Category Archives: Light

Light Painting a Dancer in Stockbridge: Juan

About a year ago, I had plans to do a light painting session in Stockbridge, Edinburgh, with singer/songwriter Anna McLuckie. Unfortunately  we had to switch to an indoor location due to very poor weather. In a way it was a blessing because the pictures turned out great (you can see them here). But it was also a shame because I really liked the location we had picked for the shoot, McKenzie bridge.

Light painting of dancer framed with one arch of McKenzie bridge, in Stockbridge, Edinburgh

Framing within a frame is a favourite composition tools of mine. I couldn’t resist framing my model with one of the arches of McKenzie bridge.

Interestingly, dancer  Juan Barton had expressed interest in my personal light painting project and in Stockbridge as a potential location for the shoot. McKenzie bridge immediately came to my mind and we quickly agreed on the location.

Light painting of male dancer wearing a suit and framed with one arch of McKenzie bridge, in Stockbridge, Edinburgh

I really liked the metal gate and I wanted to reveal it by putting my subject on the right side of the frame.

Because of my previous attempt at shooting there, I already had a number of ideas for photographs, so we got started right away. I really liked this arch and the metal gate, not only for the elements of design they presented but also for the light painting possibilities. We did three poses before moving on to the next set up.

Light painting of male dancer wearing a suit and framed with one arch of McKenzie bridge, in Stockbridge, Edinburgh

The first two poses above would not signal to you than Juan is actually a dancer. So for the last pose with this set up, I asked Juan to assume a more dancer-like stance.

I always ask my subjects to bring a variety of clothes, but typically leave the precise wardrobe choice up to them, although I do stress that I like colourful outfits.  When Juan mentioned he had brought a set of hot pants and a red boa, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect!

Light painting of dancer wearing jeans hot pants and a red boa at McKenzie bridge, Stockbridge, Edinburgh

It was a good thing the location was relatively secluded, as we would have likely drawn a lot of attention given Juan’s outfit and the rather chilly weather.

Since the shoot took place in November, I had to do these last two light paintings quite fast as to not end up with a frozen dancer!

Light painting of dancer wearing jeans hot pants and a red boa at McKenzie bridge, Stockbridge, Edinburgh

I prefer the first pic of this series, but Juan chose this one as his Facebook banner!

Light Painting a Dancer: Kenna

In Edinburgh, the Royal Mile is the street connecting Edinburgh castle to the Palace of Holyrood, the official residence of the Queen in Scotland. Photographically speaking, the Royal Mile and the areas surrounding it offer great opportunities.

light painting of model with brick columns, with blue background

Lines, shapes and texture. Some of the elements of design I look for. Adding colour with creative use of white balance (tungsten) to add colour contrast with Kenna’s purple top.

Kenna and I walked about quite a bit to scout the areas around the Royal Mile. Then I spotted a set of columns near St Giles Cathedral. Lines, shapes and textures aplenty, so I knew there was a photograph there. Because of Kenna’s purple top, I decided to use the tungsten white balance to give the stones a definite blue cast, to provide good colour contrast.

Light painting of model in front of St Giles cathedral on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland

The entrance of St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile is another location replete with photo opportunities.

We didn’t have to move far for the next set up. The stairs to the entrance of St Giles Cathedral is a location I spotted way back then as I was taking an online photography course.

Light painting of model in front of St Giles cathedral on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland

The vertical composition better showcases (in my opinion) the lines and shapes of the background.

As Bryan Peterson, a photographer I really admire, is fond of saying: “What is the best time to take a vertical photograph? Right after you take the horizontal”.

Light painting of model in a close by  the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland

I really like the urban feel of this building, with the pipes and textured walls.

One of the great lessons I learned from top class photographer is to “work your subject”. Usually, I have some limited time at a given location with my subject, and I therefore like to revisit locations I have used before. That give me the opportunity to work my subject some more. Since I learn new things in between visits, that gives me the opportunity to improve upon the photographs previously taken at that location.

Light painting of model in a close by  the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland

I prefer this shot over the previous because of i) the pose and ii) the sign over the door is better “light painted”

I had used the building in the above photograph in a shoot with another dancer, Jennifer. I wanted to try a different composition and new poses with Kenna. The picture above is my second favourite photo from the shoot. My favourite picture from the day is the first picture in this post.

