Can you become invisible in light painting during night photos?


“Why don’t you appear in your night photos?” The answer to this invisibility is fascinating. Best of all, it’s fun and easy to do.

time is your friend

Light painting images, even during a full moon, often involve long exposures. Many of my light painting photos have long exposures of two minutes or more.

A night photographer’s superpower is invisibility

You and I, as night photographers, have this incredible superpower. But remember that with great power comes great responsibility.

Typically, you need to be still for at least 10% of a photo’s total exposure time to start recording. For a two-minute exposure, that’s 12 seconds. And at 12 seconds you could barely “register” in the photo, most likely as a slightly darkened spot in the image.

Joshua Tree National Park, California.
I walked around the scene to get this soft but detailed look with the Joshua Trees.

If it takes two minutes to produce a correctly exposed photo, you will need to stand still for two minutes to be correctly exposed.

If you stood still for a minute, you would look like a ghost.

If you stood still for 30 seconds, you would appear very faintly in the image.

And after 15 or 12 seconds, you might appear as a very faint speckle that might not be very noticeable, depending on what part of the picture you’re in.

In other words, keep moving and you’ll be invisible. It’s an amazing superpower!

How to make sure you stay invisible

Don’t get flashed

You will want to avoid shining the flashlight on yourself. There have been times when my hands, feet, or face have appeared in an image because I shined the light on it by mistake. It happens! Sometimes night photographers are momentarily stripped of our superpower.

Do not point the flashlight at the camera

Boulder, Joshua Tree CA National Park at night.
I wandered all around this scene so I could light up this giant rock in this way. Joshua Tree National Park, California.

If you don’t want to appear in the picture, chances are you don’t want your flashlight to appear either. If you’re in frame, shield the light from the camera lens if you can. Some people like night photographer Mike Cooper use cardboard to shield the camera light. I sometimes use my own body to do this. And sometimes I use a homemade snoot.

Of course, on the other hand, if you draw or write lightly, shine your light source into the camera lens!

wear black clothes

Dark clothes.  selfie.  Night shot.
I stood still long enough to fully register myself in this photo. You can see the dark clothes that I often wear for night photography with light painting.

The easiest measure to take is to wear dark clothes. Black or very dark clothes absorb a lot of the light you use. I often wear a black hoodie to cover more of my head. I even have black gloves for those times when the light reflects off my hands.

Save those white shoes and pants for your trip to the beach.

keep moving

The shorter the exposure, the more you have to move. Remember that 10% guideline I mentioned earlier? The longer the exposure, the easier it is to remain invisible.

Invisibility can also be your superpower

Remember to practice these things as much as possible, keep moving and be aware of the light. But be aware that you can continuously walk through your long exposure image frame without being seen.

Did you know that other photographers can also make people invisible?

Night photographers aren’t the only ones who can make people invisible in their images. Many architectural photographers want to photograph buildings without people appearing in their images. How do they do that?

They could clean the streets. Or they can use an ND filter to darken the light entering their lens so they can use a long exposure in their image. If people pass by, they will become invisible. They become invisible due to the same principle I described in this article!

Can you think of any other types of photography where you might want to make something moving invisible through long exposure photography?

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