Learn these Two Techniques for Dramatic Light-Painted Photos

The post Learn these Two Techniques for Dramatic Light-Painted Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.


“Wherever there is light, one can photograph.” – Alfred Steiglitz

You will find many quotes from famous photographers about light.  They know it is the very essence of photography.  The word is from the Latin roots, “phos” for light, and “graphe” for drawing or painting.  So, photography is quite literally, drawing or painting with light. In this article, you’ll learn two techniques for dramatic light-painted photos.

This "Autumn Apples Still Life" is in the style of the Dutch Master's paintings.

A single-exposure light painting. This “Autumn Apples Still Life” is in the style of the Dutch Master’s paintings.

Typically, we open the camera shutter for a slice of time, and whatever light exists in the scene creates an image on the sensor (or perhaps the film if that’s the medium you’re still using). The quality, quantity, and color of the light are recorded. Where there is no light, nothing is captured.

There is a basic difference in light painting photography. Rather than simply capturing the existing light during the exposure, you, as the photographer, will use light to “paint” the scene. Use more on the portions of the scene you want highlighting, less or even none on those places you want subduing.

Think of it as painting on a black canvas. Where you apply paint (light in the case of photography), an image will result — no paint (light), no image. And, of course, there are all kinds of quantities in-between.


You can later add some other touches in editing to go even more in a painterly direction.

Two approaches

There are two basic techniques for dramatic light-painted photos:

1. Single exposure

Here you determine how long you will leave the shutter open. This will often be multiple seconds or even longer. While the shutter is open, you “paint” the subject with your light, emphasizing the portions of the scene you want to bring out, leaving in shadow those you want subdued.

Your working time will be the shutter duration, and you will make your entire image during that single exposure.

2. Multiple exposure

This technique is somewhat like the previous one in that you paint a portion of the subject with light during what will often be a multi-second exposure.

The difference is that you will take multiple shots of the subject, each time painting just a portion of the scene. Then in the edit, you combine these multiple images, much like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, into the final composite image.


“Goin’ Down in the Mine” – This is a single exposure light painting with some additional light from the lantern.

Single exposure technique

Scene considerations

What you decide to make the subject of your light painted photo is strictly up to you. Favorite subjects of mine are still-life images in the style of the old Dutch Master’s paintings. These use simple, static scenes. There is an emphasis on very directional lighting with portions of the image well-lit while other portions may be in deep shadow.

It is easy to find a few simple items and create a nice still-life scene. Perhaps put up a backdrop to simplify the shot, turn off the lights and let your flashlight be your sole source of light as you make the shot.

When starting to learn this technique, this can be a great place to start.


“Doc Brown Makes a House Call” – Thematic scenes which tell a story can make nice subjects for still life light paintings.

I also like to make these kinds of light paintings with items in the shot which show a theme or tell a story. I was fortunate to initially learn light painting in a workshop put on by area photographer, Caryn Esplin. Espin not only taught our group the technique but also had various thematic sets we could photograph.

Several of the images in this article, I made during that workshop.

Motion types – light trails

Most of what we cover here will use a light to “paint” the subject.

A different kind of light painting is where the light IS the subject. It too, uses a long exposure, and when the light moves during that exposure, it creates light “trails.”

Sometimes this will be the lights of moving objects, such as the streaks of light created by moving vehicles or other illuminated objects. Other times, the photographer, or perhaps an assistant, will “draw” with a light source, creating the image with the light.

"Rush Hour - Boise, Idaho" - Lights that move during a long exposure will create light trails. This is a type of light painting, just not the kind we'll discuss in this article.

“Rush Hour – Boise, Idaho” – Lights that move during a long exposure will create light trails. This is a type of light painting, just not the kind we’ll discuss in this article.

There are many variations of this style of light painting, and the light used may not always be a flashlight. Special light “wands,” some even programmable, can be purchased for all manner of amazing effects. Steel wool spinning where an ignited piece of steel wool is spun, throwing sparks, and creating light trails is another example.

Image: If a light moves during a long exposure, you will get light trails.

If a light moves during a long exposure, you will get light trails.

Any moving object which emits light will create light trails during a long exposure. While that is a fun technique and one I’d encourage you to try as well, it’s just not the type which is the subject of this article.

Instead, we concentrate on using a light source, typically a flashlight (aka a “torch”), to paint our subject with light.

Single exposure: step-by-step

Location – Total darkness

You will be using a flashlight to make your image during a long exposure and want to be able to control exactly where that light does and does not fall. Ambient light is not what you want.

Try to work in a location that is quite dark. You can check if it is dark enough by making a shot with the exposure setting you intend to use, but not lighting it. You should get a black frame or at least only see a faint background of objects you might want to include.

You can light paint portraits, but your subject will need to sit very still during the long exposure.

“The Thousand-Yard-Stare.” You can light paint portraits, but your subject will need to sit very still during the long exposure.


Most cameras will work for this if they go into full manual mode. You will need to be able to control the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed manually. Plus, you’ll need to focus and lock the focus manually.

If you will be shooting longer than the camera’s longest shutter speed (often 30-seconds), you will also need to be able to go into Bulb mode. This will allow you to keep the shutter open as long as you like. Usually, 30 seconds or less will be fine, but that depends on the subject, your light source, distance from the camera, and other exposure factors.

If you find your exposure will be longer than 30 seconds, you will also need a shutter release so you can hold the shutter open longer in bulb mode. There are very affordable corded releases.

If you need to be working further from your camera so you can both light the scene and trigger the shutter, a remote cordless shutter release can be a great way to go.


Single Exposure Technique. 10 Seconds, f/16, ISO 100 with Canon 6D and Canon EF 24-105 f/4 IS Lens at 58mm.

