Painting with light

Commercial photography Vietnam

150 Layer Light Painting

For over a 2 years i have been lucky enough to befriend a really great guy and talented photographer, Boris Zuliani. He used to live on Truc Bach lake and we would have beers in the evening with other photo buddies talking about our love of photography and film (or until our wives or girlfriends called). Boris’s true love and art in photography is light painting. He uses it with great skill and passion in his personal work and for some commercial work.

When I first saw his work I thought it was just beautiful. I loved how soft the light was and at the same time giving the exposure a different kind of contrast then that of a normal photograph.

As Boris and I talked over beers I started to think about making a video of light painting. I didn’t want to make a “tutorial” video showing the process of light painting, but more about the feeling light painting gives to the subject and showing the gradual exposure of a photograph out of darkness.

Then some time later……. I met a randy young lady named Gillian. Boris had done a couple of light painting portraits of her and she said that the experience was so different from any other portraits she had posed for in the past. She explained it to me, but this was some time ago and my brain has been punished by Hanoi’s cheap beer so i don’t remember word for word. Though, I do remember her saying how much she enjoyed it and that the experience was something special.

Then some more time passed…….. Boris called me up and pushed me to make the video. Then Gillian called me up and pushed me to do it as well.

Time to put my thinking cap on. I had to figure out a way to show a light painting photo slowly exposed in video format using the extra variable of time. Hmmmm…. then i figured it out (oh that engineering degree served me well).

I would use a very slow shutter speed and do a kind of time-lapse while Boris did his painting. Then i would layer the photos to be gradually exposed over time and make all the layers add the new exposure to the old one (yeah i’m a nerd for this stuff).

So me and my gun-hoe /semi intoxicated team went out one night by West Lake (Ho Tay for the natives) and shot this video in 40 min.

Post production took an incredible 24 hours of rendering in CS5 Premier Pro with my i7 core iMac (thing was burnin’ up!!!). I guess that is what you get when you have 150 layers in a video editor.

No grading, special effects or effect editors (After Effects or Motion) were used to make this (except for my logo). The video and photos were shot on a 5D Mark II and the video was all shot hand held at 50mm.

Now making sure that the subject was fully exposed is tricky because when we did the light painting in this way you can’t see what you have exposed, which is why some of Gillian’s leg is not exposed. Also you have to remember that each exposure adds to the next exposure so i also had to be careful not to make my image too bright or too dark other wise the final image would be over or under exposed.  I think the exposure was perfect for the layering, we just missed a part of the leg. I’m putting blame squarely on the intoxicated aspect of the project.

All and all, I am happy I was able to do this and thanks to my buddies for helping do so. It was something fun, different and somewhat challenging.

It could be interesting to make a clothing designer commercial like this. If your keen for that please drop me a line.

And now the final video. Thanks for watching.

Light Painter: Boris Zuliani

Model: Gillian Sturtevant

Photography & Video: Ehrin Macksey

Music: NiN