Light Painting an Interior

While surfing the web, I came across an amazing real estate photographer based in Los Angeles, Mike Kelley.

His style has evolved a bit, but at the time I came across his work, he was using a form of light painting to create stunning pictures of interiors and architecture photographs.

colourful living room light painted with speedlights

I used a speedlhgt to give some accents of light in this colourful interior for a more pleasing look.

As a scientist, I value intellectual curiosity very much. As soon as I saw Mike stunning work, I wanted to try my hand at light painting interiors. I’m fortunate to know a good  interior designer, and I offered her free photos if she could give me access to one of the locations she designed.

colourful living room light painted with speedlights

It was not possible to capture all the elements of the room with just one shot, so I took another photograph from a slightly different angle to showcase the fireplace.

I had about one hour to set up and light paint a living room with my speed lights. I really do like the look of the light painted interiors and definitely plan to gain more experience with this kind of photography.

Light Painting a Dancer in Leith: Lucy

Leith is a district to the north of Edinburgh, and the area is replete with photographic opportunities. In particular, the surroundings of the port of Leith, the largest deep water port in Scotland, provide a number of good locations for photo shoots.

Light painting of dancer, standing, with a blue steel bridge in Leith, Edinburgh

We started with a simple pose. I had to move in and around the bridge to light paint her face and then her body and the background.

I had noticed ‘the blue bridge in Leith’ a while back, but hadn’t had an opportunity to shoot there until I met Lucy, a dancer who happens to live nearby. I like the colour (blue is my favourite colour), lines, shapes and textures of this location. I’m sure I’ll go back for other shoots.

Light painting of dancer, sitting down, with a blue steel bridge in Leith, Edinburgh

I try, as much as possible, to shoot both vertical and horizontal photographs. I asked Lucy to give me an interesting pose I could frame horizontally.

I had asked Lucy to wear colourful clothes, and I was delighted to see her outfit. And in hindsight, her hair colour provides a nice contrast with the blue background.

Light painting of dancer, sitting down, with a blue steel bridge in Leith, Edinburgh

I was worried that in the previous photo, Lucy’s left hand would be a bit too prominent in the frame and that the camera hadn’t properly focussed on her face. So we did another light painting with this set up and a slightly different pose.

Dancers are very comfortable with their body, so I let Lucy try a number of poses. Apart from the first photo above, it was clear to me I would not have gotten the same type of photographs with a model rather than a dancer.

Light painting of dancer, standing and bending backwards, with a blue steel bridge in Leith, Edinburgh

I like to start the light painting session with poses I know the dancer can hold for some time without moving. Once I have a couple of shots ‘in the bag’, I like to try more demanding poses. Lucy did an incredible job standing still during the whole shoot.

Finally, on our way to the bridge we noticed the bronze statue and I knew there was a photograph there. As we walked back we made a quick stop for one last picture.

Light painting a dancer in Leith, Edinburgh next to a statue.

In this photograph, I used the ambient light for the background and only light painted Lucy, the statue and the bench.

Light Painting a Dancer on Calton Hill: Amy

Calton Hill is one of most popular locations in Edinburgh, because it offers a spectacular view of Princes street and the castle. It is where Amy wanted to get photographed and I was delighted to try out Calton Hill for light painting.

Light painting of dancer on Calton Hill with the city of Edinburgh as backdrop

Calton Hill offers a great view of the city of Edinburgh that I used as a backdrop.

One of the things I hadn’t anticipated is that some areas are closed to the public at night. In hindsight it makes perfect sense, for safety reasons. The problem was that I had a number of shots in mind that were now off limits.

Light painting of dancer on Calton Hill with the city of Edinburgh as backdrop

The big rocks provided a great combination of shapes and textures (elements of design), and I immediately knew I could use these as an interesting foreground.

While on some level it was annoying, I like to be thrown a challenge or two when shooting my personal projects. It is good to practice improvising because that is something that can happen on a job. And the more experience I have overcoming the hurdles the real world throws at me, the better prepared I am when it really counts.

Light painting of dancer on Calton Hill, Edinburgh, Scotland

Another location with lines, shapes and texture to use as a background. We tried some different poses, but this is my favourite.