Lens selection will depend on your proximity to the subject.  For tabletop still life shots where you’ll usually be just a couple of feet from your subject, a 50mm prime can be just right.  The “nifty-fifty” (Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens) on my Canon camera is sharp and a perfect lens for this kind of work.

Pick your sharpest lens and an appropriate focal length to fill the frame with your subject.

A tripod is practically a must for this kind of long-exposure photography.

The camera must not move during the exposure. Whatever way you have of doing that will work, but I personally believe any photographer worth their salt owns a good, stable tripod.  Have a good tripod and use it.


Here is the U.S., we call it a flashlight. In other places, it’s called a torch. What we’re talking about is a battery-powered portable light source that you can direct onto your subject.

Some will have focusable beams, which can be a nice feature. Some might have multiple intensity settings, which is also useful. If you can find one that has a neutral-white (about 4500-5000K) output, that’s even better.

Standard incandescent bulb flashlights will tend to have a warmer, yellowish color light while most LED bulbs are blueish in color.

The Zanflare F2 is a nice flashlight for tabletop light painting.

The Zanflare F2 which can be purchased with a 4500-500K bulb is a nice and inexpensive light for light painting.

A nice light for table-top light painting is the Zanflare F2 which can be had with a 4500-5000K bulb.  It has two power output settings and can usually be purchased for under $10.00 US.

Another very affordable light I recently purchased for longer range outdoor light painting is the Energizer ENPMHH62. It’s under $15.00 US. You can pay a lot for fancy “tactical” flashlights, but I’m not sure they will improve your light painting photography unless perhaps you need to light something very far away.

Camera settings

If you’re working inside where you can turn the room light off and on, set up your shot with the lights on. Focus on the subject, then turn off the autofocus, so the focus stays locked at that spot. Failure to do this will have your camera hunting for focus in the dark, and that will certainly ruin your shot.

If you’re outside and it’s already dark, use your flashlight to help set up the shot and get good focus. Turn off autofocus and lock it in once you have it.

Put your camera in full manual mode. Set the ISO as low as you can for the lighting conditions, remembering that a lower ISO setting will help reduce noise in your shot. Because you can make the shutter speed as long as you need to, you can often get away with ISO 100. Try that and adjust it later if you need to.

See if you can work with the “sweet spot” – the sharpest aperture for your given lens – usually about f/8 to f/11. This should also help give you an adequate depth of field. Stop down to f/16 or even f/22 if you really need the depth of field. However, realize smaller apertures significantly increase the amount of light, and the time of the exposure you’ll need to make a proper exposure.

As for the shutter speed, that depends on how much light you’re working with, the proximity of your light to your subject, the brightness of the subject itself, and how long you need to properly paint your subject for the look you desire. There is no “right” answer to this.

Start with good average settings – something like ISO 100, f/8 for 20 seconds. Once you make a shot and evaluate it, you can make adjustments for subsequent shots.


Ready, set, paint!

With everything ready to go, set the 2-second timer to trip the shutter (or use the remote), trip the shutter and start painting your subject with the light.  Here are some things to keep in mind when doing so:

  • You will probably want to direct your light from the side, above, or maybe behind the subject.  Lighting from the front, the same position as the camera view, will result in an image that looks flat and uninteresting.
  • Shadows are every bit as important as the light.  You are not going for an image that is evenly lit, looks like it was taken in ambient light or was done with a flash.  Deep shadows, light on parts of the subject you want to draw attention to and shadows elsewhere will add to the drama you’re seeking.  Again, look at the still life Dutch Master’s painting style for clues on how to light your subject.  Less can really be more here. Caryn Esplin, the photographer I mentioned earlier, uses the expression “Reveal and Conceal.”
  • Use your light like a paintbrush, moving it in circular motions.
  • Do not allow the beam of light to point at the camera or you will create light trails on the image.
  • To be able to pinpoint smaller areas of your subject, consider “snooting” the flashlight, that is, putting a piece of tape, a cone, or something else on it to reduce the size of the beam.
  • Brighter objects in the scene will need less light, darker objects more.  You will also want to leave some portions of the scene dark to better emulate the painters’ style and add drama.
Cross Lighting brings out the texture and adds drama to this image.

Simple subjects can make good light paintings. The cross-lighting brings out the texture and the deep shadows add drama in this “Pigskin Portrait.”

  • Shoot, chimp, evaluate and adjust, and shoot again.  Adjust your camera settings as necessary for the best exposure.  Look at your image and think about what you might do differently.  You might get lucky and nail the shot on your first try. However, it’s more typical to make lots of images, trying different things and later choosing the best.  Digital film is cheap.  Don’t be afraid to make LOTS of shots.
Image: “Patriotic Pickup.” Put it on an Australian flag and you can call it a “Lan...

“Patriotic Pickup.” Put it on an Australian flag and you can call it a “Land Down Under Ute.”

Multiple-exposure technique

This is the second of the techniques for dramatic light-painted photos. While in the previous technique, the photo is made and the subject painted all in one long exposure, this technique involves making multiple exposures. Then you combine them like the pieces of a puzzle into the final image.

Making each of the individual exposures is essentially identical to techniques used in the prior method, but instead of having to light paint the entire scene in one shot, smaller pieces of the scene are done individually.

For example, say you wanted to make a light-painted photo of an old truck at night with the Milky Way overhead in the sky. You could make the background shot of the stars first, then using your flashlight, make a shot lighting just the front tire. Then light the grill, hood, or perhaps the interior. Add some light from the side, back, and on the grass in the foreground. Each of the individually lit shots would be a piece of your puzzle.

That’s exactly the technique used by Richard Tatti, the guy whose online Youtube tutorials taught me this method. The only difference is that he, being an Australian photographer, calls what I would describe as a pickup truck a “ute.” (Editor note: As an Aussie, we also call them “you-beaut utes!” Total slang, of course.)


