Monthly Archives: November 2007

Painting a Scene with Light

While taking photography classes in college, I often tried out different lighting effects by either “painting” a scene with a flashlight during a long exposure (typically 10 seconds or longer), or photographing patterns of light directly, such as the motion of a lighting source. Some cool effects could be achieved, but since this was in the days of film photography, it took awhile to see the results or know if a certain effect was a hit or a dud.

On my most recent hiking trip, I brought along some light sources because (a) I knew I would be hiking after dark and didn’t want to walk off a cliff or into a bear (or worse, get pushed off a cliff by a bear angry that I had just walked into it), and (b) I thought they might be useful in some photos. For example, consider the following photo, which I took near the base of Dark Hollow Falls:



It may look like this photo was taken in the mid-day sun, but it was nearing dusk, and there wasn’t much ambient light available. The mushrooms growing in the bark of the tree were completely in the shade, and would have been underexposed if the camera was left to its own devices. If I used a flash, the entire tree would have been blown out with flat lighting, and there would have been poor contrast across the scene. (Plus, this was a macro shot, with the camera mere inches away from the tree, and I don’t own a macro flash.) I wanted the photo to have depth and a wide tonal range.

So, during the exposure, I “pulsed” the tree from several directions with a white-LED flashlight. I had to stop down the lens a bit to extend the shutter speed. I have a handy SureFire LED flashlight that is capable of displaying white, red, or blue light in varying brightness levels. In some shots, I used more than one color to achieve the effect I wanted.

The result was pretty good — certainly better than what I could have achieved with or without the camera’s flash. My only complaint would be slight overexposure on the bottom right side of the tree, although I think that lends to the effect. The photo reminds me of looking into the depths of a cave.

This technique takes a bit of practice, a bit of dumb luck, and lots of tries to make sure the right amount of light is evenly applied at exactly the locations you want. But with digital cameras, it’s easy to immediately see whether you pulled the effect off.

Snapshots from Shenandoah

On Friday, November 2, I went hiking at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Temperatures were chilly (ranging from freezing to the mid-40’s), but the sun was bright, and the colors were beautiful.

I drove to Shenandoah on Thursday evening and spent the night at the Hampton Inn in Front Royal. The hotel was excellent — clean and quiet with a friendly staff. As a nice touch, in addition to providing breakfast, the hotel provided “to go” bags including breakfast bar, apple, blueberry muffin, and bottled water. Staying at the hotel allowed me to hit the trails early Friday morning — after scraping ice off my car’s windows.

In the past year, National Park fees have risen. An annual pass valid at all National Parks is now $80 (up from $50). This is the busiest time of the year at Shenandoah; on weekends, Skyline Drive can be bumper-to-bumper with leaf-peeping visitors. On Friday, the Park was not crowded — weekdays are always the best time to visit. I only saw a few other people on the trails.

During my visit, I hiked — a lot. Over 8 miles, while carrying a heavy backpack, across large elevation changes. At times I was wishing a ski lift would magically appear around the next bend. But the chilly temperatures were perfect for hiking — I even managed to break a sweat with the temperatures in the upper-30’s. There is also nothing more relaxing than spending an hour at the side of a bubbling stream, casually taking photographs as leaves fall gently through the air and squirrels scamper through the forest collecting nuts.

Some photographs from the hikes are provided below.

Bench at Dickey Ridge Visitor Center.


A chilly morning view from Dickey Ridge Visitor Center. Temperature was in the upper 30’s.


A leaf floating at the top of Lands Run Falls. Lands Run Falls is reached by following a fire road from Mile 9.2 on Skyline Drive.








Robo Squirrel. Shortly after I took this picture, a small black bear lumbered off across the trail and into the trees. This is at least the fifth time I have seen a black bear at Shenandoah, but I have yet to get a photograph. They are very skittish and quickly run away — which is a good thing. One thing I noticed is that the bear smelled — they have a distinctive stench. During this trip I saw a bear; lots of squirrels, chipmunks, deer and birds; a raccoon; and a skunk.



A view from the top of Compton Peak. To reach Compton Peak, park at the Compton Gap parking lot and cross the street. Hike the Appalachian Trail about 1.2 miles. You will then see a concrete marker, where you can take a spur trail to the right or left. The right trail leads to the view above. By now the temperature was in the low 40’s.





Hiking along the Rose River Loop Trail. This is a fairly strenuous hike (especially when carrying a 20+ pound backpack), a 4-mile loop with lots of elevation change. Park at Fishers Gap Overlook (mile 49.4 on Skyline Drive), cross the street, and head down the Rose River Fire Road a brief distance until you see the trail entrance on the left. After 2.9 miles, you’ll reach a junction with Rose River Fire Road. From here, you can take the fire road back to Fishers Gap, or take a 0.6-mile out-and-back hike to the base of Dark Hollow Falls.



These photos were taken along Rose River, shortly after the ruins of an old copper mine.





OK, I cheated a little. This photo was taken at the base of Dark Hollow Falls. And, it was almost dark. I briefly “painted” the red leaf with a red LED flashlight during the exposure.




This is an unusual picture. The sun had set and it was almost completely dark. You can get a sense of how dark it was by looking at the sides of the picture. There were two deer grazing at the side of the trail, straight ahead. I briefly illuminated the scene with my flashlight. The flashlight is a SureFire ( flashlight; I believe SureFire makes the best flashlights in the world. This photo shows how clean and uniform the beam is.


A close-up of a deer at night. This strange shot was achieved by pulsing a flashlight several times while the camera shutter was open. The exposure was about 7 seconds.


Another shot of deer at night. It might look light out, but it was pitch dark. This was a 9-second exposure. It was a little spooky hiking back in pitch dark, especially when I passed the old Cave Cemetery on the left, off of the Rose River Fire Road.


This was a 30-second exposure. A long exposure can pull any remaining light out of the sky.