The picture below is one I had I mind before the shoot and was the last set up for the night.

Light painting of dancer on Calton Hill, Edinburgh with the Balmoral Hotel as background.

The Balmoral Hotel is one of the landmark buildings on Princes Street, Edinburgh. Using a telephoto lens, I was able to compress the perspective and effectively use the building as a background.

Light Painting a Musician: Finlay Hetherington

I got to know Finlay though a mutual acquaintance and I was delighted he was interested in taking part in my light painting project.

Light painting of musician and education Finlay Hetherington in front of a graffiti wall with his trumpet

A very simple background can be made interesting by light painting. We both immediately noticed and liked the word ‘love’ on that part of the wall.

Urban settings can work very well for light painting, and I’m always on the lookout for new locations. Typically, I want as many elements of design as possible, i.e lines, shapes, textures and colours in my backgrounds.

Light painting of musician and education Finlay Hetherington in front of a graffiti wall with his trumpet

I like to try a number of variations for each backdrop.

A dancer introduced me to the the graffiti wall and the old building seen in the first three pictures. We never collaborated on a light painting project, but I always kept these locations in mind.

Light painting of musician and educator Finlay Hetherington with his trumpet in an urban location

This location was challenging to light paint because of the street lights nearby that forced me to use a faster shutter speed than I would have liked.

It was pretty chilly on the night of these light paintings, and Finlay’s trumpet was freezing cold and thus really hard to hold while standing still. But after some time warming up in the car, Finlay still had some energy for a final setup. So we headed out looking for a location near the sea. The lighthouse in Newhaven would have provided a great backdrop, but unfortunately, it was too late by then and the sky was just too dark. But I knew of a location nearby with lines, shapes and colours (mostly red) that could work just fine. The photograph below is the last light painting we did on the day, after which Finlay and I were just too cold to carry on.

Light painting of musician and educator Finlay Hetherington with his trumpet sitting on a flight of stairs in an urban location

Lines and shapes abound in this location. I only needed to paint my subject and the stairs because I used the ambient light for the background.

Light Painting Trees

In my light paintings of musicians and dancers, the scene to light paint is relatively small. I can easily go through the scene a number of times to make sure I haven’t forgotten to light paint any part of it. And a moderately powerful LED light is good enough to do the job. Note that I never light paint the whole scene in one go, but only one part at a time and put together all of the shots in Photoshop.

I really want to hone my technique and push myself to do more and more challenging light paintings.

The bigger the scene to light paint, the harder it gets. One of the main difficulties in light painting a large scene is to remember which part of the scene one has already light painted. It thus pays to develop a systematic approach.

For the scene below, not only did I used a more powerful light than in my people light paintings, but I had to figure out which path I would take in order to light paint the whole scene.

Light painting of trees

There is a wooded area pretty close to where I live. I had noticed these trees a while back, and I immediately knew I wanted to light paint them.

Light Painting Singer & Harpist Anna McLuckie

I had contacted Anna way back about doing a light painting shoot, but since she studies at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, we needed to meet during her holidays, when she would be back in her native Edinburgh.

The Voice UK 2014 contestant Anna McLuckie light painting in from the the organ at St Mary's cathedral, Edinburgh

Finding backgrounds with interesting colours and/or textures is one of the keys to a good photograph. Anna and I very quickly spotted that this part of the organ at St Mary’s cathedral, Edinburgh could be a great backdrop for a light painting.

I always ask people if there are locations where they would like to be photographed. The Stockbridge area means a lot to Anna, so we decided to meet up at the McKenzie bridge for a light painting session.

Outdoor photography in Scotland is challenging at the best of times, but especially during the Christmas season, when Anna and I collaborated on this light painting project. It didn’t take long for the rain and cold to totally ruin our Stockbridge photo shoot.

The Voice UK 2014 contestant Anna McLuckie with her harp light painting in from of the altar at St Mary's cathedral , Edinburgh

There was no shortage of great backgrounds at St Mary’s cathedral. With a limited amount of time to shoot, I had to use the altar for the second and last set up.

