Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Light Painting Tutorial at the Windsor Dragway

On Saturday I went back to the Windsor Dragway for the 5th or 6th time to shoot some photos. My friend Richard wanted to check it out. He just got into photography recently and wanted to try some night photos. The place has been closed since 1971 but there are still a few interesting things to photograph. I was really happy about what I came away with, and since most people seem to find this kind of photography confusing, I thought I'd try my best to explain my process for capturing each of these photos. 

1.  This is whats left of the concession stand on the west side of the strip. The sun had just set about a half hour before so I wanted to get a shot of the twilight sky with the building lit up. It took me five, 30 second exposures to run around and light up everything I wanted. One exposure to get the sky I wanted, 3 exposures of running around with a red-gelled flash to light up the inside enough. Then one last shot to light up the front. For this I used a 1,000,000 candle power spotlight with a double layered white sheet over it. This made it a nice wide, soft even light. I walked along the front of the building smoothly lighting the brick from a low angle.

So I ended up with five photos, each of them with a piece of what I wanted the final image to look like. One of the sky that I wanted, 3 of various parts of the windows glowing red, and one of the front of the building lit up. I know my way around Photoshop, but I'm no expert so I won't go into too much detail about the process of editing this one. I'm sure there are better, less destructive ways of going about it, but this is the way I know.

 I started with two photos in Photoshop, I believe it was the sky photo and one with some of the windows glowing red. I dragged the sky photo on top of the other, making a second layer. I set the opacity in the layers window to about 50% so I could see where the red was in the bottom layer photo. Then with the eraser tool (set on low or zero "hardness" for soft blending) I simply erased on the top layer where I wanted the red to come through.

Then I pretty much just repeated this process with the remaining three photos. I flattened the photo I was just working on, then dragged it onto the next photo I wanted to add, another photo with more of the windows red, repeated the erasing process, flatten then drag onto the next. Lastly, I dragged the almost complete photo onto the final one I wanted to add, the front of the building lit up and repeated the blending.

2. This photo was much simpler. This is just one, 30 second exposure, no Photoshop. I simply used a Maglite flashlight and coloured gels. I clicked the shutter and "painted" the left side of the room with green, then quickly switched to blue and painted the other side. I like the quality of light that the flashlight gives because its not as hard and shadowy as using a single burst from a flash.

3. The process of creating this shot was similar to the first photo. It's four, 30 second exposures blended together. I probably could have done it all in one shot but I didn't want to run around this area too fast. There are a lot of hazards like rusty sheet metal and nails, and I wasn't sure if there would be gross holes in the stalls where the toilets used to be, so I took it slow. Like photo #2, I used a Maglite and coloured gels.

The first shot I light painted the wall on the right and the top of the stalls green. The next shot I painted the left wall blue. The last two shots I did each stall individually with red. I used a quicker but less controllable method in Photoshop to blend the four exposures into one.

First, I load all 4 imaged into Photoshop. Then click File>Scripts>Load Files Into Stack...
Click "Add Open Files" and check the box for "Create Smart Object After Loading Layers". Click OK.
The four images are now layered on top of each other in one file.
Now go to Layer>Smart Objects>Stack Mode>Maximum.

What this does is bring forward all the brightest pixels. This method won't work if you have one shot that is overexposed compared to the other images in the stack, because it will overpower the rest and brighten everything. For example, it wouldn't work in photo #1 above because I wanted the sky darker then it was in the exposures of the red flash in the windows. Had I edited that photo with this method, it would have brightened the sky substantially and probably the foreground as well.

But it works for this photo because everything is dark except for the colours that I wanted to blend together. This method also works great for stacking star trail photos. I might do a post about that in the future as well. But I've only done a few so I still need to learn more myself.

4. I won't go into too much detail about this shot as it was done the same way as photo #1. I shot three 30 second exposures. One for each of the colours. (this was also done using colours over a flashlight, not a flash). I put the 3 images together in Photoshop and erased to bring out the colours into one photo. The red part of this photo is actually the front of the door peeled apart.

Well that's it for today. I hope it all makes sense. This is my first attempt at a tutorial type of explanation  I'm not the best teacher, but I'm working on that. If none of this made any sense I hope you at least enjoyed the photos. Thanks for visiting. -Cale