What you’ll need for light painting a car:
- A camera
- A tripod
- Adobe Photoshop
On Location – set up
So you’ve picked a spot for a shoot as the sun sets, and you’d like to try to get a light painting effect without any lights aside from the sun. First, make sure the spot you pick is devoid of “bad” light. Street lamps, light from other headlights, etc. You just want the car nicely lit by the sun.
Next, once you’ve got the car set up, fire off a well-exposed shot. Make sure you’re happy, because once the sun goes down, there are no do-overs. As always, take a few exposures and rotate your polarizer.
Once the sun sets, you’ll want to shoot a background plate. Remember NOT to move the tripod from its spot. Try a few different exposures – here I’ve got the sun still lighting the sky a bit, but you can wait. As long as you’ve got enough light to bring out background details, you’ll be fine.
You can also lower the exposure to make the image darker, but there is a balance. To dark, and you’ll lose all the details.
You really only need 2-3 exposures, so let’s open them up in Photoshop.
Make your universal edits in Camera Raw, then drag both your images into one canvas.
Put the bright image on top and mask it. Then paint in the lit car from your sun light shot, making sure to bring out the lower half of the car (always darker). Use the airbrush tool to blend in the bright car and dark background. You don’t want it to feel like there is a giant spotlight on the car.
Once you have both layers how you like, group them, copy the group, and rasterize it into a new layer. From here you can add your layer effects until the shot is how you’d like it to be.
So no fancy lights. Nothing expensive here at all. Just you, the sun, a car, and a little patience.
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