Inside photography – lightpainting

I treated myself to a subscription to LensWork, a well-crafted pamphlet about “…the path of creative photography.”  The first edition arrived and the initial article surprised me – the images were in color.  The few times I’d looked through LensWork all the images were in B&W, beautifully toned and printed.  After reading the article and looking over the images I realized this really had to be portrayed in color to fully appreciate the work.

The author is Harold Ross who does great work with lightpainting.  You can see his images at and get an idea of what can be done once you get control of light.  And appreciate why any article on his work has to be in color.

I learned the fundamentals of lightpainting at a workshop a few years back, and played around with it for a bit.  What intrigued me about Ross’ work, and compelled me to return to this technique, was the way his soft light brings out the texture and dimensions of his subjects.  The images are like Vemeer paintings – almost real enough to reach out and grasp the subjects.  Since this type of realism is an attribute I want in much of my photography I decided to work more with this technique.

Starting out with something simple, of course.

Lightpainting, onion in three layers

Lightpainting, onion in three layers

What intrigued me about Ross’ method was to use Photoshop to merge multiple images into one scene.  Whereas my prior instruction was to use long exposures and “paint” all in one capture, Ross carefully segregates the areas he wants to portray into separate images.  These are processed individually and then merged into the final image.  With a sturdy tripod locking down any movement, you can make many attempts at the look you want for each area in the image and then put together the ones that result in the best composition.

For example, the above image is made from combining three separate images.  One is the overall front lighting, two is the spotlight on the background, and three is the highlighted ends.  Using layer masks I revealed the areas I wanted in the final image while removing those that didn’t enhance the scene.  This image took about 20 minutes to make and shows a start at bringing out the dimensionality of the subject.  I’m sure it can be portrayed as more dramatic with more time on the image capture and post-processing.

The sun is setting around here earlier and earlier so I’m looking for inspiration that doesn’t require me chasing the last lingering winter light.  This processing method opens new opportunities to improve my “seeing” what light can do when controlled.


2 thoughts on “Inside photography – lightpainting

    • I like this way better than the get-it-in-one-shot method. You take multiple versions and then just use the most interesting images to create the final. Granted you lose some of the surprise but get greater creative flexibility.


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