Light Painting: Layers versus Long Exposure

I was in Ireland recently leading a photo tour.  A favorite location of mine for light painting at night is Burrishoole Abbey in County Mayo.

We set our cameras on tripods, composed the shot, focused, and then set our exposures for 30 seconds.  Then I “Painted” the outside of the building with an amber flashlight.  In one 30-second exposure I might cover half the building.  We reminded the group that they would use layers in Photoshop to get a photo of the entire building illuminated in amber light.

County Mayo; Burrishoole Abbey; Ireland; Ruins
A Photoshop blend of 21 photos of Burrishoole Abbey being painted with an amber flashlight.  Masking to have a uniform sky.  

Toward the end of our shoot at Burrishoole, I decided to make a change.  I told the group to leave their f/stops at 22, change the ISO to 800, and take a 4-minute exposure using Bulb.  We took one photo to check exposure.  Personally, I needed to change my f/stop to f/9.

Then we clicked the shutters and left them open for 4-minutes.  During that time, I painted the building one more time with the amber flashlight. Notice I had enough time to go inside and paint the window openings.

County Mayo; Burrishoole Abbey; Ireland; Ruins
Burrishoole Abbey painted with an amber flashlight during a 4-minute exposure.  Minor adjustments to the photo in Adobe Camera Raw.  No layers.

Each photo is a bit different but the last was much easier to make.  Many photographers don’t like Photoshop layers or don’t want to learn layers.  Personally, I think layers is a super powerful tool but do understand the learning curve can be steep.

Next time you do light painting, consider using a very long exposure as an alternative to layers.

I have another photo tour to western Ireland in June 2019.  Strabo Photo Tour Collection if you’re interested.

Author: kathyadamsclark

Professional photographer leading workshops and tours.

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