Painting With Light – Assignment Two

Glow Sticks


Following my reflections you will find the six individual photos that I selected, and also the PDF contact sheets for the full set of photos, and others which I made during the evaluation process. There will also be a PDF that contains all of the blog posts relating to Image the Portrait.


This assignment has been one that has developed for me over the period of the Image the Portrait coursework. When watching Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor I realised the opportunity for exploring how lighting effects the skin, hair, clothes and make up. The dancing and some of the holds inspired me to develop a vision for the assignment. I have made two posts about my original plans, which can be seen here, and here.

Due to anxiety and paranoia I am socially isolated and rarely meet up with people, but as I had a planned holiday with friends, I asked if they would help me with the assignment. Having not visited them before I had no idea of the space that would be available, and when I got there I soon realised that I was not going to be able to follow my original plan.  I wanted to be able to follow the brief, and create a snoot so fine that I would be able to use the lighting like a laser so that I could paint a crown, a wedding ring, and light up parts of clothing very specifically. However, I just couldn’t create a snoot this narrow. Light is both quanta (packets of particles – Photons) and a wave (electro-magnetic), that spreads out rapidly from its source (wave particle duality). The light from my snoot acted accordingly and covered a larger area than I wanted it to. Lasers work differently and would have been effective, but I did not have access to any lasers.

I had to develop another idea. After considering my options and decided that I would use glow sticks in order to create the effect of moving narrow strips of light to create my portraits. This came with its own challenges. The room I was shooting in had light coming in through the curtains, I had no black background to hide the kitchen behind Nick, and it took a while to get the aperture and shutter speed to get the correct exposure for my models face, and the moving glow sticks.

It has certainly been a positive experience of having to think outside of the box, develop another plan, and how to get the most out of ISO, shutter speed and aperture in order to create the visual effect that I wanted. The creative and technical process was thoroughly enjoyable. I made use of a tripod (which I don’t do often enough), learned how to connect my camera to my phone so that I had remote shutter and instant view, and have now learned how to adjust my print output so that it increases the light level to that of my screen.

After evaluating and developing the photos, I went through a further selection process to arrive at the final six that I am using for the assignment. My initial print run highlighted that my prints were darker than the on-screen photos, so I had to make further developments in Lightroom to increase exposure and saturation, whilst decreasing the background very carefully with the adjustment brush. Another print run helped me to spot some places where I had been a touch careless with the adjustment brush, and where I needed to make further use of it. I increased some of the highlights with the adjustment brush and then the dodge tool in Photoshop. This has taken longer than anticipated because I run out of black ink and had to oder some more.

It has not been easy to decide how to mount the photos, which layout, which background etc. I have tried a plain white background which looks too stark, a plain black background, a white background sitting on a further layer of black, and with glow sticks around the edge.

After due consideration I have settled for the black background. The glow sticks looked good, however, for this to have worked I would have need to cut the glow sticks down to size  so that they framed the photo. I tried to cut them and the result was coloured dye leaking out of the sticks. The test photos of the differing gallery layouts can be seen below. Choosing the layout of the photos was difficult, and I tried several arrangements. The reason that I made the choice for the final piece of work was due to the way that the light on the centre edge of the photos almost flows from one image to the next.

The process of photographing the gallery was challenging, and I felt frustrated at times. Overhead lighting reflected off of the photos, side lighting from the open curtains had a similar effect, and the mount was slightly twisted which altered how the light could be captured. In the end I hung a dark curtain behind the camera, so that the wallpaper didn’t reflect onto the images, closed the curtains used a long exposure, and corrected the twist of the mount.

Is the result perfect? – No, far from it. There is too much background light which wasn’t possible to eradicate completely. I have had to make extensive use of the adjustment brush to dodge and burn areas, and I’ve increase the saturation quite a lot to enhance the light from the glow sticks. However, I am pleased with the effects, and particularly like the movement of the light across the model and the frame. This was created by throwing the light sticks at my model, towards him, around him, and from the sofa behind him.

