Waterfall: Painting with Light

Buttermilk Falls Owego, Paint with Light, by Lindsay Adler
Buttermilk Falls Owego, Paint with Light, by Lindsay Adler

I love painting with light. As a control-freak photographer (not always but often), I like the idea of having complete control over the illumination of my image. Every pixel of the image is lit because I wanted it lit, and is lit HOW I wanted it lit. The color of the light, direction of the light, brightness of the light... all of these elements are under my control.

A couple of weeks ago I took my assistant and a friend (Joel and Decker) to a waterfall in Owego, NY at a midnight. It was pitch black. The waterfall was less than 100 yards off of the road, but in the pitch black it was certainly a perilous route! We each had flashlights and I had my camera, flashes, pens lights, gels, tripod and cable release.

I have talked about painting with light before in my blog, but this was one of my favorite.

First we lit the scene from the front... and the images were... frankly... ghastly! They were boring, flat and just unpleasing to the eye.

Front Lighting Paint with Light, Unsuccessful (in my opinion!)
Front Lighting Paint with Light, Unsuccessful (in my opinion!)

Next I had Joel walk up and down the waterfall (in the pitch black) illuminating the water with nothing more than a tiny white pen light. I was actually amazed the the results. The water was lit in a surreal and glowing manner, and the flowing water looked soft and silky. Be sure to compare this image with other images, and see how the constant light source effects the water in comparison with the flashes.

Waterfall Paint with Light, LED keychain light by Lindsay Adler
Waterfall Paint with Light, LED keychain light by Lindsay Adler

Canon 5D

Lens: Canon 16-35 2.8

Aperture: f 5.6

ISO: 640

Shutter speed: 77 seconds

Waterfall Paint with Light, LED keychain light by Lindsay Adler
Waterfall Paint with Light, LED keychain light by Lindsay Adler

Next I had Joel light the waterfall with flashes. I had him climb the side of the falls, and illuminate the falls from a back 30 degree angle so that he was lighting mostly from the side of the falls. This gave them depth and interest. He used 1 580EX flash, which had a significantly faster recycle time than the 550s I had.

Waterfall Paint with Light, One White Strobe, by Lindsay Adler
Waterfall Paint with Light, One White Strobe, by Lindsay Adler

Finally I had him illuminate the falls using two flashes, one with no gel and the other with a blue gel. The resulting image was vibrant and surreal, just like the scene had been professionally lit by a movie company!

Waterfall Paint with Light, Two Strobes (one white, one blue), by Lindsay Adler
Waterfall Paint with Light, Two Strobes (one white, one blue), by Lindsay Adler

Canon 5D

Lens: Canon 16-35 2.8

Aperture: f 5.6

ISO: 640

Shutter speed: 220 seconds

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  • Sweet! First, I was not aware of this water fall in Owego. I will def have to do some exploring next time I am back. Second, I see in the how to shots that you where you had it lit from. Where were the flashes located for the final image since they are obviously not in the frame?
    I look forward to future posts…

    Travis

  • Great.

    I like the first one, and the second LED keychain one in portrait mode. I would wonder what this one would look like if you took out the trail of the LED keychain with photoshop.

    Brent

  • Roger

    Really nice images and tutorial. I do have on e questions for you. How did you remove all of the light trails that your assistant left on the right side of the image in post processing?

    • Lindsay Adler

      I used “content aware fill” in Adobe CS5. I selected the highlights, the right clicked, “fill >Content aware” and thats all there is to it!