One-Light Night Landscape

New in the Strobist Reader Gallery is Jonathan Boeke's night shot of a stand of trees.

It's done with multiple pops, during a time exposure. And it is easier than you might think. Keep reading for a few tips on creating shot like this, next time you are alone in the woods at night...

For this shot, Jonathan walked to a spot behind each tree and fired a Nikon SB-600 with a green gel back at the camera while the shutter was open during a time exposure. (You can click on the pic for the comment thread, and his explanation.)

If you have a camera that supports multiple exposure, you can eliminate a lot of noise (and logistical problems) from the frame by shooting the frame as a sequence of higher-shutter speed multi-exposure shots.

But you'd need a shutter cord and a third remote (or a helper and a tripod) to do that. You can see how to do the channel-hopping relay mode here.

If you wanna go multi exposure, you can do it with no remotes at all. Just open that shutter and start running. I've pulled together a few ideas to help your photo, and save some work in post production.

• Wear dark clothing. Nice to have a dark hoodie, too, just in case you do not have one of those face-hiding ninja masks lying around.

• Snoot the flash just a teensy bit. You still want a nice, wide beam, so just do a half-inch or so. Black gaffer's tape works great. But that little ridge will help avoid blowback in the exposure, which can light you up if you have limbs visible to the camera.

• Mount a very dim light source close to the vertical axis of the lens at the camera. Maybe an LED flashlight, aimed up, mounted to the hot shoe. This will let you know when the tree is hiding you (and your flash) from the camera very precisely as you walk around in the background.

• Consider varying your distance from behind the trees as you pop each flash shot. You can throw light a long distance, and light up big chunks of your background that way. Be sure to crank up the power some (adjust with a few test shots) to account for the increased flash-to-blocking-tree distance. And multiple pops could be your friend here, too.

• If you aim the flash up a little (or a lot) you'll light the leaves in the trees better. Especially in the background, where more height from the trees will be visible to catch the light. This will also avoid the hot spot being visible at your feet.

• Remember that the light behind the far trees acts as a nice rim for the nearer trees, so take that light-to-subject distance into account when planning how far back to get behind the rear light pops. (Remember L102 Position -- evenness increases with distance.)

• Watch your ambient lights, to keep from tracking. Gaffer tape everything that would give off light while you are busy walking around in your frame. Your flash ready light and info panel backlight need to go dark. Ditto anything else that might be glowing or blinking, like a Pocket Wizard status LED.

If you are gonna try this on your own, tag your shot "strobist" and "backlitforest" (the latter is all one word) so we can see all of them at once by clicking here. I am thinking of trying one myself, and it might be fun to revisit in a future post.


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Blogger Andy M said...

1st comment, yippie!

Awesome post and great idea, def going to try this.
rock on!

July 21, 2008 12:58 AM  
Blogger photodd said...

what an awesome idea.. is this what u guys do all day?

July 21, 2008 2:56 AM  
Anonymous Brett Dickson said...

To add to the list of suggestions:

* Don't look at the flash, you will only blind yourself and make it hard to see what you are doing.
* Putting the Flash into auto mode will enable the flash to meter each pop independently.

July 21, 2008 4:00 AM  
Blogger Greg Long said...

Nice Jonathan - hadn't thought of gelling up, I'm such a newb -- I tried a single exposure with my face lit three times by a torch, and my wife had a freaky experience when she saw it.

And by accident one night I turned my back to the camera, popped the flash and got ghostly self-portrait shadows on building walls...but this front-on flash I'm gonna go out and try tonight.


July 21, 2008 7:47 AM  
Blogger Michelle Jones, Photographer said...

What an excellent photograph, very atmospheric and the possibilities are endless, to me it looks like cinematic lighting all from just one flash!

July 21, 2008 8:24 AM  
Blogger Alan Sircom said...

The wear dark clothes is more important than anything. I did a similar gig years ago as an assistant. The photographer opened the shutter and I wandered round an old church, filling in light in every nook and cranny.

This was very pre-digital. The first sheet of film was filled with spookily dismembered pairs of white Converse toe-caps dotted round a 16th century church. Fortunately, the second was toe-free.

July 21, 2008 8:48 AM  
Anonymous Sebastien Benoit said...

This is my first contribution to the strobist blog, and I feel it's a good one.

Here is a tutorial how you can make a fancy ninja mask with just a t-shirt ;)

July 21, 2008 8:56 AM  
Anonymous Andrew Smith said...

Any idea why this photo isn't appearing in the list? I've added the appropriate tags but it doesn't show up.

