Photographing Internal Light
Photography is totally dependent on light, whether created or ambient. Often a photographer has to adjust the settings to work with whatever light is available. Often filters or diffusers have to be used to make the composition the best that it can be, and don't forget how frequently a reflector adds that little bit of missing light.
However, depending on how much light is present, regardless of its source, good images can be captured.
One such challenge is to capture the light within; inside a subject. Sure it takes a little creativity and some effort as well as an artistic touch, but it's a worthwhile project. If you have ever done a Jack-A-Lantern (Halloween pumpkin) and taken its photograph, then you have practiced this technique.
Any subject whose photograph is taken during the night hours or where there is very little available light can be illuminated from within and the effects can often result in dramatic images.
You will need a tripod, set your camera to manual focus, let the camera set the shutter speed automatically, or manually set it yourself to B for bulb, use a cable release and snap away. If possible you should use a dark background, preferably black to focus all of the attention on the illuminated subject.
Some of the best subjects and the easiest to get are balloons, lamps, Halloween pumpkins and any other subject unto which you can place a light in its interior.
The image should be captured in a darkened setting so that any outside light does not overpower or overshadows the interior illuminated effect.
The subject does not necessarily have to be completely translucent, although some of the best images are of translucent subjects and if the subject has an inherent color this shows in the final product for an even more dramatic effect, opaque subjects work well too but the light has to reflect outwards.
Any light source can be used, including candle light, but best to use a small electric light bulb. Tungsten or cool, white, daylight, it does not matter since its power should be relatively low for the sake of safety, and its glow will not likely overpower the total composition. L.E.D lights are not only small enough for most applications but they produce a bright light which is excellent for projects like this one, and they come in various colors.
Virtually any item that can have a light source placed inside of it can be photographed this way. This project allows a photographer to get creative; many vegetables and fruits can be hollowed out and a small light placed in its interior, off course the subject should be large enough to allow for this.
Use a large apple, hollow it out as much as possible, (a spoon is good for this), place an L.E.D inside, and shoot. You will be surprised by the results.
Cars make good subjects for this theme as their exteriors will catch some of the light rays and offer some luminescent qualities while its interior basks in the illumination, it helps if you use some well placed reflectors. Chinese paper lanterns have always been good subjects too as most any plastic container is also.
Consider using flowers, the larger the better, and placing an L.E.D in its interior, (you may have to brace the flower with a support), no only will the delicate texture of it will show but the color will seem almost surreal.
A group of empty bottles, placed inside a wooden or rustic container and then lighted from inside or from the bottom makes a stunning image; place some L.E.D's at the bottom of the container and set the bottles on top. Have a favorite hat, a favorite sneaker? then capture its photo by illuminating it with an L.E.D. You may be surprised by the final product.
Whatever subject you choose to photograph this way, make sure that is its safe to be lit from its interior and that it possesses some color or characteristics that will make for an interesting image.
Plastic or glass cups or glasses which have rich designs painted on their exteriors and are somewhat opaque are well apt to be photographed this way.
A different variation that can be used with this theme is to fill a clear crystal glass with some colored liquid (food coloring is good), place the glass on an opaque flat surface to which a small hole has been drilled, illuminate the glass from below by aligning the light source directly below the pre-drilled hole, and finally photograph the glass from above in a darkened room.
You can photograph sideways too, but the perspective from above adds surrealistic qualities to the composition.
For added effects place some ice cubes in the glass, some cocktail cherries or lemon wedges and for bubbles add some salt crystals or a bit of dry ice. Don't have food coloring?, Use soda; Coke or Pepsi.
If you are artistically inclined, unlike me, paint or draw some designs or scene unto the outside of a white cardboard box, you can even stick cutout designs, place a light source in its inside and photograph; the box has to be made of a thin cardboard either that or you can cut out the shapes of the design into the wall of the box.
You can also cut a square shape out of the box, line it with colored cellophane onto which the design or cutouts have been attached. This is what will be illuminated and photographed. Silhouettes can also be done this way.
This takes some effort and time but it is more of a fun project. Plastic planters, plastic toys are all good. A painted design on a mid to high intensity light bulb is a great subject and once lit the design will radiate outwards, turning any light colored surface into a canvas.
Any object through which light can pass is good, just plan ahead and have fun.
- Simply Beautiful Photographs, Tips on Photographing Light, Gallery – National Geographic
See pictures and get photo tips from National Geographic’s book Simply Beautiful Photographs, authored and picture edited by photographer Annie Griffiths.
© 2011 Luis E Gonzalez
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