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Astrophotography and Light Painting

Techniques from Tamron Techs: Astrophotography and Light Painting
Astrophotography – who doesn’t love it? All the stars, the milky way; there’s so much beauty in our skies and capturing that with our camera can be so rewarding. But why not take those beautiful night sky photos and take it up a notch? How you ask…with light painting of course! Painting your scene with light can take your photos to a whole new level and really show of your skills. But what is painting with light? Quite simply, light painting is a technique used in long exposure photography where you can use artificial light sources to illuminate a scene, so we won’t be using any paint brushes here people. 
It is an interesting technical challenge. Without the right equipment, sufficient darkness, good technique and appropriate timing, the photograph fails. It could take up to a hundred failed attempts before you get it right. Here I will be giving you the tools and tips to get started, so don’t get frustrated when you’re out there shooting! 
Now if you are familiar with astrophotography, you may already know the starting points. It may sound like an excuse, but your settings will depend on your situation. Moon phases, light pollution, and time of year will all have an impact on what your settings will be. But like I said, there is a starting point that can get us going. First, we will need a wide-angle lens. In these photos, I am using my Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 VC USD G2. Notice the 2.8 aperture, that will come into play. Next I have to be on a tripod because we will be shooting long exposures. Lastly, we will need some sort of artificial light. This again will depend, but you don’t have to break the bank to get good results. I have even used my phone’s LED light from time to time. However, if we want to light a subject more than 10 yards from us, we’ll need something more powerful. A light with 400 Lumens or better will be more than efficient. 
Ok, so now we have the gear necessary, time to dial in our settings. First our shutter speed. Because we are on planet Earth, we are in constant motion. If we want to get the pinpoint stars, our shutter will be limited to 30 seconds. Anything longer than that will result in star trails. Next, we set our aperture, which with this 15-30mm lens, can open up to f/2.8…lots of light! Lastly, we have to boost our ISO up. This is where things can vary based on what your situation is. Typically, in a pitch-black scene (which is ideal) we will bump our ISO up to 3200. These settings are of course a starting point. Feel free to experiment on what works for you. 
Now it’s time to play with the light. In my trip to Moab, UT, I had amazing opportunities to capture the beauty of the milky way skies as well as the amazing formations of Arches National Park. Three photos with three different light sources. First, I was using my powerful flashlight to light up mesa arch. It takes a lot of trial and error, but when you get it right, it all pays off. Having the bit of detail on the arch adds so much more interest rather than having it just as a silhouette. Next, I’m using my cell phone. I found a really cool looking tree and wanted to exaggerate that formation. So, got up nice and close and with about 30 attempts, I got the look I was going for. All we’re doing here is lighting the subject as the shutter stays open. Lastly, we have a happy accident.

15mm, f/2.8, 30.0 sec, ISO 3200


15mm, f/2.8, 25.0 sec, ISO 3200


Because I was shooting from the parking lot, cars were consistently driving past me. So, in a bunch of my photos, I had car lights lighting up my scene. At first, I was frustrated, but then I embraced the moment and in the end, I was happy with the results. The lights gave me just enough detail on balanced rock. 

15mm, f/2.8, 25.0 sec, ISO 3200


The fun thing about painting with light is that we never know what to expect. Every single photo will be its own unique self. With the right tools and the right amount of patience, you can achieve amazing results using this technique and can even take it further from here. Bring in colored LEDs into your scene to add interesting formations and patterns all over. You are only limited to the amount of creativity you have. Now take what you have learned and go shoot! 

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