We were about to pack and go home when Anna asked me if we could do light painting indoors, to which I responded ‘hell yes’. In an interesting twist of fate it turns out that Anna’s father is Vice-Provost at St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh. So we got access to an incredible location for light painting. Ironically, the awful weather on that day in Stockbridge turned out to be a blessing in disguise. This is not the first time something of that nature happens to me. The moral of the story is that bad weather can actually turn out to be really good.

The Voice UK 2014 contestant Anna McLuckie light painting. She is standing with her harp in front of the altar at St Mary's cathedral, Edinburgh

We had tried a similar pose at McKenzie bridge, before the rain stopped us, and we tried it again with that superb background.

Light Painting Dancers Kaja and Tom

Thus far, I’ve done quite a few light painting sessions with a single subject, and the natural next step is of course to light paint multiple people in a single image.

Light painting of dancers Kaja and Tom at Edinburgh College, Granton

I didn’t want to have the dancers just standing, and since there were some black chairs around, I thought it would be a good idea to use them.

I was fortunate to collaborate on this project with two talented dance artists, Kaja and Tom. We shot at the dance studios of Edinburgh College in Granton.

I was fortunate to collaborate on this project with two talented dance artists, Kaja and Tom. We shot at the dance studios of Edinburgh College in Granton.

When I started light painting, I noticed that I was framing my images horizontally almost all of the time. Now I like to have both horizontal and vertical compositions.

Since there was a mirrored wall behind me, Kaja and Tom could evaluate their pose and had pretty much free reign in doing so. I only intervened when I felt it might be too difficult, even for skilled dancers, to hold the pose long enough for me to light paint them.

Light painting of dancers Kaja and Tom at Edinburgh College, Granton

I basically gave Kaja and Tom free reign when it came to poses. This is not one I would have thought of.

In light painting, it is important to think ahead of time in which order you are going to light paint the scene. With two people it is best to work on one of the models and then the second one, rather than moving back and forth between the two. We worked on a number of set ups, but these are my favourites from the shoot.

Light painting of dancers Kaja and Tom at Edinburgh College, Granton

I was very much doubting that Tom could hold his leg still long enough for me to light paint him. But since I knew I already had some good pics, I thought why not, let’s see what happens. Luckily for me, Tom did a superb job in holding the pose and proved me wrong.

Light Painting A Dancer – Meaghan

As a photographer, you sometimes have to improvise in a major way. Meaghan and I hired a particular studio at Dance Base Edinburgh because of a really interesting piece of art on one of the walls I intended to use as background. But when we entered the studio, that piece of art was no longer there. It was difficult for me to conceal my bitter disappointment, but there was nothing I could do but try to make the session a success after all.

Light painting of a dancer and her reflection in a mirror at dance Base Edinburgh

It is not straightforward to light paint reflections, but when it works, I love the results.

Since the studio also had a mirrored wall, I decided to start with a couple of set ups involving Meaghan and her reflection. I knew from a previous light painting session with Karen that I could get some nice pics out it. And it gave me some time to think about what to do next.

Light painting of dancer in front of wooden doors at Dance Base Edinburgh

When people ask me what they should wear, I always answer ‘something colourful’! I give top marks to Meaghan for the outfit. Really works well with the background.

When I noticed the wood texture and the two windows, I knew I had my next background. We tried a number of poses and those are my favourites. Meaghan did an incredible job of standing still while I light painted her.

Light painting of dancer in front of wooden doors at Dance Bas Edinburgh

When light painting, it doesn’t take much of a background to add interest to the photo. That’s one of the things I love about light painting.

By then I felt I had some nice pics and I could therefore afford to experiment a little bit. I had seen some pictures of people posing in a chair like Meaghan does in the photograph below, and I wanted to see what this kind of pose looks like when the subject is light painted.

Light painting of dancer sitting down on a chair at Dance Base studios, Edinburgh

One of the benefits of having the subject sitting down on a chair is that it makes it easier for the person you are light painting to stand still.

We also tried a number of poses with Meaghan down on the floor. I didn’t really care for most of them, but this one below was a really nice surprise to me. I quite like it. Let me know in the comments which photograph in this blog post is your favourite.

Light painting of dancer with spot light effect at Dance Base studios, Edinburgh

Going for a spotlight effect, with the light coming down. But I always light the face using butterfly lighting, for a more flattering look.