One image was made for the sky and mountains, followed by about 10 other shots, each lighting a different location in the scene. This uses the multiple-exposure technique.

Richard does a nice job describing the light painting and photographing of a scene, as well as how to edit and combine the individual images into one in this tutorial. So I will suggest you view that for the step-by-step how-to. 

I will simply list the steps you’ll be taking.

In Lightroom

After making the individual shots, Lightroom is a good tool for preparing, sorting, and perhaps doing some minor editing to them. Be sure to sync them, so they are all the same size before the next step. The next step is where you select the individual images you will use and then use the “Open as Layers in Photoshop” command to export them into Photoshop. To do this, go to Photo->Edit In->Open as Layers in Photoshop.

Image: Decide which of your images you want to use as “pieces in your puzzle,” select th...

Decide which of your images you want to use as “pieces in your puzzle,” select them all, and then send them out using “Open as Layers in Photoshop.”

In Photoshop

This might take some time, especially if you have lots of layers, but when done, you will see the individual photos all lined up in a Photoshop layers stack.

Find what you would consider your “base” or bottom layer in Photoshop, and if it is not already in the bottom position, click, hold and drag it to that spot in the stack.


If you shot on a tripod and the camera didn’t move during the series of exposures (which is what you need to do), this step might not be necessary. However, if the camera moved even a tiny bit, you will want to align the images. It’s not a bad idea to do anyway; it just takes a little more time.

Click the top layer, hold down Shift, and click the bottom layer, so all are selected. Then click the Edit->Auto Align Layers->Auto->OK. Let it work; it’ll take a bit.

Once done, if you see any white edges, crop the image to eliminate those.

Lighten Blending Mode

At first, you will see just the top layer in the stack. Let’s turn the lights on.

Click the top layer in the stack to select it. Then hold down Shift and click the next to last layer, so all but the bottom layer is selected. Then click the Lighten blending mode.

Presto! The lighted portions of your image will all appear, much as if you’ve turned on all those individually lit portions of the image. Cool huh?

Image: Selecting the layers and then applying the “Lighten” blending mode will turn the...

Selecting the layers and then applying the “Lighten” blending mode will turn the lights on!

Use the Eyeball

The little icon to the left of each layer is an eyeball. If you click it on any individual layer, you can toggle that layer, making it visible or invisible. In this case, if you click it to make it invisible, the “lights” on that layer will be turned off.

Think of the eyeballs as light switches. Click them on and off on each layer, and it’s like individually switching the lights on each portion of the shot. It’s a great way to see the effect of that layer on the entire shot.

Sometimes after viewing what a given layer is doing, you may not choose to use that layer at all. If not, leave the eyeball off for that layer.

Image: Work a layer at a time using masking layers and a brush set to black to rub out pieces you do...

Work a layer at a time using masking layers and a brush set to black to rub out pieces you don’t want or perhaps want to reduce the opacity.

Fine-tuning with masks

If you’ve not worked with layers and masks in Photoshop before, this part can seem intimidating.  It need not be.  You will simply use a layer mask and the paintbrush tool set to black to, as Richard calls it, “rub out” any parts of the lighting layers you don’t want to appear.  You can also adjust the opacity of a brush or of the layer itself to control how much impact that layer has on the overall image.

For more on using layer masks, read this article.


This is the same scene as before, but with a different camera angle and different choices about how I used each lit layer.

Go let your light shine!

Light painting is a lot of fun and a great way to produce some nice images. Because of the nature of how you move the light over a subject, no two images will be the same, and what you create will be uniquely yours.

The single exposure method is a great place to start, and if you are a beginner photographer, using the manual settings of your camera will be a good lesson. You will quickly learn the relationships of light and the camera controls; ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, for adjusting your exposure.

The multiple exposure method is a great way to work in larger settings. You can light a tree here and another way across the field if you want as you’re not restricted to making the image all in one click of the shutter. Blending the individual images in Photoshop will also teach you a lot about layers and masks, something that can sometimes be a challenge to learn.

If you make some nice images, post them in the comments so we can see what you’ve created. Also, if you have problems or questions, post something in the comments, and I’ll see if I can help you.

Now, grab your camera, tripod, flashlight/torch, and try these techniques for dramatic light-painted photos. And go let your light shine!

Author’s Note – Just as this article was being submitted, I held a light-painting workshop for my fellow members of the Boise (Idaho) Camera Club.  Have a look at their work here.




The post Learn these Two Techniques for Dramatic Light-Painted Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

The post How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Silky water effects, streaked clouds, motion-smoothed with an ethereal look; long exposure photography seems to be in vogue as photographers discover the looks that can be created. There are multiple ways to achieve this. The most basic is to buy a standard neutral-density photography filter which cuts the light, allowing you to use long shutter speeds without overexposing your shot. You can achieve exposures minutes long, especially when using 10-stop ND filters like the Lee Big Stopper or even the 15-stop Super Stopper.

I recently did an article on an alternative way to make long exposure photos, “Try this DIY Neutral Density Filter for Long Exposure Photos.” I encourage you to read the piece and learn how a piece of welding glass can be a budget substitute for more expensive photographic ND filters.


This is the same location I used for some of the other shots in this article but taken when the river was much higher and faster. The biggest difference is that I used DIY welding glass ND filter to achieve this shot. See my other article for this technique.

This article teaches you a third method of making long-exposure images with no filter at all. Unlike the welding glass trick which pretty much requires your final image to be monochrome so as not to have to fight the heavy color cast, this works great in full color, with no filter at all, and no color cast present. It’s a great method to simulate long exposure.

The technique uses a stack of multiple images of the same scene then processed with a Photoshop process called Image Averaging. It’s really quite simple and has some advantages over traditional methods with ND filters.

