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Paint a Night Backdrop

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Preparations
Paint a Night Backdrop

The full moon and the distant lights of Harrisburg provide ample illumination for a night photograph. The exposure time for this image is less than 1/2 a second. There is far more color and detail in this scene than you might expect.

®2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

There's more to a night scene than just black paint. While colors may be greatly muted after dark, natural and man-made light sources can create amazing pools of light and detail, shadows, silhouettes and more.

A Little Research and Inspiration

As with daytime scenes, it's a good idea to head out and take some pictures and notes before you start painting your backdrop. Nighttime photography can be more challenging, but today's digital cameras make it much easier. You may find you have to under-expose your photos to prevent them from being too light. A tripod is definitely a must if you want to capture details or try a longer timed exposure.

In urban and industrial areas where life goes on around the clock, you may find an abundance of light. This can be recreated on a backdrop with paint, photomurals, miniature bulbs or LEDs or a combination of all three.

In more rural areas, the moon may be the only major source of light available. On a clear night with a full moon, that can be more than enough to reveal many details about the terrain around you. Of course cloudy or new-moon nights offer a completely different view.

Now that your eyes have adjusted, night offers a whole new world of modeling possibilities and charm. When it comes to building the canvas for your backdrop and painting basics, you can refer to the general tips provided for daylight scenes. Then choose a prototype and get ready to begin painting your night sky.

Materials and Tools

Select your paints and colors and have everything ready to go before you start. You can use acrylic or oil based paints, but for best results be consistent. Oils have a reputation for being easier to blend and have a much longer drying time. Artists acrylics are actually quite easy to work with and the shorter drying time allows you to move on to the next steps quickly. These paints thin and clean up with water.

Color is a matter of choice. The night backdrops you see here were painted with navy blue, black, and gray acrylics. A small amount of white and yellow were used in some of the details. All paints were flat.

You can apply the sky paint with a brush or roller. Small 2 inch rollers can be found at hardware and craft stores and work well for applying and blending the sky colors. Have an assortment of brushes on hand for the project. Use larger brushes to blend colors in broad strokes while painting the sky.

You'll also want a cup of clean water or thinner on hand, paper towels and a palette for mixing paints. Tape off or cover any parts of the layout or room that require protection from accidental paint splatters.

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