time I was stoked since the first images were so cool, but we kept pushing forward. Next we switched to gradients. A blue-green was tried, then an orange-green, and lastly a purple-blue gradient. All the favorite light painting images turned out to be with gradients.
With my settings, I had 8 seconds to paint around the model. Now everything before was calculated and thought out, this was not. Myself and the model's boyfriend traded off light painting in case he had a different pattern than me. At this point, we were stoked with the images. But we had one last look planned.
Using Background to Light Paint
This last look is using the background light to paint the model. Instead of using my phone, I set up my Alienbee’s modeling light to illuminate the backdrop. Now, instead of having a camera on tripod and moving another light source, I am now hand holding the camera and slightly moving it to create an interesting effect. Essentially I am create a silhouette of light around the model. For this image, a wardrobe of shiny or sparkly is best so the light can catch and reflect those materials creating light trails instead of a silhouette look.
Near the end we played with light painting and the background light painting. We had some time left so we tried shooting some silhouettes with not only the background light but the hair light as well. This had a nice blue hitting her face and chest like a spotlight.
What I Learned
This shoot went amazing overall. I was able to put knowledge to practice and came out with great images for myself and the model. I did get some feedback from the expert photographer himself. He mentioned having the light setup nailed down to the point where even without the light painting, it looks amazing. He mentioned the edited image he saw looked a little flat as well, and I can see that. My next plan of attack with this new skill is to make it work with athletes and their gear. While Jake Hicks might be the expert of color and colored light painting with models, Dave Black has done some amazing stuff with athletes using glow sticks and movement. Big thanks to the model Erika for making it happen. After a few shoots so far, we can communicate well with what we are doing.
If you have any questions, feel free to email me or message me via instagram.