Advantages over the traditional ND filter method

When doing traditional long exposure photography with an ND filter you will be making long exposures.  (Duh!)  There are a few challenges with this:

  • If during the long exposure you bump the camera or things move in the shot you don’t want to be blurred, you will need to re-do the shot.
  • Long exposures can often be several minutes in length. Double the time if you also enable in-camera noise reduction. If it takes 2-minutes to expose and another 2-minutes for the noise reduction to work, you will only be making a shot every 4-minutes. This can really slow down your work, and if the light changes during that time, you could miss it.
  • With very dark ND filters, you won’t be able to see anything through the lens once the filter is in place. You will have to compose your shot, pre-focus, then mount the ND filter and make the image.
  • Determining exposure will take some calculation. You’ll check exposure without the filter then use a calculation tool to determine the new shutter speed the ND filter requires. Often this will need some tweaking after you see your shot and…yup, another re-do will be needed.
  • If back in editing you see the shots and wish you’d gone for longer or shorter shutter speeds to change the look, too bad. You’d have to go back and reshoot – if that is even possible.
Image: In fairly bright sunlight, even with the ISO at 50 and aperture at f/22, 1/5th of a second wa...

In fairly bright sunlight, even with the ISO at 50 and aperture at f/22, 1/5th of a second was as slow a shutter speed attainable while maintaining proper exposure. This was with no filter.

 The advantages of the Image Averaging method

The advantages of using the image stacking method are essentially the opposite of those things just stated above:

  • You’ll be making multiple images rather than one long one. If one of the images in the group has a problem, you may be able to eliminate it and use the rest to still successfully create the effect.
  • You can see what you’re doing! Not shooting with a dark filter means you’ll still be able to see, compose, use auto-focus, auto-exposure, and even image stabilization if you shoot handheld.
  • No calculation! Without the addition of a dark filter, you eliminate this step.
  • Adjust the length of your “simulated slow shutter” later in post-production. Want more or less blur? You can change your mind later.
  • Are conditions too bright for a standard long exposure shot? Maybe you only own a 6-stop ND filter, and daytime conditions are too bright to let you get the length of exposure you’d like. You can combine both methods to simulate a longer exposure than possible with the ND filter alone.
  • Are people in the shot you’d like to remove? Because they are likely to move during the multiple shots, when the averaging process takes place, they will vanish!

Make people disappear! Notice on the inset the people walking in the river, but on the completed shot, 15 images, each 1/5th of a second = 4 seconds simulated. They are gone.

Making the shots

Setting up and shooting the images you need for your image-averaged creation is much the same as any photography. Here are the factors and steps to keep in mind:

Composition still counts!

Because you introduce a long exposure blurred effect does not mean that you will have automatically created a good photo. Still consider how to carefully compose your image. Take into consideration that moving objects in the shot will blur and look simplified with less detail. Good long exposure shots often emphasize the contrast between static, non-moving objects (buildings, rocks, trees, etc.), and moving objects like clouds and water. Include both in your shot.

Shoot on a tripod

I mentioned you could do this handheld and, well…maybe you could. However, even with this technique, you will still want to shoot at the slowest shutter speed possible. That way, you won’t have to make too many shots for combining. Once you get much slower than 1/30th of a second (and faster than that if if you’ve just had coffee), handholding your camera is probably going to ruin your shots.


All Images ISO 50, f/22 . Top left – No filter – 20 images each 1/5 second = simulated total = 4 seconds. Top right – No filter – 35 images each 1/5 second = simulated total = 7 seconds. Bottom – 6-Stop ND filter – 15 images each 20 seconds = simulated total = 5 minutes.

How many shots?

This technique simulates long exposure by combining multiple shots.  The simple formula is:

(# Shots) x (Shutter Speed of each shot) = Total simulated shutter speed effect (in seconds)

Let’s plug some numbers into that and see the result.  Set your camera for the lowest ISO possible.  I can get my Canon 6D down to ISO 50.  Some cameras will have ISO 100 as the lowest.  Use whatever you can.  Set your aperture to the smallest aperture possible.  Meter with those settings and see how long you can make each individual shot and have it properly exposed.  Say we were able to do this in the shade: 1/4 second, f/22, ISO 50.  To get a simulated shutter speed of one minute (60 seconds), we’d need to make 240 shots.

240 shots x 1/4 second (.25) = 60 seconds

That’s a little unwieldy, and stacking 240 shots in Photoshop may cause your computer to choke. So what to do? Perhaps you don’t have an ND filter in your bag, but you do have a circular polarizer. It will help reduce the light. You mount it and now find you’ve lost 2-stops. So your exposure can be 1 second, f/22, ISO 50. Plug that into the formula, and you get:

60 shots  x 1 second = 60 seconds

If you’re shooting in lower light conditions, you may be able to get a slower shutter speed to start with. That will mean you can take fewer shots.

To make your job easier (and the computers as well), always try to get the slowest shutter speed you can for your shots. That will mean you can create the simulated long exposure with fewer shots.

Say you did have a 6-stop ND filter in your kit. You mount that, and now your settings are 16 seconds, f/22, ISO 50. Now, to get that simulated 1-minute exposure, you’d just need about four shots. Why not make 10 while you’re at it and you can simulate a 2.6 minute (160 seconds) exposure?

Had you done this traditionally, and had a 10-stop ND filter, you could take the unfiltered exposure down from 1/4 second, f/22, ISO 50 to 256 seconds (4.2 minutes), f/22, ISO 50. So, to get the same effect with a 6-stop ND filter as you could with a 10-stop by using image averaging, take 16 shots.

16 shots x 16 seconds each = 256 seconds (4.2 minutes)


35 images each 1/6 second combine to simulate a 6-second exposure. Shooting into the sun, it would probably be impossible to make a 6-second exposure without a filter.

Forget the math, make the shots!