July 21, 2008 10:19 AM  
Blogger Adam said...

Light painting with small strobes is great fun - I recently shot a load of old cold war planes at a disused runway using this technique. Just one speedlight and a couple of gels. I was shooting the big Vulcan bomber for over 2 hours, it's amazing how time consuming this type of shooting is, but how quickly that time goes when you're running around like a loony with a strobe trying not to trip over pot holes!

My efforts are here:

July 21, 2008 10:46 AM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

Thanks for all the extra attention, David! I'm simultaneously shocked, honored, proud and thrilled. I only recently got on the Strobist kick when my friend, Kim and his wife invited my wife and another photographer friend over to start watching your DVD a couple months ago. During the sessions we watch a few segments and then practice our newly learned techniques. What we have lovingly dubbed StrobeFest2008 continues this weekend with Part III. I'm really grateful to you and the Strobist community for sharing your knowledge, wonderful ideas and encouragement!

July 21, 2008 11:10 AM  
Anonymous Eric said...

Very cool effect. Can't wait to try this out and I know just the right spot of woods to go to near my house. Just need some very dark clothing.

One question tho, if the person is in the shot holding the flash, then how is there flare wrapping the tree, not some other shape, like the shape of a person?

July 21, 2008 12:36 PM  
Anonymous Glenn M said...


I know the motive is that of a forest in this case and given your tag I'm assuming those are what you want to see in this post. Cool enough...I love it too.

Just wondering if you might think about expanding it to other subjects.

July 21, 2008 1:18 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

@eric: The flash is in front of the person holding it, pointed at the camera (through the tree), yet still behind the tree.

[=0 * <- x

[=0 is the camera (0 is the lens).

* is the tree.

-> is the flash, pointed in the direction of the arrow.

x is the person holding the flash.

If you are shooting in the dark, there is nothing lighting you (x) up, except for some "contamination" from the flash that bleeds backwards. This is why wearing dark clothing helps (which I did not do - doh!)

July 21, 2008 3:22 PM  
Anonymous Ben Boyle said...

How about two strobes, one gelled green, one yellow (or pick a n other combination)?

*looks around for some accessible trees*

July 21, 2008 5:12 PM  
Blogger J. Wesley Brown said...

Ok, David, now if you could reverse engineer Tim Simmons lighting technique for us, you'd be doing us a real service, though I have an inkling that it is high powered flashlights.

July 21, 2008 10:36 PM  
Blogger tikal said...

Hi Mr. Strobist sir.. just thought since we were on the long exposure vibe, I'd share a couple flickr shots that were using an off camera Sb-800.

I'm quite a neophyte..

July 22, 2008 3:19 AM  
Blogger John said...

Impossible to do this in my part of the world now (100 miles south of the arctic circle), but I did some this easter, so I will post a couple :-)

July 22, 2008 4:53 AM  
Blogger Mr-Beama said...

excellent work, i have had ago myself, but not using gels.
this is the set up shot

July 22, 2008 8:54 AM  
Anonymous Embassy Pro Books said...

What a fantastic effect. Thanks for sharing the details, I can't wait to try this!

July 22, 2008 11:43 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Check out my single flash, time exposure shots here.

July 22, 2008 4:30 PM  
Blogger Sam The Rishi said...

very cool effect!

July 23, 2008 11:27 PM  
Blogger tangcla said...

On the topic of light painting, here's something similar that I do:

I used to use multiple pops of the 580EX but I use a constant light source now (a LED workshop lamp in a softbox)

July 25, 2008 4:06 AM  
Blogger Sean McCormick said...

Here are a couple of images I created using a hand-held strobe (Vivitar 283) and some coloured gels:

I had an article in F2 magazine about this some years back as well (it's in the form of a largish PDF):


Sean M.

July 25, 2008 9:51 PM  
Blogger Giles said...

@ Sean...

Thanks for posting those links to your work. In this age of clever electronics and intelligent technology, where everyone is all-too-quick to jump on the 'latest release' band wagon, it's great to see examples of work using older units and tried-and-tested techniques. Which just goes to prove the old adage that it's not the kit but the photographer that makes the greatest pictures.

Everyone should take a leaf from your book, as far as I'm concerned.

July 26, 2008 12:34 PM  
Anonymous XposurePro said...

Very refreshing. I haven't ventured out at night with my camera for a long time .. I think I'm due to go play around.

October 28, 2008 1:05 PM  
Blogger Jörg said...

Great. Even after so many years your work is still an inspiration. Can't wait to go out tonite..

January 27, 2014 10:59 AM  

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