Light Painting a Cessna

Today’s Post by Ken MacAdams, Photography by Ken

If this topic sounds familiar it’s because Mark wrote something similar a while ago. You can read Mark’s Post “Light Painting a B-17″ here.

If you’d like to challenge yourself photographically, try light painting! You likely have all the tools you need: A camera, tripod, and a portable light source. like a flashlight.

Don’t begin with a large subject, like the plane pictured here! Begin indoors, where you have more control over the environment. Select an object like a small sculpture, woman’s purse, or fruit basket. You’ll need to photograph in complete darkness and if your chosen room has white walls, you’ll need to block the light from reaching them and reflect back into the camera. Start by placing the object in the center of the room. If you can, drape a black cloth backdrop under and behind the subject.

Place your camera on a tripod, and manually focus on the subject. Camera settings will need to be Manual. Begin with your camera set to Auto White Balance, ISO 100, f/8, and time setting of Bulb. If your camera doesn’t have the Bulb option, start with an exposure time of 30 seconds and moderate from there.

The next consideration is you! Wear all dark clothing, and cover any exposed skin. Anything reflective will show up in the image. Use a flashlight for your light source. Older incandescent flashlights produce a warm, yellowish tint, while newer LED lights tend to be a cooler, brighter white. If you have colored gels, you can tape a gel over the flashlight‘s head for color effects.

When you have everything in place, extinguish the room lights, open the shutter, and begin painting back and forth across your subject in even strokes. Light is cumulative, so the longer you paint, the more light is recorded by your camera’s sensor. If your painting process takes you in front of the lens, keep moving, and your shape will not be recorded in the time exposure. As you vary your distance to the subject, add color, or change the height and position of the light, you’ll create different looks! Experiment!

When you feel ready to be challenged at a greater degree, move to larger subjects. Outdoors, you can light paint motorcycles, cars, boats, planes, even houses! Your light sources will likely have to be larger, but the concepts are still the same.

On a recent visit to my son, I asked if we could light paint his Cessna 170. We taxied onto the grass next to his hanger, and waited as dusk mellowed into evening. While darkness descended, I set up my equipment, considered background structures, and the angle of the plane in respect to the twilight. I wore black clothing, hat and gloves. Next, we turned on the navigation and cockpit lights for effect. In all, I only took 15 different exposures before settling on this image.

This was my first attempt at light painting with the Panasonic Lumix G85. I affixed an auxiliary battery grip for spare power, and attached the body to a Sirui carbon fiber tripod. My lens was a Lumix 12 – 60mm, at 35mm. My aperture was f/8 for good depth-of-field with the0shutter speed set on “Bulb”. I triggered the camera via the built-in Wi-Fi controls directed by my smartphone. This image is a 40-second exposure. My light source was a Vidpro LED dimmable 3″ x 4″ video light set at 5600 degrees K. I began painting from the tail of the plane walking sideways so my body shielded the light source. I went past the prop so I could include the surface of the far wing. You can see some light streaks from other plane activity at the airport while the shutter was open.

I’m already planning the next light painting session! Park the plane on an unused section of runway, then wet the surface down. Position the camera at a higher angle, and pop a second strobe behind the plane with colored gels! You can create your own list of things to light! Happy painting!