Saturday, March 7, 2009

Photography in Winter: Light painting

Asiatic Lilies

In the winter, the weather often doesn't cooperate, and I resort to learning how to photograph in the studio.  I have a section of the basement sectioned off as a makeshift studio, basically making use of a plywood table I made when I was a student, and other material that I've scrounged from around the house.

I started off buying two used SB-26's from EBay to use with my SB-28, but this year I have started using just a flashlight, and painting the light onto the subject.   Right now, I am primarily using a very small LED flashlight that is on a flexible arm.  It cost me about $10 at a local hardware store.  To give me some protection from the glare of the light, I taped a 2cm black cardboard tube to the end of the arm where the LED sits.  The tube just stops stray light from leaking out.

The flashlight gives me a huge amount of control over what the final image looks like -- it makes using flash with all of the gadgets to control the light seem crude by comparison.  The light of the LED makes a circle of only an inch or two in diameter when the flash is close to the flower, so I can light individual petals if I want.

However, all of that control comes with a price.  It takes a great deal of time and effort to make each exposure, and I have to get all parts of the image correctly exposed for the final image to be good.  Each image takes at least 30 seconds to expose -- sometimes up to a couple of minutes.   If I get the background done well in one image but not the foreground subject, I have to remember how I exposed the background for the next image.  It's actually quite a bit like making a print using an enlarger.  Often  you have to dodge and burn parts of the image.

Another downside is that the LED light is not exactly "white".  It's quite blue, and I have to adjust the final image's colour balance to compensate.  I found a good balance while I was photographing a white flower (see below) and I've saved the setting in my raw image processor.

White Flower

In the end, I really like the results.  The flower seems to glow with light.  Each image is unique, so sometimes it's a matter of opinion about which image is the best of the bunch.

. . . Rob Williams