One of the most playful and creative photography techniques I have ever experimented with is light painting. The idea is pretty simple: hold a light source in your hand and guide it through the frame while the camera’s shutter is left open for a long time to capture the trails of light.
I taught this technique to a bunch of 5th graders last year and seeing the amazement on their faces at the results was a joy to witness as a photographer. If they don’t remember the exposure triangle or any of the basics I showed them, I would be content if they just remembered that photography is art, not just documentation of life.
So when Konstantin posted a photo using the light painting technique in his LEGO minifig photography, I remembered how fun that day with the 5th graders was and had to contact him for a behind-the-scenes interview to maybe inspire other toy photographers to experience the thrill of painting with light.
Setting up the scene
Konstantin’s inspiration for this photo was another photo he had taken of the aurora borealis:
“When I began to think about the picture, the first thing I wanted to add was a fire near a small house or tent. This would create a contrast between the warm and cozy light in the foreground and the cold colors of the northern lights behind.”
To create the effect of warm light in the house and the fireplace, Konstantin carefully placed regular Christmas lights around the MOC. He also used the Christmas lights to illuminate the minifig.
Since this was going to be a long exposure to capture motion, Konstantin stabilized the camera and waited until midnight when it was very dark outside to shoot the scene.
Although he lives in the north, where the northern lights are on display quite often, Konstantin only had the opportunity to go out and witness them once. So in order to realize his vision with LEGO minifigs, he had to create his own northern lights by painting light with his iPad.
Any paint app will do the trick here; just play around with colors and shapes to get the effect you want. It does mean a lot of trial and error unless you are especially gifted at previsualizing.
“The most difficult was to create the northern lights. At first, they didn’t look like real, the light was monotonous. The main thing in the image is that it should not just be completely green. Black spaces, uneven lines make light more interesting.”
In this short video, you’ll see a few neat light painting tricks but the one you want to pay attention to for this challenge is the portrait light painting trick at 2:35:
Basically, you need to focus on your subject and light it with a separate light source. Konstantin did this with the Christmas lights, if you remember.
Konstantin shot the scene with a Nikon D3300 with the 18-55mm kit lens. His camera settings were: ISO 100, f6.3, with an 8 second exposure — enough time to “draw” the northern lights in with the iPad.
To finish his photo, Konstantin worked with mobile apps before uploading to social media:
“I increased the exposure in Photoshop Lightroom for IOS, because the foreground seemed too dark to me. A little light from the Christmas lights appeared on the background, in order to make it dark, I used the app Photoshop Fix for IOS. I also removed all the dust in the same program — which took a very long time, because I deleted every tiny speck of dust.”
Setup for the scene took about 30 mins, shooting another hour and a half, and editing one hour. “I’m used to doing many identical images of one scene, I just press the button and press again and again. So it takes me a long time to photograph even a simple scene.”
The Konstantin Challenge
Light painting is so much fun, as is toy photography, so imagine how much fun you’ll have combining the two!
In order to paint with light effectively, you’ll need to have a few things:
- A camera that allows you to slow down the shutter speed. (If you’re working with mobile, look for apps that give you some measure of manual control.)
- A tripod or stable surface.
- A dark room.
- A handheld light source (phone screen, flashlight, lava lamp, what have you)
The #inthestyleof _legoschmidt challenge is all about painting with light and runs until Oct 2. To participate, post your photos with the hashtag #inthestyleof _legoschmidt and mention either @legoschmidt or @fourbrickstall to get our attention so we can check out and give you feedback on your work.
More from Konstantin: