HOW THIS PHOTO WAS DONE
The first thing you should know is that this is a single image, not a composite of several images.
Like many things, the technique is fairly simple, but the implementation takes a little practice.
This started with some great “models” (read: friends of mine from church) who were up for a little fun. We had been experimenting with some sparklers and some light writing a few nights earlier, in preparation for a wedding I had coming up where the bride and groom wanted to use sparklers; so they already knew the drill and what the results might look like. (See those practice photos at this link: http://gardenislandphotography.com/scenic-galleries/facebook-photos/) See the wedding photo at the same link.
We also had the good fortune to have a full moon, which helped illuminate the background.
I used four off camera Canon Speedlite flashes to illuminate the subjects; but you can also do this with on camera flash.
I used (all Canon) a 5D MkII camera with a 24-70 f2.8 lens and a 600EX-RT flash to direct the off camera flashes. This can be done with any camera with a “bulb” setting and a flash.
Here is how it was done:
First, I set my camera on a tripod. I wanted to use the “bulb” setting, but I could not stay with the camera to keep the button depressed for the duration of the exposure. I could have used another person to do that, but with a long exposure, there would inevitably be some camera shake with the human touch. So, I used a remote trigger (the cheap kind with a cord) to trigger the camera. This allowed me to get in the picture. (I’m the guy with the camera – shocking, I know.)
The next step was to determine the right amount of light to throw at the subjects. With manual flash, the image is only affected by the f-stop and the ISO; the amount of time the shutter is open only affects the ambient light. So we experimented with flash power ISO and f-stops till we had a nice exposure on the subjects. I had the models practice their poses while we did those shots, so we could fine tune both at once.
At the same time, I played around with how long to keep the shutter open to get the palm trees in the background to show up without being too bright. The full moon helped a lot. (The exposure wound up at ISO 100, f 11 at 84 seconds.)
Once those settings were determined, I started the shots.
I set the camera on the ten second timer shutter release. Using the remote switch, sliding it into the “stay open till I tell you” position, I depressed the shutter button. Then I grabbed my “prop” camera and ran and took my spot with the others who were already in position. At ten seconds, the camera shutter kicked open, the flash went off, and we were all exposed to the sensor. At that point the camera quit “seeing” any of us, because, for all intents and purposes, we had no light on us.
I had them all stay still so that the camera would not record ambient light through them. I had to move, so in post-production, I had to fix the landscape that showed (slightly) through my body with the long exposure.
While the models remained in place, I took my small Maglite and, covering the face of it for the movements I did not want the camera to “see”, I wrote the words Garden Island Photography in the air. After the correct amount of time passed to properly expose the background, I went and closed the shutter. We only did four shots.
Once I determined the best shot, I turned it around, because the writing was backwards to the camera, since I was facing it as I wrote.
I filled in a little density on my body where the background showed through, made a few minor adjustments on the writing itself, and a little dodging and burning to bring some things into balance, and there we have it.
If you want to try this in a very simple manner with your own equipment, here is what I suggest:
Set your camera on a tripod. In manual mode, set your ISO at 100, your aperture at f11 and your shutter speed at “B” or “Bulb”. Let your camera determine the flash exposure.
Get yourself or your subject(s) posed. Have a friend press the shutter button and hold it down. The flash should go off when the shutter button is first pressed. After the flash goes off, grab a flashlight (I used a small Maglight with that f stop) and write whatever you want to see. Have your friend remove their finger from the shutter button. See what you get. If you want more ambient light, have the shutter button held sown longer.