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Low Light Photography with Jennifer Casey

Brenda Schillaci

Posted October 27, 2014 in: Meetings 

Our presenter was Jennifer Casey, a wonderful photographer based out of Annapolis, MD.  Jennifer runs her photography business in Annapolis, as well as running the Naptown Photo Meetup Group and the Maryland Beauty page on Facebook.  You can explore her photos and learn more about what she offers at:

Jennifer CaseyJennifer presented on Light Painting techniques, but first we were able to offer our congratulations on her recent wedding!  This blog may run a little long, but Jennifer gave us so many great ideas, I didn’t want to leave anything out!  Plus, be sure to see the important club business notes at the end of this blog.

Some general recommendations:

One of Jennifer’s first statements to us regarding low light special effects was to experiment and not to worry about rules - “Art is making mistakes and knowing when to keep them!”

Use a long shutter speed so you can use a lower ISO to reduce noise.

Expose for the background of your shot first, then light paint your subject while using a long shutter speed, so the background is also visible.

To freeze motion, do your long exposure for low light shooting, but use a second curtain flash to make your subject clear.

When you have streetlights or other lights in your photo, shoot with an aperture between 11 and 18 to get a starburst effect around the lights.  Shooting after a rain is great for getting reflections on the ground.  On a foggy night, you get big orbs rather than a starburst from the lights.

Expose exactly for your subject, or at 1/3 stop under if your lighting tools are extremely bright.

Jennifer likes her large, 2300 Lumen light for powerful, distant lighting, such as lighting a bridge.  You can experiment with anything that produces light.

Special Effects:

Shooting snow at night:  Long exposures while shooting a light burst upward just in front of the camera in 3 or 4 areas can give a really interesting effect.

Light Orbs: Wear dark clothing when doing this technique to keep yourself invisible in the shot.  Use a light box made up of LED florist lights or other light source tied securely to thin rope, string, or shoelaces.  Pick a spot to spin the light source around, such as a corner where 4 paving stones come together.  Spin the light source in front of you lasso style and rotate your body around that spot as you keep spinning the light for the length of your shutter speed.  You can drag the light source from your camera to the orb area to leave a light trail leading to orb so it looks like it rolled to that spot.  You can tape colored gels around your light source to get different colored orbs.

Steel wool orbs:  Use caution to cover yourself, use eye protection, and keep your camera far away to avoid burning metal bits landing on your lens!  Do this only after rain or snow so sparks don’t start a fire!  Take a kitchen whisk and tie it securely on a string.  Take steel wool, size 0 or 00, and pull it apart a bit to fluff it.  Squish it into the whisk. Light it with a lighter, or by touching a 9 volt battery to it.  Do your light painting carefully swinging your whisk around to get the effect you want.  One example would be to swish it over the top of a subject holding an umbrella so it looks like a rain of sparks.

Light Writing or drawing:  An LED flashlight with a push button is useful for writing so you can turn off the light as you move between letters to avoid a light trail between them.  Remember you must write words backward for them to be the right way in your picture. 

You might need to practice it a few times to get the hang of it.  You can also write using intentional shutter drag by aiming the camera at a stationary light and moving the camera The word or picture must be painted upside down and backwards to show right way up in the photo.

You can have your subject pose and then shine the light side to side behind them so they are a dark silhouette inside the light surrounding them.

Or you can light paint behind them, then do a short burst of light to illuminate the front of the subject.

You can also have a person walk through the frame, stopping occasionally while you light paint them so there are several poses of the same person in one photo. You could do just their feet, or do alternate shots of head, feet, head, feet as they move across the frame.

Zoom lights:   Focus on the subject first then zoom out so the beginning point is frozen.  If you zoom inward, it makes too much blur.  You can move the lens out a bit every few seconds, or leave it steady half the shot then quickly zoom continuously.  You can shoot a few seconds then block with cardboard while zooming a bit, film again, block again and move lens, etc., so each zoom length shows a still picture. 

Focus on a lighted bridge, for example, for several seconds then pull out to get lights to zoom.  Bridge stays solid with no ghosting, but lights zoom and move.

Do 15 seconds aiming at one area, then cover lens with cardboard while moving a ¼ turn to a different area and finish shot to get two views in one shot.

If you have several nice colors, light shining on water, for instance, shoot hand-held and move the camera to drag and streak the lights.

Throw sugar in a fire to get burn trails and do a flash burst to get reflection of the sugar granules.

You can also underexpose to NOT get the background, but still get moving colors of lights or flames.

You can use a fill flash (play with your camera options) or an external flash to light down a dark tunnel or room.

You can also film a still life in the dark using various flashlights or other light sources to light up the subject during the duration of your exposure. You may need to shine a light on the subject to focus first then do your long exposure.

Meeting regular business:

Also during this meeting, we had a treasurer’s report from Bonnie. 

As always, we need volunteers to bring snacks for the monthly meetings.  No one has signed up, yet, for the last two meetings of this year. Please contact Bonnie to sign up for snacks.

Sadly, we also didn’t have a member slide show for this meeting.  Please remember that this is your chance to grow as a photographer by showing your work to a group after culling through your photos and learning to make a slideshow if you have never done one.  We need volunteers for November and for December.

We did have the slideshow of the photo assignment, which was Seasonal Colors, during the break. November’s assignment will be Maritime so be sure to take lots of photos and submit them for the slideshow during next meeting’s break. It would be great to see much more participation than we have in the last few months.

If you need inspiration for the Maritime assignment, the next photo trip will be to Chestertown for the Tall Ship & Wooden Boat Festival on November 01, 2014.  Check your email for more information about this trip from Robbin.  Hope we see you there!


About Brenda Schillaci - Brenda learned about the Calvert Photography Club after attending a public library event about photography presented by Jeff Smallwood. She already had a DSLR camera, but before that meeting had only ever used it in automatic mode and had no idea what ISO, shutter speed, and aperture were. Now she drives her family crazy trying to take better photographs everywhere they go! Brenda particularly enjoys the photo field trips with the group for the interesting locations and the chance to learn from the more experienced group members.

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