Light painting (also called light drawing) dates back to 1889 when Étienne-Jules Marey and Georges Demeny traced human motion in the photograph titled “Pathological Walk From in Front”. The technique was used later by Frank and Lillian Gilbreth to track the motion of manufacturing and clerical workers. In 1935 Man Ray, was the first ” art photographer” to use the technique.
In 1949 Gjon Mili, introduced Pablo Picasso to his photographs of ice skaters with lights attached to their skates. The technique involved the combination of flash photography with a long exposure. This gave sharpness to the figure at the same time as recording the drawn out light trail. Immediately Picasso started making images in the air with a small flashlight in a dark room. This series of photos became known as Picasso’s “light drawings.” Of these photos, the most celebrated and famous is known as “Picasso draws a Centaur”
This artform enjoyed a surge in popularity in the 21st century, partly due to the increasing availability of dSLR cameras, advances in portable light sources such as LEDs, and also in part due to the advent of media sharing websites by which practitioners can exchange images and ideas.
Source – Wikipedia
- Mode – Manual
- Exposure – Forget the light meter – we are going to work out the exposure by trial and error. We will take a test shot then adjust the settings until we get the exposure we want. Believe me this is not as hard as it sounds and certainly easier than the complicated maths of trying to calculate it.
- ISO – lowest possible around 100 (unless doing stars), remember to turn off automatic ISO compensation
- Format – RAW if possible
- Long exposure – 5 seconds is too short – 30 seconds may suffice / for most shots we will use “bulb” and you will have to time the exposure on your wrist watch.
- Aperture – Trial and Error – Adjust aperture to get good exposure. We will start with an open to a mid range shutter f4.5 – f8 and adjust it according to the light.
- Shutter release – time delay / cable / remote control
- Tripod – sturdy – can tolerate a bit of wind if left alone.
- Focus – pre focus – then switch to manual (stop camera hunting for a focus)
- Flash – off (unless required, may use 2nd Curtain Flash in some effects)
The Room / environment
- Very Dark
- Black backdrop if possible
- Wear dark clothing
- May need a head torch to adjust settings etc.
The light source
- Modifier – wand / cellophane / plastic drink container etc
- Flash – on camera / off camera / no flash
- Ambient lighting – try to keep this to a minimum
At the End
- Remember to return your camera to usual settings
Light Painting Tasks
Concept – Light writing – write your name with yourself holding the torch. This technique was used by Pablo Picasso (see above).
My turn. I chose a broader light source to give a fountain pen look to the light painting. You are right I forgot to put myself in the picture.
Technique 1 (Off Camera Flash):
You need a dark room with dark background. Take a test image. A portrait of yourself with off camera flash to one side. Adjust the aperture and strength of flash until you have a good exposure of yourself without any background features. If there is too many background features (too much ambient light) move the flash more to the side or select a smaller aperture (and increase the strength of the flash to compensate). It is always easier if you have a black backdrop. Set up the camera on a tripod with basic settings as described above. Work out where you will stand and frame the photo leaving enough room for your light writing. Shine the torch on yourself and have an assistant focus the camera, then switch into manual focus. Use Bulb setting. Open the shutter. Facing the camera write your name. Do not try to write mirror image letters. We will invert the image in post production so the writing comes out the right way around. You don’t want to obscure your writing by standing in the same space – you need to end up to one side or the other. At the end of the writing get an assistant to manually fire the flash to capture your image. Close the shutter. Check to see that the image is satisfactory. Repeat until you are happy with the result.
Technique 2 (On camera Flash):
Alternative to Manual Flash – use the on camera flash with rear curtain setting. You will have to be careful that the flash does not light up the background. It works well outdoors or with a black backdrop. You can use camera remote control to start the shoot. If you have a 30 second exposure you will have to work quick to get your writing done before the flash goes off. Alternatively use bulb setting and have your assistant close the shutter at the end of writing to trigger the flash.
Reviewer comments: You’ve covered just about everything, considering that there are so many possibilities it would be almost impossible to provide an exhaustive list. I would include these hints:
- Turn off lens stabiliser.
- For cameras where the selection is possible: Try using the Kelvin settings to deepen the colour effect: Low Kelvin number to enhance blues, greens; High Kelvin number to enhance yellows, reds.
- Try zooming during an exposure.
