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Upon receiving two of Savage Universal’s RGB300 Color Video Lights, I not only explored the potential of using the lights in creative portraiture, but also decided to give light painting a whirl. I have limited experience with light painting beyond the occasional spelling out of words with a flashlight or photographing the stars in the mountains with a long exposure. That being said this challenge required me to start with the basics and do a lot of guess and check work to define a functional method.

I chose to photograph a still life because it would allow me to repeatedly test various techniques without a shift in the subject and I did not have to worry about the potential motion blur that would come from photographing a living subject. I visited my local Goodwill and purchased a variety of glass and metal objects that would reflect light.

Required Equipment

  • Subject
  • DSLR Camera with Manual Settings
  • Sturdy Tripod
  • Remote Trigger (This allows you to eliminate the camera shake that occurs from depressing the shutter button. You will also be able to be in position and ready to begin lighting your subject as soon as you trigger the release saving you time and running back and forth to the camera)
  • Extra Camera Battery (You will notice your battery life is much shorter when taking long exposures.)
  • 2 RGB300 Video Lights

Optional Equipment

  • Pen Light (This can be useful for more detailed work)
  • Laptop and Tether System (It is much easier to get immediate feedback when you are shooting tethered.)

My Camera Settings:
ISO 100
25 second exposure
Manual Focus

My Process

After setting up my still life I decided to photograph the setup with ambient light so I would have something to compare the end result. I then turned off the lights, adjusted my camera to a 25 second exposure and was ready to start painting. In order to get a feel for light painting I decided to begin the process using the RGB300 lights on their white light setting. I placed one RGB300 on each side of my set with the power turned off so I could quickly pick up the light, power it on and get to work when it came time. I did a series of exposures just to get a feel for how much light and time was required to properly expose the still life. I found it helpful to step in closer to my still life with the light only inches away to get a more dramatic feel. This creates less light spill off and I was able to control the light more easily.

RGB300 Color Video Light

The reverse is also true. If you are looking to light a subject more evenly, you can simply step away from your still life and paint in large swaths for larger segments of time. In this first image you will see I have neglected to light the background and simply focused my light on the subject directly. In this image I lit my still life from one side to create deep shadows on camera right. The result is a chiaroscuro reminiscent of still life paintings from the Baroque Period. As I continued to experiment I decided to add a subtle fill from camera right as well as texture from behind. In order to create the starburst effect in the final image, I stood behind the table on which my still life was perched, grabbed a pen light and blinked it on and off at the camera. I also played around with outlining my still life with broad strokes but felt the twinkling of the starbursts played off of the metal texture nicely.

RGB300 Color Video Light

RGB300 Color Video Light

After feeling satisfied with the image I created with the white light I decided to venture into the realm of colored light. I landed on a blue which I felt offered a nice contrast to the gold of the vase and drapery. Once again I slowly built the final image by taking the time to understand what each action was accomplishing before putting them all together. You will see in the first image that I did not apply any light to the still life itself but instead painted the white wall behind with the blue light creating a nice silhouette. On the next exposure I once again painted the back wall blue and then switched to a white light to paint the still life from camera left. In this particular image it is apparent that I needed to spend a bit more time lighting the glass piece to really pull out the highlights. For the final image I painted the back wall before coming around to bathe the still life in blue light from camera left. From here I switched off the light and picked up the RGB300 I had stationed to camera right and added some fill with white light. I completed the 25 second mad dash by once again adding the starbursts behind the still life.

RGB300 Color Video Light

RGB300 Color Video Light

RGB300 Color Video Light

Tips and Tricks

  • Find somewhere very dark in order to avoid ambient light (unless it is part of your composition). I blocked all light from my studio that was coming in from the street. If you are shooting outside you will need to find a space away from light pollution caused by city lights.
  • I would recommend starting with a small subject such as a still life so you are able to light it with one exposure. Once you have mastered this exercise you will be capable of painting large scenes that you can later composite from multiple exposures.
  • Always keep the light either turned off or facing your subject. If you allow the light to fall on you, you will unintentionally install yourself in the image. Similarly, unless you are seeking the starburst or light streak affect keep your light from hitting the camera directly.
  • Keep moving! If you keep the light in one spot for too long you will overexpose it that portion of the image. It takes time and repetition to get the hang of it but you will soon learn how long to paint a specific portion of your subject. If you are on the move you will also reduce the chance of painting yourself into the image.
  • If you want the light to be more detailed and focused, move in closer to your subject. If you are looking for broad or more even light, step back.
  • If your image or part of your image is too dark you should plan to spend more time painting that area on the next exposure. If it is too light remember to keep moving!
  • Set your RGB300 Video Lights to your intended color, turn off and set in place prior to triggering the shutter. When you power the light on it will initially be a white light. Quickly press the “color” button once in order to return to colored light you have previously selected.

Emily Voss

Emily Voss is a professional portrait photographer that stands apart based on her emphasis on clean lighting and strong use of color. She is the owner and sole photographer of VOSStudios, a state of the art portrait studio in downtown Wausau, WI where it is in its fourth year of business. Emily graduated from Luther College in 2013 with dual degrees in Fine Arts and Spanish. In 2012, she interned and photo assisted Annie Leibovitz in New York City resulting in a love of the city and passion for lighting. While her home base is in the Midwest, she makes trips back to New York to work with actors, dancers and models. Back home in Wisconsin, Emily specializes in high-end senior portraits and corporate headshots but has branched out to include newborns and pet portraits as well. She has been published in a variety of online and print sources such as Photo Vogue, Photographers Forum, Compliance Today, Boutique Design magazine, and the NCAA Champion Magazine. Check out her website here. Learn More