Light painting the Louisiana swamp

Cypress trees under a bright moon stand along the edge of the Maurepas swamp as the setting sun paints clouds. Click here to order this print!

Swamp photo session offers experiment in light painting

I have been in love with light painting photography for years, but over the past few months I’ve decided to get out and really learn the technique. On the face of it, it’s pretty easy: Go out in the middle of the night and use a flashlight to “paint” objects so they appear in an otherwise dark scene. In reality there’s more to it.

My first experience with light painting came last year when some buddies and I were in the Texas Hill Country and used a small flashlight to provide a little light in some astrophotography. I also utilized a large light to bring out the so-called Signature Tree at Oak Alley Plantation several months ago.

It went well, but I want to really nail down everything. So yesterday I loaded up my gear and headed to Lake Maurepas to play around. I replaced the first light, which really wasn’t strong enough with a Nebo Big Daddy 2,000-lumen light.

The night’s shoot really went well, despite hordes of Louisiana’s iconic mosquitoes that tried to empty my veins. Alligators also lounged in the waters around the cypress tree, so I couldn’t get out of the boat as I normally did. The solution was to set up my tripod and work from the safety of my boat — a different way to take photos, but honestly even dangling my feet over the edge made me a little nervous as gator eyes shined in the light.

I set to work once I figured out how to best work from the boat and identified a few targets in the immediate area. My first try was a panoramic view of a stand of cypress trees on the edge of the Maurepas swamp, with the moon shining brightly overhead. The challenge was the distance from the trees. The Nebo flashlight allowed me to focus the bean and paint in select trees even at that range. It took a few tries to figure out the best exposure and determine how long to keep the light on the trees.

Of course, focus was a huge issue: The camera could not focus on anything because it was dead dark. That meant I had to manually nail the focus, which was difficult without light. I had to really work the camera settings and shine the light on the trees to see enough in the camera’s live view to focus the image. I missed it several times before finally getting it all down.

I hoped I could determine a formula that would allow me to replicate the process when I moved to another target. That wasn’t to be: While the camera settings could be left static, distance changing the intensity of the light striking the subject. Since photography is all about recording light, that meant some images required longer periods of light or either a more focused or wider beam.

But I was able to nail down five beautiful images. And I can’t wait to use the technique on an upcoming trip to Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

If you’d like to purchase these or any of my fine-art prints, please click over to my online gallery.

About Andy Crawford

Andy Crawford has been a photographer and writer for more than 20 years, with thousands of images and articles published in magazines and newspapers around the country. He now focuses on Louisiana photography, landscapes, HDR photography, urban prints and other fine art photography. He also is a portrait photographer.