If all that math made your head hurt (it did mine), here’s the simple way to get what you need so Photoshop can do its magic:

  • Use a tripod.  You don’t want to do all this and get shaky shots.  That will waste all your work.
  • Do what’s necessary to shoot with the slowest shutter speed you can get with the equipment you have.  In the camera, that will usually mean setting the lowest ISO and smallest aperture.
  • If you have a polarizer or ND filter, use those to get the shutter speed even slower if you can.
  • Make lots of shots for each stacked image you will create.  Depending on how slow you were able to get your shutter speed, a few dozen isn’t too many.  You don’t have to use them all when you get into editing, but having more will allow a longer simulated effect.

Putting it all together

This recipe assumes you will be using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop in combination. You don’t have to use Lightroom. You can get your individual images into a stack in Photoshop another way if you need to (though using LR is much easier). Using Photoshop, however, is mandatory. Also, to use the Smart Objects function described, you will need a version of Photoshop that is Version 14.2 or higher. Older versions of Photoshop won’t have this.

There are ways to do this with older versions in a more manual process. If you have an older version, you will need to do a little online research to learn that technique. I used the latest version of Photoshop at this writing (Photoshop CC 20.0.4).

Let’s look at this step-by-step process visually…


1. From Lightroom, select the sequence of images you will use.  Edit the first one in the sequence to your liking.  Then select all of them and use the Sync function so all have the same settings as the first.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

2. With all selected, send the images from Lightroom to Photoshop by going to Photo->Edit In->Open as Layers in Photoshop. (Photoshop will open, and the images will appear as layers in a stack). If you have a lot of images to be opened and stacked, this can take a while. Let it work.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

3. With all the layers selected, in the menu select Layer->Smart Object->Convert to Smart Object. This can take a while to do its work. Be patient.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

4. With the Smart Object layer selected, from the menu select Layer->Smart Objects->Stack Mode->Mean. This can also take a bit to work.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

Wait for it…wait for it…and…


Presto!  You will have a simulated long-exposure image made from your stack of shorter exposures.  20 images each at 3.2 seconds, f/22, ISO 50.  No filter used.  Simulated long exposure of 64 seconds.


The water in this section of the river was pretty calm anyway, but look at the before and after areas pointed out by the arrow where the original shots were 3.2 seconds vs the combined 20 shots x 3.2 seconds = a simulated 64 seconds.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

5. To finish up, go to Layer->Flatten Image.  Then File->Save As and save the finished image where you like.  If you want to give the completed image some additional tweaking, you can do that with Photoshop or Lightroom as you would with any other image.


That’s the magic!  Here are a few things to remember for best results:

  • Consider your composition.  Look for a scene where you will have a combination of static objects that won’t move during the sequence and those that will.  An image with both will be more compelling.
  • Use a tripod.  You can do this handheld if you must, but know that any camera movement will be translated as a blur in the final result.
  • Do what you can to get as long a shutter speed with each image in the sequence as possible.  Drop your ISO to the lowest setting, use a small aperture, and use polarizing filters or whatever ND filters you have.  Longer exposures for each shot mean fewer images are needed to create a simulated long exposure.
  • Overshoot.  You don’t need to use all the images in a sequence if you decide you don’t want as much blur. However, if you don’t shoot enough, you might later wish you had them.
  • As you work through the steps, some things can take a long time.  Be patient and let your computer work.  If the process crashes, it could be you don’t have enough computer resources and will have to settle for a smaller stack.

5 images, each 6 seconds = a simulated exposure of 30 seconds. No filter used.


10 images, each 1/4 second combine to give a 2.5-second simulated exposure. This can be a great technique to use for getting silky water effects when you don’t have an ND filter and only need a longer exposure of a few seconds.

Final thoughts

Is this a better method than using an actual ND filter? Like so many photographic things, the answer is probably…it depends. Maybe you don’t have a filter or have one with you. Perhaps you don’t need a really long exposure, but just one a little longer than you can get with a low ISO/small aperture combination such as when seeking blur on a waterfall. Maybe you need to vanish people and don’t want to make a single multi-minute shot for various reasons. Alternatively, perhaps you have an ND filter but need an even longer exposure than it can give you.

There are lots of reasons to add this How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging Technique to your bag of tricks. Give it a try, and I’m sure you’ll have fun. Share your images with us in the comments!



The post How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

873 The Flowers and the Bees

Chris checks in with Eimear King, the new voice on The Future of Photography and answers a question on photographic travel preparations, including camera time zones and some really nifty Lightroom stuff, so you can focus on the really important things.



Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

2019/2020 Photo Tours with Chris Marquardt
» Feb 2019: Arctic: Fantastic Fjords Tour 1
» Feb 2019: Arctic: Fantastic Fjords Tour 2
» Jun 2019: Silk Road Kyrgyztan
» Oct 2019: Romaina Fall Colors
» Feb 2020: Lake Baikal, Siberia
» Feb 2020: Lake Baikal, Big Ice Journey
» Mar 2020: Ethiopia, Omo Valley
» Apr 2020: Bhutan, The Untouched East
» Jun 2020: Kyrgyz Republic - Unbelievable Landscapes
» Sep 2020: Cappadocia
» all photo tours

The post 873 The Flowers and the Bees appeared first on PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS FROM THE TOP FLOOR.

How to Edit Fireworks Photos Creatively

The post How to Edit Fireworks Photos Creatively appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

I hope you had a chance to read my previous article, “Eight Tips for Better Fireworks Photos” before going out to make your fireworks images and found that helpful.  If so, you should have some good shots to work with here.  If not, these techniques will still work for you if you have some other good fireworks photos.  Either way, let’s see if I can teach you how to do the basic editing on your fireworks images. Then, how to creatively composite your shots and take the “wow factor” up another notch.

