It always begins as an amazing adventure. The gear is packed, a plan is roughly in place, and it’s time to head out into the night. You pull up to the edge of the forest, and your headlights shine deep into the woods. You grab your equipment and search for the headlamp you left sitting on the dining room table. After a few futile attempts to find it, your flashlight is promoted.

The dim light bounces off the tall grass and trees while the trail snakes into the woods. Your eyes are wide and ears are perked as the exposure of the darkness and unknown surrounds you. The primal instincts kick in, and you strain to become aware of what lies ahead just past the flashlights fading light. Finally a clearing appears, and the night sky envelopes the horizon.

With a sense of urgency, you throw down the backpack and dig out your trusty camera. If only there was a little light left on the horizon, those power lines in front of you would be obvious. Placing the camera on the tripod, you try to line up a composition. Using a spotlight, the landscape appears again, but you realize there is a damn power line running through your shot! Urg! With the camera bag in one hand and the camera and tripod in the other, the trek is made past the power lines where you now have a better shot. The process of getting the camera set up is repeated. After a few tries, the exposure is set for the empty landscape, and it’s time to add some lights to the scene. You dig through your bag and realize you forgot your remote shutter release! NO!!!! It must be sitting on the table keeping the headlamp from getting lonely. Looks like it will be 30-second exposures tonight. After choosing your weapon of choice (a lighted saber), the next 10 minutes are spent frustratingly running back and forth trying to get the focus and exposures dialed in. In hindsight, inviting a friend along would have been a great idea. After nailing down the exposure for the background and the light saber, it’s time to add some complexity by adding some light to that tree in the background.

Running your fingers across the top of the camera, the shutter is clicked. It’s time to move. You run 10 feet off to camera right, shine some light on the tree, drop the spotlight, run into the scene with your saber and hear the camera click before you made it all the way through the scene. Stumbling back to the camera in the dark, the struggle to find where the spotlight was dropped ensues. Finally it is found, and you hit the play button on the back of the camera. A dark image, with an over-exposed tree that is tinted with blue light from the LED spotlight appears with a half lit pattern from the light saber running partially through the scene. Back to the bag you go, dig out an orange filter and band it to the front of the spotlight.

Click, run, hit the tree with a little less spotlight, run, wave the saber around, click. The scene starts to come to life. You run back and forth trying to perfect the shot. A little more light here, a little less over there, bring up the shadows in the foreground, wave the saber a little higher in the middle of the scene. By now you can feel precisely where you are within the frame of the camera as you frolic like a rhythmic gymnast alone in the night. The 30 second timer is engrained in your mind as you dance around and the pieces are fitting together perfectly. That’s when you see a light off in the distance. “What is that?” “Is that a cop? DNR? Concerned hiker? They are a long ways off but heading your way. Instead of trying to explain to them what your doing alone in the woods at 1:00am, you quickly pack up and hoof it out of there. During the drive home, thoughts of what the final images will look like on the big screen dance through your mind. The images are loaded on to the computer and a sense of pride and accomplishment washes over you. All that work for one image becomes worth it.

Your passion for light painting is restored, and all the frustration is erased from your mind.


Tell us why you love light painting in the comments.

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Written by Dan McCreight