I do not have the opportunity to repeat this assignment, as I am back home and will not have anyone available to model for me for sometime now. However, given the chance I would do a couple of things differently (a black backdrop, make use of blackout curtains, different location, combine torch and snoot for more side lighting, develop a finer snoot, paint light closer to the model). This is an exercise that I will come back to when I have the right equipment to complete it in the manner that I had originally planned.


The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica; 2018; Wave-Particle Duality; Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc; Online AT: (accessed on 22/01/2018)

Richard Keys; 2017; Initial Thoughts For Painting With Light – The Marriage Of The Mikado Phantom; Online AT: (accessed on 22/01/2017)

Richard Keys; 2017; Exploration Of Lighting, Skin Tone, Skin Colour, Make Up And Costume; Online AT: (accessed on 22/01/2018)

Richard Keys; 2017; Assignment Two – The Original Vision; Online AT: (accessed on 22/02/2017)

Final six photos

Painting With Light (3 of 6)Painting With Light (5 of 6)

Painting With Light (2 of 6)Painting With Light (1 of 6)

Painting With Light (6 of 6)Painting With Light (1 of 1)

PDF Contact Sheets

Full : First Cut : Second Cut : Third Cut : Fourth Cut : Final

Image the Portrait Blog Links

Gallery Layout Practice


With special thanks to Nick, and also to The Saltburn Framing Company who provided me with a selection of black and white mounts free of charge.


23 Replies to “Painting With Light – Assignment Two”

  1. A really interesting and informative post with exciting results. I always enjoy your accounts of your learning process and once again you have generously shared your techniques as well as giving some refreshment about physics!

    I love the photographs. I would happily see these on a gallery wall. As you rightly identify the final six shots work well together mounted in the form of a framed grid. At the same time each portrait bears examination in its own right, with the tossing of light sticks producing several different results. Shots 1,3 and 6 have a celebrity feel, with Nick as the celebrity. The remaining shots are more mysterious. Have you converted any to monochrome to see what effect that has?
    Thanks you for sharing these images and the learning. Many congratulations, as ever.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What an imaginative use of glow sticks – the lighting is both vibrant and subtle on the subject’s face. Mounting the six in a windowpane-like grid is very successful as it balances the figurative and the abstract. It might not have been how you intended it at the outset, and have taken more thinking on your feet to make it but it’s a result that I’d certainly put on my wall. I’m envious.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What a nice comment sandy. Thank you. The metaphor is quite interesting here. Nick is an incredibly busy person with lots of different activities. His stillness combined with the movement and magic of the light is a battle that many can relate too.


  3. Hi Richard. Finally the much-awaited assignment. It was really interesting to read your thought process from the beginning and you have been planning and researching about this for a long time now. I have enjoyed all your earlier posts where you experimented with lights, skin color, tones, etc. I must congratulate you on the final result as it is absolutely stupendous. It does not reflect the obstacles and change of plans that you had to face last minute. it looks solid and well executed. I love the effect of Nick being almost blanketed in the light of the glow sticks and it is obvious that it is a well planned and thoroughly executed assignment. The learning curve that you have followed is the most informative and I enjoyed reading it and going through it as much as the final results.
    The six grid and the black mount both work superbly as the black mount’s kind of give a seamless overlapping of one image to the next and make it all fit together as a beautiful series. Well done Richard. This was one of my most awaited assignments from you. Your hard work and time have finally achieved great results. You must be proud of yourself. Brilliant work. What a pleasure to go through it. Cheers!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Archna. I appreciate your feedback with regards to the light stick frames, although it was my preferred framing option I’m glad it wasn’t possible to complete neatly. They would have taken away from the flow of the photos. And yes, I am proud of the work and the results.


  4. Really interesting to read your process and I think your choice of the glow sticks was just right. A lovely mysterious and glowing effect – almost ethereal.
    I’m wondering how presentation in a light-box might work.

    Liked by 1 person

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