How to Edit Fireworks Photos

You shot in Raw, yes?

I realize that beginning photographers may be making their images with their camera set to save only the .jpg file, perhaps not having the editing tools or having learned to edit a Raw file.  While that’s not a deal-breaker, you will find doing so causes the camera to do much of the editing itself, using the camera’s built-in .jpg algorithm to “cook” the final image for you.  Perhaps while you are still a novice image editor, (cook), editing raw files can seem intimidating, and you may feel the camera is a better cook than you are.

The trouble is, with something like your fireworks photos, you will want as much latitude for creative editing as possible as well as much file information as the camera originally captured.  Letting the camera create a .jpg image lets it make the creative decisions and also throws away information you might have needed.

You will still be able to use the steps outlined here to edit a .jpg file.  Just understand things might not work as well.  One final plug for shooting Raw files before moving on – Almost all pros do, and that’s the level of work you want to create, right?  ‘Nuff said.

2 - How to Edit Fireworks Photos

This effect is what I call the “boom-zoom-bloom.” You’ll have to read Part One of this series if you missed how to create it.

Editing tools

The workflow described here assumes you will be using the editing programs I use for working with my images; Adobe Lightroom Classic and Photoshop.  Other editing programs may work equally well such as Photoshop Elements or another favorite of mine, Corel Paintshop Pro.  Use what you have and know; just understand the steps here are using the Adobe programs.  I will also sometimes use plug-in filters such as those in the Nik suite, Topaz Labs or Aurora.

Basic editing of a fireworks photo with Lightroom

This is my workflow with an image in Lightroom.  Much of the work simply involves moving each adjustment slider up and down to see what you like.  Playing is encouraged.

  • White Balance – You shot in Raw, right? Good, because if so, you can take the white balance wherever you like. Play with the Temperature and Tint sliders and get the colors you like.  Because fireworks have no “correct” color your viewer expects, you can pretty much adjust white balance however you like.  Although, if you’ve included foreground objects, you may want to use those as a reference in determining what is realistic.
  • Basic Controls – Play with the Exposure, Contrast, and other sliders to bring the image to your liking. If your highlights are a little bright, (but still not blown out), you can bring them back with the Highlights slider. You might also want to bring down the Blacks if the sky needs darkening
  • Adjust colors with the HSL/Color sliders. You can play with the Hue, Saturation, and Luminance sliders to tweak colors to your liking. Don’t forget to try the Targeted Adjustment Tool to pick and adjust specific colors in your image.
  • 3 - How to Edit Fireworks Photos
  • Dehaze – The Dehaze tool could be your friend and help reduce smoke in the shot if it became a problem.
  • Clarity and Texture  – These controls can give your fireworks images extra sharpness and pop.  Also, try sliding these controls toward the left for different looks.
  • Vibrance and Saturation – With standard photography, these two are typically used conservatively, particularly Saturation which is a bit of a sledgehammer. With firework images, however, often you are going for “pow,” so go ahead and play… it’s your shot.  Oversaturation will blow out details.  Watch each histogram RGB channel.  A histogram off the right edge means you’ve oversaturated that color.
  • Detail – Some sharpening can be good. The two best tools in this group for fireworks images are the Masking Tool and Noise Reduction/Luminance. Sharpen your image as desired.  Then, hold down the Alt key, (Option on Mac), and drag the Masking slider to the right.  What appears white will be sharpened, what is black will not.  The idea to allow the fireworks to be sharpened, but not the dark sky. As for Noise Reduction, if you shot at a low ISO you probably won’t need much. Use as little as needed here.
  • Consider saving settings as a Preset.  If you’ve used the sliders to get your image just right, you might want to apply the same settings to some of your other fireworks photos.  Saving the settings as a preset will allow you to apply the same look with a single click.

Other tools

I mentioned using plugins as options in your editing.  The sky really is the limit here.  Here are a few I have and sometimes find useful with fireworks photos:

Nik – Color Efex Pro, Viveza

Topaz Labs – Adjust, Denoise, (probably others too, I just I don’t have them).

Aurora HDR – You can work with a single image here not needing multiple shots as with traditional HDR work and can get some interesting looks.

Compositing for drama

Sometimes the best fireworks photo is a composite of several photos.  You can layer multiple images and create your own grand finale.  You can also put fireworks over places where they weren’t, but to your thinking should have been.

Confession time.

The image of the Boise (Idaho) Depot I used in the previous article, (and repeated above), is a composite.

They do have fireworks shows over this iconic landmark in our city; I’ve just never been there for a show.  I did, however, have nice nighttime images of the depot and also fireworks photos from another time and place.  With compositing, I created the image I wished I could have captured live but wasn’t there for.  What can I say, creative license, right?

So, you have a great fireworks photo.  You have a great night shot of a landmark or scene where you’d have liked to have captured a fireworks show.  Here’s how you make those come together.

Time for layers

If you only edit with Lightroom, this will be the end of the road for you.  Lightroom doesn’t do layers and they are a must for this technique.  Photoshop does layers, as does Photoshop Elements, Corel Paintshop Pro, and probably a few other editing programs.  Layers capabilities are a must for compositing. So, your editing tool of choice must have them.

Compositing images is a pretty advanced technique in some cases. However, because the background of your fireworks photo is likely to be black or very dark, things become much easier.  Learning compositing using fireworks images can be a great way to begin learning about layers, masks, and compositing in general.

Step-by-step compositing

  1. Open your fireworks image in Photoshop (or your editing program of choice).  You can open Photoshop first and then open the image or send it from Lightroom – (Photo/Edit In/Edit in Adobe Photoshop)

    How to send an image from Lightroom to Photoshop for editing. You can also send multiple images as layers in Photoshop, useful when doing the “Grand Finale” composites described later in this article.

