Hillsides For Light Painting

Shining lights into the lens to create shapes or spell out words is a great way to create dramatic images. And it’s fun!

However, you need to pick your shooting locations carefully and design your light paintings based on them. For example, if you’re shooting on level ground, it will be difficult to do light paintings on a different planes. If you try to back up and paint, any paintings you do will have to be larger or smaller than the ones in front and they cannot merge with them. Otherwise, the image probably won’t show the depth you’re looking for.

Light painting along switchback trail

Light painting along switchback trail. Nikon D700, Nikon 14-24mm lens, ISO 200. I walked back and forth along the trail with a red light and a blue light and stacked the two exposures together to create this image. Each exposure was 20 minutes, which was how long it took me to walk back and forth along the trail.

The ideal location for many types of light painting is a hillside. On a slope, all of the painting you do shows up and it’s much easier to prevent any of it from merging. Also, even though the image is one-dimensional, it often does a better job of portraying depth than paintings on level ground do.

I’m always on the lookout for ideal locations for this type of light painting. Since I do a lot of hiking in the mountains, I pay particular attention to switchback trails on steep slopes. The first time I saw the switchbacks in the accompanying image, I knew it would be a perfect location for trail light painting.

The one-dimensional nature of the image does not portray the extreme steepness of the slope well, nor does it give any indication that the total length of the light streaks is over a quarter of mile long. However, it illustrates well the effect I was after, which was showing a long trail of light receding in the distance.

Since this was in a forest along a trail, a simple streak of lights—in this case two passes each with blue and red lights—seemed the best approach. On an open slope, I might opt for spelling out words or shapes in some sort of pattern that recedes into the distance.

It doesn’t have to be a natural slope. You can achieve the same effect on a set of stairs, a ladder, or any surface that allows you to paint at different heights. However, the ideal location is one where you can paint not only at different heights, but also at different distances away from the camera at the same time. A hillside is perfect for this.

Oh, yes, the accompanying image is the cover image on my Facebook page. I’ve shot this location at night many times, this one being one of my favorites.

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