Santa Bear Music Light Painting
For this assignment (Adobe Gen Pro Digital Imaging, Mar 2015, Week 4), we were to create a light painting using long-exposure photography. After some experimentation with house plants (which make great light painting subjects), and using a suggestion from my mother to do something with stuffed animals, I decided to discover what really goes on with Santa outside of the Christmas holidays... (Note that he is saying “HoHo” and not “Hot,” as some first observers have postulated.)
 
To prepare, I spent many hours devouring all of the material from this week’s lecture, and then some. I have taken many photos in my life, but I have never before understood about focal length, aperture, f-stops, and other such technical terms. My thing has been mainly to find a decent subject, frame it to my liking, point, and shoot. I went to many Internet sites and learned much about photography in general and about light painting, both from reading and from watching hours of video. I also read my camera’s manual (Canon PowerShot G15) from cover to cover and tried out many of the concepts I learned. From all of this, a “whole new world” has opened up to me.
 
Two great sites for learning photography in general:
http://digital‐photography‐school.com/ (numerous topics)
http://www.digitalcameraworld.com/tag/photography‐cheat‐sheet/ (many concise explanations)
 
An excellent site that explains how to light paint in simple terms:
http://digital‐photography‐school.com/light‐painting‐part‐one‐the‐photography/
As noted earlier, I first tried out light painting on some houseplants. I may have done a project with these, but many of these early photos showed evidence of ever-so-slight camera movement from its supposedly locked-down position on the tripod. Press the shutter release a little too hard, jiggle the camera while adjusting the shutter speed, and/or accidentally hit the zoom lever, and “just like that” you no longer have two images that align. I have since purchased a remote shutter trigger, but although that will solve some problems, what I really need is a camera that I can operate completely no-touch, such as wirelessly from my cell phone.
 
I contemplated redoing the plant idea, but doing something with the piano also seemed cool, especially since if I were to compose the scene at an angle, I would get some nice lines leading from lower left to upper right. My mother then suggested doing something with our couchful of stuffed animals. The inspiration came to merge the latter two ideas, and here we are.
I started with a nice bright photo of the scene, complete with a white sheet to cover some of the objects that sit next to the piano. I did all this so that I could easily do a Quick Select and make a mask out of the scene, including the edges of the piano, bench, bear, and lamp. I initially wanted to fill in the area outside of the scene with a pattern like stars, but in the end keeping it just plain dark worked well.
I also obtained several flashlights so I could do different color effects. On the left is a single LED light with a thumb pushbutton, ideal for drawing lines and letters, including separations between such by releasing and repressing the button at will. Next is a headlamp with white and red settings, useful both for coloring the scene red and for wearing so I can see what I am doing in the dark. Next is a multi-LED flashlight, which gives a nice blue tint. On the right is a Mini-Maglite, great for doing spotlights in white.
 
I set up my camera on a tripod, composed the scene, and locked the camera in place. Camera settings were Manual, f/5.6 at ISO-80 (to reduce graininess), no Zoom (too easy to accidentally change), and a shutter speed varying between 3.2-13 seconds, depending on the intensity of the light source and/or how much time I needed to draw in the air. I also set the camera shutter to trigger after 2 seconds, allowing me time to oh-so-gently press the shutter release and then get into position.
 
I then turned out the lights and proceeded to take over 150 photos of the scene in the dark, using the different flashlights and highlighting various spots (just like the Digital Photography School example) or drawing lines. Some example highlighting shots follow:
I also obtained several flashlights so I could do different color effects. On the left is a single LED light with a thumb pushbutton, ideal for drawing lines and letters, including separations between such by releasing and repressing the button at will. Next is a headlamp with white and red settings, useful both for coloring the scene red and for wearing so I can see what I am doing in the dark. Next is a multi-LED flashlight, which gives a nice blue tint. On the right is a Mini-Maglite, great for doing spotlights in white.

I set up my camera on a tripod, composed the scene, and locked the camera in place. Camera settings were Manual, f/5.6 at ISO-80 (to reduce graininess), no Zoom (too easy to accidentally change), and a shutter speed varying between 3.2-13 seconds, depending on the intensity of the light source and/or how much time I needed to draw in the air. I also set the camera shutter to trigger after 2 seconds, allowing me time to oh-so-gently press the shutter release and then get into position.

I then turned out the lights and proceeded to take over 150 photos of the scene in the dark, using the different flashlights and highlighting various spots (just like the Digital Photography School example) or drawing lines. Some example highlighting shots follow:
After the photoshoot, I created a new PS document using the bright photo as a base. I created a mask on the scene, so that if necessary, I could duplicate the mask to any layer that showed up too brightly outside of the scene. (See http://planetphotoshop.com/creating-and-duplicating-a-layer-mask.html for an excellent tutorial on duplicating layer masks.)
 
I then used Photoshop’s File / Scripts / “Load Files into Stack” feature to load all of the photos of one particular color into individual layers in a new (and huge) document. For each such document, I turned the various photos on and off until I found the ambience I wanted and then duplicated those layers to the main document.
 
(Note that the trick to combining these layers so that they all show up as a light painting is in setting all of their Blending Modes to Lighten. You can leave the Opacity at 100% for all layers, and yet the light paintings in each individual photo will be visible in the composite image. As shown above, I set the Opacity at 60% for only one layer, the one highlighting the elf on the right, since it was spotlighted in white and needed to be toned down to blend in with the rest of the blue layers. Also as shown above, I used layer groups to organize the many images that go into a single composite light painting.)
 
I did the same (“Load Files into Stack” documents) for the various light drawings, which included eighth notes, quarter notes, half notes, whole notes, staff lines, treble clefs, bass clefs, and words. These were extremely tricky; although I am a musician and do write music, I had to not only draw the musical symbols in the tiny confines between the physical piano and the camera’s angle of view, I had to draw them backwards so that they look correct to the viewer.
 
In the end, the musical notation that looked the best overall included only one quarter note, a bunch of eighth notes, and a treble clef. It would have been nice to include more variety, but it was very hard to judge where to draw them all so that they didn’t overlap. Note that except for two minor position tweaks (the treble clef and the barred eighth notes on the right), I did not Photoshop the musical elements in the final image; I drew them where they stand. It amazes me how well they line up.
 
I also added the “HoHo” so that Santa could sing.
 
The final image coloring includes, unfortunately, only the blue elements plus a couple of white elements. I discovered, much to my dismay after a couple of hours of shooting, that each color collection was slightly ajar from each other. I had tried to be wicked careful in not moving the camera at all, but it apparently happened anyway. When I tried to stack different colors, things did not line up, and no amount of aligning layers could get them in line. Plus, Santa fell further onto the keyboard and popped up slightly out of his cup without me knowing it, and the lady elf on the left did something similar, and there was therefore no way to fix those deviations after the fact.
 
For the sake of showing what was and what could have been, below are the results of the photoshoots of each different color.
Santa Bear Music Light Painting
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Santa Bear Music Light Painting

‘Twas three months after Christmas, and the whole house was dark... Not a creature was stirring, or so I thought until some long-exposure photogr Read More
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