Last year I came across the images of the photographer Harold Ross, and he captured my attention by the intensity of his fine art images. His process is very intriguing, as he does “light painting”, but not in the way I knew (e.g. swinging steel wool). He uses a soft diffused light source to illuminate the subject in complete darkness, with a long exposure giving enough time to lighten up the important parts. The images have a distinctly painterly feel to it.
I tried to emulate his technique and was partly successful. Thank you very much, Harold, for being open towards your process. Your blog website with tips for tools and the technique gives just enough information to spark the imagination and do your own experiments. But even if you know how it works, it is a process you have to learn and practice. He has been doing “light painting” for 30 years, I can’t replicate the experience without attending one of his workshops.
But it was a lot of fun trying to light paint in the dark. My Olympus camera has a very helpful function called “Live Composite” mode. I can see on the screen how the image builds up with additional light coming in during a long exposure, I don’t have to guess how the long exposure will turn out.
Here is the result of one of my attempts. Excellent subjects are simple things with a rich surface structure. Like this egg, for example:
So how does it work?
I can only tell you how I did it, but not how Harold Ross does it, as I didn’t attend his workshop so far. And if I would know, I would not give you more details than what I can learn from his website, as it is his process, for him to teach in his workshops.
Basically, you have these steps and tools:
- You will take the image in complete darkness, a tripod or other sturdy support for your camera is essential.
- I tried to replicate the light diffusor as described here:
- When painting with light, make sure you understand how unique types of light quality and distance and application change the result. Be careful when directing the light, it is easy to point it towards the camera, or accidentally touch the subject. Plan what you want to do before pressing the shutter button.
- Start a long exposure for your camera and shoot a series of images with different parts of your subject illuminated according to your plan.
- Compose the images in Adobe Photoshop or any other layer-enabled images processing program of your choice if needed. The image of the egg was just one source image, but I had other subjects where I had to combine several images.
Although I did a Black & White conversion for the egg image, I found that light painting results in a unique intense color rendition of the subjects, so try for example fruits and vegetables. When you study the images on his website, you will know what subjects are good for this special technique.
Have fun with experiments in the dark! And thanks for reading!