  2. Open your other location photo, also in Photoshop.  You will have the fireworks photo and the scene photo each on separate tabs at this point. Just a note when selecting the scene photo: Select one that has a logical view, angle, and lighting that it will seem consistent with having fireworks in the shot.  Obviously, a daytime image or an image without much sky is just going to look weird.
  3. Go to the image of the fireworks.  Crop it to include just the fireworks section you want if you didn’t do this in Lightroom first.  Then Select All (Ctrl-A, Cmd-A on a Mac), Copy (Ctrl/Cmd-C)
  4. Go to the other tab with the Scene and hit Ctrl/Cmd-V for Paste.  The firework image will be placed as a layer on top of the scene image.
  5. With the fireworks layer selected, select the Screen blending mode.  The dark parts of the sky will become transparent and the fireworks will be superimposed over the underlying Scene image.

    Use the Screen blending mode and the black in the fireworks photo will become transparent showing the underlying image.

  6. You will need to place and size the fireworks where you want them over the Scene shot.  Use Free Transform for that.  With the fireworks layer still the one selected, Ctrl/Cmd-T.  Then hold down Shift and drag from a corner handle to resize while maintaining the aspect ratio of the fireworks image.  Click, hold and drag in the middle of the shot to move the overlying fireworks where you like.  Don’t worry about some of the fireworks perhaps appearing in front of things.  You’ll handle that in the next step.

    The fireworks moved and sized to put them where desired. Note: leaving a little overlap will add depth and make the composite look more realistic. You’ll clean-up in the next step.

  7. To touch up areas where the fireworks might overlap an area they should be behind, (note the fireworks overlapping the tower in my shot and the roof at the bottom), you will create a Layer Mask. Click the icon that looks like a rectangle with the dark circle in the center  A mask will be added to your fireworks layer.
  8.  With Black selected as your foreground color and the mask selected, use the brush tool to paint out areas where the fireworks overlap the foreground.  You want the fireworks to look like they are behind any foreground objects.
  9.  You may find areas in the fireworks layer weren’t black enough that the Screen blending mode eliminated them.  This might work for you –  With the fireworks layer selected, (not the mask, the layer itself), open the Camera Raw Filter (Ctrl-Shift-A).  Just the fireworks layer will appear in Camera Raw.  Take the Blacks slider down (left) to see if you can darken the problem areas.  Also, try the Shadows and Exposure sliders, but pay attention to how the fireworks are affected.  When you click OK, you will be returned to the Photoshop main window.  See if the problem is gone.  If not, use the brush on the mask as you did in step 8 to clean up any remaining areas.
How to Edit Fireworks Photos

This grand finale was captured in one 6-second shot and is not a composite.

The Grand Finale

The most exciting part of a fireworks show is when they shoot off a flurry of fireworks in rapid-fire fashion.  It can also be one of the harder parts of the show to photograph.  Sometimes the intensity of so many fireworks bursting in the air can result in a blown-out, overexposed mess with the settings used for most of the show not right now.

What to do?  How about creating your own finale with the compositing technique we just explored but this time, layering several fireworks images to build-up your finale shot.

How to Edit Fireworks Photos

When things really got crazy during the grand finale, the same 6-seconds was too much and the image was blown out. Look at the histogram. There’s no recovering highlights when they are pushed off the right side of the histogram. Way too overexposed!

Use the same steps as with the composite image we just covered. Stack up several layers of fireworks shots each on its own Photoshop layer.  Then turn on the Screen blending mode on all layers but the bottom one.  Use the technique as before, blending and masking as necessary.

Here’s what that might look like.

Position and clean each layer with a mask as before where necessary.  Voila!  Your own grand finale.

How to Edit Fireworks Photos

Fun even when the smoke clears

For most spectators, the fun of a fireworks show is over when the last boom is heard, and the smoke clears. As a photographer with editing skills, however, you can continue to create all kinds of exciting images with the fireworks shots you captured.  Using the editing and compositing techniques here will not only help you produce some great fireworks images but grow your editing skills in general.

Now, go have a “blast.”

Feel free to share your fireworks images with us in the comments below.


How to Edit your Fireworks Photos Creatively


The post How to Edit Fireworks Photos Creatively appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

869 Home Automation and Photography

Chris answers some audience questions about Lightroom: How to backup and restore Lightroom and how to select and export thousands of photos over multiple folders.

Chris also just made an observation about how his HomeKit cameras could breathe new life into his favorite photo exercise.

Photo by Siarhei Horbach



Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

2019/2020 Photo Tours with Chris Marquardt
» Feb 2019: Arctic: Fantastic Fjords Tour 1
» Feb 2019: Arctic: Fantastic Fjords Tour 2
» Jun 2019: Silk Road Kyrgyztan
» Oct 2019: Romaina Fall Colors
» Feb 2020: Lake Baikal, Siberia
» Feb 2020: Lake Baikal, Big Ice Journey
» Mar 2020: Ethiopia, Omo Valley
» Apr 2020: Bhutan, The Untouched East
» Jun 2020: Kyrgyz Republic - Unbelievable Landscapes
» Sep 2020: Cappadocia
» all photo tours

The post 869 Home Automation and Photography appeared first on PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS FROM THE TOP FLOOR.

867 Camouflage Pets

Chris talks about black pets, brindle dogs, how perspective will change background and light. Also: confusing Lightroom photo imports and what to do about them.



The post 867 Camouflage Pets appeared first on PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS FROM THE TOP FLOOR.

851 Visual Workflow

Happy New Year! FINALLY FINALLY the November challenge review. Chris also takes a quick look back over the last year and he talks to his guest Ibarionex Perello about the visual workflow.

