Used as a way to illuminate foregrounds without flash, light painting adds texture and dimension to star photography and nighttime portraiture. Less commonly applied to wildlife subjects, nocturnal animals are typically photographed with flash traps. While this technique can freeze the motion of an animal on the prowl, subjects caught in a trap often appear startled and unnatural. Additionally, because camera traps are challenging to focus, it’s important use small apertures that will increase the depth of field. The reliance on this technique results in pictures that seem to be littered by branches that reflect the cold and sterile light produced by a flash.
While traveling through the tropics this July, we had the opportunity to do some light painting. Unlike the millisecond pop of a flash-trap, light painting relies on long exposures to soft light. To paint with light, you’ll need a friend or two to illuminate your nocturnal subject. To emulate the appearance of candle or firelight, we covered the bulbs of our dying flashlights with our hands and slowly moved the light near and around the frog. This type of light painting requires you to prefocus, and bump your iso to 400 or 800. I suggest that you use a stable tripod, mirror lock-up and a cable release in order to minimize camera movement. You’ll need to be prepared to experiment with duration of your shutter, take many pictures and stay up late!
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