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Tips and techniques

PHOTOGRAPHER PROJECT: Painting with Light by Ralph A. Clevenger

By April 4, 2014No Comments

Story and photographs by Ralph A. Clevenger ©

RAC_130227_004Photographically painting with light has been around for about 100 years. It was made popular by distinguished photographers Man Ray and Barbara Morgan in the 1930s and 1940s. Photographer and inventor Aaron Jones was a master of the hosemaster light painting system and brought the technique into the commercial photography world in the 1980s (see Personally, I’ve been fascinated by it ever since seeing O. Winston Link’s steam locomotive images from the 1950s.

As photographers, we’ve all probably experimented with some form of light painting, jiggling our camera in front of a city skyline or tracing an object with a sparkler. Fun but pretty mundane. I wanted to take the technique to another level, and after reading Eric Curry’s great book on painting with light a few months ago, I have been experimenting with his technique.

The image of the camping scene is my second attempt with Curry’s technique. I used seven different images of lighting, all done with a flashlight. All seven images were shot at six seconds, f/5.6, ISO 400 with a 14-24mm lens.  I used a different method of combining the images than Curry does, but as with all things Photoshop there is more than one way to get the same effect.  The process was more difficult than I thought it would be. All the details of prop positions and lighting quality and direction need to be worked out before shooting. While this image isn’t perfect, it does capture the feel of the camping experience. I’m going to keep working on the technique.

RAC_131002_16One of my latest images is of a tent in a stand of aspen trees. There were less details to worry about in this scene, so it was a little easier to light. I used five different images lit with a flashlight plus a fluorescent lantern in the tent. All images were shot at f/5.6, 15 sec., ISO 400 with the 14-24mm lens. I wanted to make the tent warm and inviting within a sort of campfire/moonlit environment, so I played with color and saturation in Lightroom for the final image.

If you want to learn how to create images this way, check out Eric Curry’s book, Painting with Light, Lighting and Photoshop Techniques for Photographers, published by Amherst Media. He’s got some great behind-the-scenes videos at

Award-winning nature and underwater photographer Ralph Clevenger has traveled the world on assignment, and his images have been widely published. Follow Ralph’s attempts at painting with light and other adventures in photography at

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