Photo by Caleb Woods



2019/2020 Photo Tours with Chris Marquardt
» Feb 2019: Arctic: Fantastic Fjords Tour 1
» Feb 2019: Arctic: Fantastic Fjords Tour 2
» Jun 2019: Silk Road Kyrgyztan
» Oct 2019: Romaina Fall Colors
» Feb 2020: Lake Baikal, Siberia
» Sep 2020: Ireland, The Wild Atlantic Way
» all photo tours

The post 851 Visual Workflow appeared first on PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS FROM THE TOP FLOOR.

844 Owl Baiting

Chris received follow-up on the the ethical exif debate, this time about the practice of owl baiting. Joe wonders if he can use his LR hard drive with both a Mac and a PC (the answer is “theoretically yes”) and listener Chris wants to buy a drone and wonders if he’ll be allowed to fly it in the UK.

Photo by Todd Steitle



Photo Tours with Chris Marquardt
» Aug 2018: Ireland — Giant's Causeway
» Sep 2018: Norway — Lofoten Fantastic Fjords
» Oct 2018: Morocco
» Feb 2019: Arctic: Fantastic Fjords Tour 1
» Feb 2019: Arctic: Fantastic Fjords Tour 2
» Jun 2019: Silk Road Kyrgyztan
» Oct 2019: Romaina Fall Colors
» Feb 2020: Lake Baikal, Siberia
» Sep 2020: Ireland, The Wild Atlantic Way
» all photo tours

The post 844 Owl Baiting appeared first on PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS FROM THE TOP FLOOR.

10 Lightroom Tricks That Will Make Your Life Easier

When it comes to Lightroom, there is a lot to learn, and we tend to pay the most attention to the big things like understanding how to organize images and which sliders to use to improve our photos. But there are also lots of little Lightroom tricks that will improve your workflow and just make your life easier when it comes to working with your photos.

In this video, I’ll show you 10 of my favorite tricks that will make your life easier in Lightroom. There is also a summary of these items below the video for your reference. Enjoy!

1. Build Previews

Have you ever noticed that when you view images full size in the Library Module and you move from one to the next, sometimes Lightroom shows a message that says “Loading…” and it takes a minute for the photo to display properly? You can get around that by building previews before you start working on a group of images.

To do this, choose Library > Previews > Build Standard-Sized Previews.

I generally build standard-sized previews which are just big enough to fit in the Lightroom window. You can also build the 1:1 Previews which means you can view each image zoomed-in at 100% without having to wait, but that takes longer.

Building the previews first does take a bit of time, but you can do something else while Lightroom is busy with this task. Then when you are ready to work on your images, Lightroom will be really fast.

2. Auto Advance

When selecting your Picks or adding a star rating to images in the Library Module, you can have Lightroom automatically move to the next image, making it very quick to go through a selection of photos. To turn this setting on choose Photo > Auto Advance.

3. Solo Mode

In the Develop Module, there are a number of panels which, when expanded, can make it necessary to do a lot of scrolling to move between them. But with “solo mode”, only one panel can be opened at a time which means no more scrolling.

To turn this on, right-click to the left of one of the develop module panel titles (such as “basic”) and choose Solo Mode.

4. Quickly Reset a Slider

When you make a change to a slider in the Develop Module, and you simply want to reset it back to zero, you don’t have to actually move the slider back. Simply double-click on the name of the slider and it will reset.

5. Letter O Key

Did you know there are quite a few different crop overlays you can use to help you crop your photos just right? Click the crop tool in the Develop Module, and then try repeatedly pressing the letter O on your keyboard to rotate through the various crop overlays.

6. Letter F Key

When you think you are done and you want to view a larger size of your image to make sure everything is just right, press the letter F on your keyboard to view the image full screen. Press F again to go back.

7. Letter L Key

Another way to view your image without distractions is to use the L key on your keyboard. Press it once and all the sidebars and your desktop will turn grey. Press it again and everything goes black except your actual photos (this is called Lights Out). Press it a third time to return to normal.

8. Backslash Key

As a final check when you think you are done with your processing, press the backslash key on your keyboard to see the “before” version of your image before you made any changes in Lightroom. Press it again to see the “after” version.

9. Virtual Copies

If you want to make another version of an image without changing the original, you don’t have to actually make a copy of it on your hard drive. You can simply create a “virtual copy” and apply different settings to it. This virtual copy takes up no space on your hard drive and allows you to play with different looks.

10. Sync Settings

After you have finished processing one photo in a group, you can apply those exact settings to all the other photos in the group. This makes it very fast to process a whole group of images.

Go to the Library Module, select all the photos you want to apply the settings to, including the one you have processed, and click the “Sync Settings” button in the lower right corner of your screen. You can then choose whether to sync all or just some of the settings to the selected photos.

Lightroom can be overwhelming! If you want to learn the essentials of Lightroom so you can get started quickly and easily, check out my video course Launch Into Lightroom. In 22 short videos that total a little over 2 hours, you’ll be off and running.

The post 10 Lightroom Tricks That Will Make Your Life Easier appeared first on Digital Photography School.


Here’s the GEAR SHOW! Chris answers audience questions. Wayne wonders if Luminar could easily replace Adobe Lightroom. Derrin wants to know if he should be worried about 30 dead pixels on his new camera’s sensor. Also, Fred prompts Chris to discuss how Sony A7 Mk III, Canon 5D Mk IV and Nikon D850 stack up against each other. Also, Chris talks about his personal favorite or most noteworthy smaller photo gadgets from 2017.


Products mentioned in this episode (affiliate links):

Other links:

Photo tours with Chris Marquardt:
» May 2017: Svalbard — Arctic (sold out)
» Oct 2017: Bhutan — The Happiness Kingdom (only 1 spot open)
» Jan 2018: Ladakh — Chadar Trek
» Aug 2018: Ireland — Giant's Causeway
» Sep 2018: Norway — Lofoten Fantastic Fjords
» Oct 2018: Morocco
» all photo tours


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