Magnolia Manor by Flashlight

July 17, 2014

There are Treks that are planned for months, there are treks that are planned because of the weather at the time, and there are treks that are not planned at all.  Tonight was one of those treks that wasn't really planned at all.  Well....that wasn't entirely true.  I have scoped this location out before, and even shot many a frame here before.  I have been thinking about going out and giving it another try using a technique called painting with light.  So I guess you could say that this was planned, but the actual part where I got up and went was unplanned.  Toni got called into work for a few extra hours this afternoon, and I decided to go in and lend a hand to help out.  I figured that when we would be done, it would be about dark, and we would have to come back past Magnolia Manor anyway.  With that in mind, I loaded up the camera, and a flashlight along with the tripod and we went to work.

We got done with work a little early, stopped to get a bite to eat and then it was out to the location to get set up.  I still had plenty of daylight left and I had plenty of time to find my compositions and get the camera set up for the first one.  Things went very smooth, and we actually found ourselves sitting and waiting for over an hour before the lighting got just right...and by just right, I mean waiting for it to almost go away completely.  There was a good bit of sky visible behind the tree and I needed it to render a color other than white.  Using a minimum of a 30 second exposure made that rather difficult to say the least.

So, what exactly is painting with light?  Simply put, it is the practice of using a light source to illuminate exactly what you want to during the exposure.  Sunlight is broad reaching and will illuminate evenly except for shadows.  When I paint with light, I am adding light to precisely what I am wanting, and at the intensity that I am wanting.  The really cool thing about this technique is, no matter how many times I trip the shutter, I will always get a different image.  Its a creative technique that just can't be readily duplicated.  As you see in the picture above, I was using a maglite to "paint" the tree in nearly dark conditions.  While using a long shutter speed, 30-90 seconds in this case, I was able to paint light where I wanted it on both the foreground and the background.  I was able to control where the shadows were, and what appeared the brightest.

My first composition focused on the rather unique structure of the tree.  This is what has made this a favorite portrait setting for when Toni and I did portrait shoots years ago.  The branches are strong and each one seems to dominate the other.  There is a level of complexity here that is just not normally seen in trees around here.  Because of that, I really wanted to focus on just that quality.  To do that effectively though, I needed to get low to the ground and shoot up.  Obviously, the sky was shining through the leaves above which during the day would have left me with bright white areas that were blown out.  In order to get the sky to appear blue, and to have a good exposure on the trunk, I was left with only one good option, and that was to wait until the blue hour (the hour after sunset) to paint the tree with light, while exposing the sky as a deep blue color.

It took several exposure to figure out just where I needed to put the light, but once I did, I was able to get the image that I had in mind with about a minute exposure.  In that 60 seconds, I lit the tree from two different places, one on either side of the camera.  This is another benefit to this type of photography, I choose the direction that each element gets lit from.  Talk about complete control!

From there, once I was satisfied with my image, I moved to my secondary location which took in much more of the scene.  The tree was now going to become just an element in a larger composition as opposed to the sole focus of the composition.  For this, I wasn't as concerned with the sky because I would be shooting from an elevated position, and there would be much less sky showing through the branches.

Ghostly Greetings
As you can see here, the tree has a nice little platform built out to the front of it.  With the long reaching branches on the right, I chose a position to the left of the entrance to let the platform balance out the longer limbs.  When I framed the shot, I knew I had it spot on with what I was seeing in my mind.  It was getting quite a bit darker, so my exposures were getting longer and longer.  I shot as long as 90 seconds on some of the shots, but nothing was under a minute.  This gave me time to really paint the scene slowly and meticulously.  One thing that I realized about midway through my session from this location was that the tree seemed to benefit from me lighting it off to the right.  This provided a strong sense of side light, and a lot more visual drama.  I was going for an image that send shivers down a spine, and this lighting was looking to give the best chance.

When I got home, I started to fight with color temperature and such, only to find that I wasn't overly happy with any of them.  Something was missing, I just wasn't sure what.  On purely a whim, I decided to go in and do a monochrome conversion to bypass the whole color dispute I was going through with myself.  At first, I was mildly excited with the outcome, but when I started to adjust how the tonalities were relating to each other, I saw much more potential.  Ironically, I applied a preset for infrared to the image, and the tree and stone steps seemed to jump from the background.  The shadows became much more intense, and the feel of the picture....well....gave me shivers.  This was what I was going after with the image all along.  I abandoned my color information and decided to make this a dedicated monochrome image.  Of the two images that I shot tonight, I think that this one is my favorite of the two simply because it captured the mood so well.

It wasn't a long trek, and it was one that kind of fit in with other things going on today, but I have to say, I'm glad that Toni and I decided to give it a try on the way home.  We both had a lot of fun working the scene, even though there was a lot of just standing around waiting for the sun to go down.

No comments:

Post a Comment