Remember the Steven King movie-Christine?

This might be Christine’s grandfather


Pretty spooky, huh?  This is what you can get if you go to a classic-car junkyard at night and wander around in the woods.

The hulking front-end and heavy chrome bumpers made this old Cadillac a great subject to try out some light painting.  In this case, I got an added bonus of an eerie red glow in the background.  That was actually caused by a street light out in front of the wooded lot where all the cars are.

I tried several different approaches on this car but, this was my favorite.  It was quite an education learning how to do light painting for this type of image.  Let me share a few of the things that I learned:

  1. FOCUS
    The hardest thing to do in the dark is focus.  If you are doing stars – everything is pretty far away and you don’t need to change your focus.  You do need to find the right spot on your lens where the “infinity” focus point is.  It’s not the same on every camera or lens.  When you’re setting up for this type of shoot, set up your camera when it’s still light out.  Focus on a point around 30 feet away and either mark that spot or tape your focus ring to stay at that spot.

    If you are shooting subjects that are closer to the camera (like what I was doing above) you need to re-focus as you move around.  The best I could come up with for this is to set up your camera (yes, you need a tripod for this!!) point your flashlight at the subject and manually focus the best you can.  It’s not easy to do this, especially if your flashlight is not super-bright but it worked well for me.

    You can do your light-painting by setting a specific shutter speed for some number of seconds and play around until you find a level of exposure that works for your image.  I found it easiest to use a cable-release and set the shutter on Bulb.  I started the capture in the dark, opened the shutter with the cable and then turn on the flashlight to start painting.  I actually did some exposures where I painted one part of the scene, turned the flashlight off and moved to another area and painted a different spot with the shutter open the whole time.  I also played with getting that ambient light from the street light more pronounced by leaving the shutter open for a while but not painting anything during that time.

    The only time I actually used a pre-set shutter speed was when I was trying to get stars in the sky.  For that type of image, I was going with the settings used for Milky Way or night sky (High ISO, Aperture wide open and Long exposures like 20-30 seconds).  I opened the shutter and did some light painting but usually not for the whole time of the exposure.  The rest of the time the shutter was open to get those distant stars.

    Don’t leave the beam of the flashlight in one spot too long (unless you’re going for pools of light at a point) and don’t move in straight lines with the light.  Short, wavy “brush strokes” are better than long-straight ones.  I also found that if you are close to your subject, a lower powered beam is better.  If the beam doesn’t give you enough light, paint longer.  A strong-beam close up seems to blow things out very quickly.  Save the big flashlights for subjects that are more distant.

Roswell Photographic Society
3-day Workshop with Roman Kurywczak
Old Car City
3098 Highway 411 Northeast
White, Georgia, USA

Nikon D7100
Tamron SP 10-24mm F/3.5-4.5 Di II
24mm at f/4.5 – 12 sec – ISO 160

Author: stgrundy

Photography is my way to capture and share the amazing beauty of God’s handiwork in the people and places that I experience every day. I focus mainly on nature and travel subjects but also do alot of event work for my church and the occasional wedding or portrait session. My residence is Roswell, Georgia – a northern suburb of Atlanta. I try to get around the Southeast as often as possible and would love to explore other parts of the USA and the rest of the world. Member of: Roswell Photographic Society Contributing artist: Getty Images

One thought on “Remember the Steven King movie-Christine?”

  1. I would have never thought of going to a junk yard to photograph cool cars and car parts day OR night! I’m inspired. I’m thinking spooking Halloween-y shots! Thanks for the tips, too – I’m working hard to improve my shots and night shots are the hardest for me to get.


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