Fun Holiday Photos

Looking to take few good (photo-distancing) family images over the holiday? Try light painting

Ann Miles’s blog today has has some great examples. Ann is one of the most experienced and helpful members from Cambridge CC.

Photo linked from Ann Miles’s Blog

Whilst there can be more than one way to achieve something similar here are my suggestions…


Camera, flashgun, tripod, coloured light source (of course they can be just plain white lights), torch

Camera Settings for a black image

This is best done in the dark, with zero, or as little as you can get away with, ambient light. You will need a torch to see what you are doing

Set the camera to fully manual (manual ISO, aperture, exposure and focus.)

It is easiest on a tripod with image stabiliser off. You might be able to get by without a tripod, hand-holding will not be as easy but camera movement could give interesting results

Set the exposure to the length required for the complete light show, eg 10 seconds

Set the camera’s base ISO, e.g. 100 or 200.

Try the white balance set to daylight or flash, but shoot in RAW for the flexibility to adjust this in post.

Set the aperture to, for example, f/8 as a starting point.

Manual focus to where the subject/child will be standing (use the torch to help you) and make sure the (zoom) lens encompasses enough of the scene for the shot.

Leave enough empty space behind the subject to avoid the background being illuminated when you later introduce the flashgun. For most of us this probably means using a garden. Initially try for around 8ft or more space behind the subject but you may find you need even more space depending upon the power and distance of the flashgun when it is introduced.

You will now need to experiment with the aperture to only get a black image (no coloured lights or flash are used for this test.) Try the exposure, e.g. 5 or 10 seconds. If the image is black you are set to move onto the next stage.

If it is not all black then try again at a smaller aperture. If unable to get a black image even at your minimum aperture, e.g. f/22, you probably need to reduce any remaining ambient light (e.g. move further away from the light) or settle for a shorter exposure times. You could experiment with ND filters but stronger coloured light sources and more flashgun power will be needed in the next steps.

Adding the light trails

Try an exposure with some moving coloured lights. Check that the light trail is captured in the image.

If the light trail is not captured the aperture may be too small, open the aperture, e.g. f/5.6, and try again until you are able to record the light trail and still get an otherwise black image

If you are unable to capture a light trail on a black image you may need brighter, or more, coloured lights (or, at a pinch, you could try moving the lights very slowly to give them more time to burn in their image)

If the lights are burnt out (over-exposed) try closing the aperture down, e.g. f/11, and try again

If you do not have coloured lights try a small torch with one or more coloured sweet cellophane wrappers taped to the front.

Introduce the Flashgun

Once you have the exposure settings locked down, turn on the flashgun

The flashgun can be hand-held or clamped off-camera. It does not need to be connected to the camera.

Set the flashgun to manual, adjust the flashgun’s zoom and set the power level to 1/32 power (as a starting point)

Trying a test exposure, e.g. 10 seconds, with the subject moving the coloured lights.

Press the flashgun fire-button once during the exposure. This can be at any point during the exposure, see how Ann has captured the subject in a good stance when the flashgun was fired.

If the subject is over or underexposed by the flash then adjust the power level down or up respectively and try again.

If the flashgun still over-exposes even at its minimum power level, move the flash further away and try again.

Take your Shots

Once you have the subject correctly exposed and captured the light trails you are ready to start a series of shots.

In my experience, to avoid a child becoming bored, it is best to use an adult subject when setting up and finding the correct exposure settings, then introduce the child/children once you are ready.

If you get a good shot and flash for, say a 10-second exposure, you can also try shorter durations, e.g. 5 seconds, without needing to change the exposure settings.

More Creative

Sparklers can work in place of coloured lights.

To avoid having to adjust the flash power setting always keep the flashgun the same distance, e.g. 5ft, from the subject for each shot but try firing it from different locations around the subject; try 45°, side-lighting and even rim lighting from the rear. Be prepared to vary the flash power for some shots, e.g. rear rim light might need more or less power

Try zooming the flash head to spread or concentrate the flash beam.

Try colour gels, e.g. orange, on the flashgun (do not put the gel directly onto the flashgun head as the heat can fry the gel and glue it to the flashgun.)

Flash lighting from below adds a Frankenstein horror look; typically keep the flashgun lights coming from slightly above head height for an attractive appearance.

Soften the Flashgun light by shooting through a cheap 5-in-1 diffusing panel for an even more attractive result (hold the gun 2 or 3 feet behind the diffuser) or bounce the light off of a large whiteboard (you’ll need to increase the gun’s power by one or two stops when doing this.)

As a variation try a wider scene, asking the subject to move (walk, dance, stoop or jump) around within the scene. Take two flashes during the exposure, you can end up with the subject appearing twice in the same shot. Allow the flashgun time to recycle between flashes or use two flashguns. Sideways subject movement (left and right) retains the focus distance and exposure settings, back and forth movement will be more challenging but could be interesting.

Good luck and have an enjoyable holiday

Ian Whiting