- Everything is experimental, so anything goes
Concept – Product photograph – enhance a still life with a scroll done with light painting. My picture of the Coffee grinder below was inspired by the Hennessey liquid light advertisement (above).
You need a dark room with dark background and wear dark clothing. Set up the still life. I lit my subject with a desk lamp on one side and a reflector opposite. Alternatively you can set up off camera flash. Set up the camera on a tripod. Prefocus on the image and slip the camera into manual focus. Using the basic light painting settings (above) take a test image. The subject should be well lit with a dark background. Adjust the aperture and strength of side light/flash until you have a good exposure without any background features. If there are too many background features (too much ambient light) move the flash more to the side or select a smaller aperture (and increase the strength of the flash to compensate). The quality of the light will be softened if you shine the torch through a semi transparent object, for instance a plastic container or folded paper. Open the shutter. Standing behind the still life and facing the camera draw the shape of the scroll in the space around the object. At the end of the writing, step aside and manually fire the flash to light the subject. Close the shutter. Check to see that the image is satisfactory. Repeat until you are happy with the result.
Concept – Night photograph of a Monument – Bring the monument to life by painting the surfaces with a torch. You could use the same technique to paint a flower with different colours, an Arum Lilly for instance.
You need a suitable monument and you want a dark night and to wear dark clothing. Set up the camera on a tripod and compose your photograph. Shine a light on the subject and pre-focus, then slip the camera into manual focus. Using the basic light painting settings (above) take a test image. You will want to get a correct exposure for the sky, or perhaps the background. Although the background will be correctly exposed, the subject will appear dark or as a silhouette. Take a test shot. Remember we want to use a long shutter time. In the bulb setting you may have to time it with your wrist watch. You may wish to adjust the aperture until you have the desired exposure. Once you are happy with the exposure, open the shutter. You can walk up to the monument and shine the light on to the walls / surfaces. Keep the light moving so that the painting is even. You may want to go over areas that you wish to highlight. You may want to use different colours. To avoid bright flashes, be careful to never shine the torch toward the camera. Close the shutter. Check to see that the image is satisfactory. Repeat until you are happy with the result.
Concept – Light sphere – spin a torch to make a sphere. Of course my sphere is not as tight as those by Darren Smith.
This is often done outdoors, but can be done inside. It needs to be very dark. You need to set the focus and exposure before you take the shot. Put the camera on a sturdy tripod and frame your shot. Perhaps shine a torch on the scene (where you plan to stand) to help the camera find a focal point, then switch into manual focus. Use Bulb setting and time the shot with your wrist watch. Take a test image. Adjust the exposure time or aperture to get a good exposure for the night landscape. Once you are ready, stand in the place where you want to create the sphere. You need a small LED totch which you will attach securely to a short length of cord. Turn on the torch. Spin the torch in a a vertical circle. Keep the rotation even. Once the torch is spinning have an assistant open the shutter. Slowly rotate the axis of the circle through 180 degrees, by taking small steps on the same spot. Be mindful that you do not want to vary the centre of your arc so that the sphere has an even and consistent shape. When you have completed 180 degrees (perhaps a little further to prevent gaps in the sphere), quickly grab the torch while it is pointing away from the camera, cover the end and switch it off. Then walk out of the picture and wait until the camera has completed it’s exposure. Close the shutter. Check to see that the image is satisfactory. Repeat until you are happy with the result.
Reviewer comments Eric Budworth – Hi James, Sounds fine only other thing to mention is switch off image stabilisation when camera is on the tripod. If people are using a torch as a light source for trying to create Light Balls a bare bulb or LED is best if it’s possible.
Image Source: http://photodoto.com/light-painting-tutorials/
Concept –portrait enhancement – use a small LED torch to outline the figure of a partially lit person. Try adding features like wings or horns.
You need a dark room with dark background. Your subject must hold a pose for around 2 minutes without moving. Take a test image. The subject must be hardly discernable at all. Adjust the aperture until you have a low key exposure without any background features. If there is too many background features select a smaller aperture. It is always easier if you have a black backdrop. Set up the camera on a tripod. Place the subject in the frame and leave enough room for your light writing. Shine the torch on your subject and have an assistant focus the camera, then switch into manual focus. Use Bulb setting. Open the shutter. Standing behind the subject and facing the camera start to trace around the outline of the subject. You may need to exaggerate features slightly to give a pleasing result. Close the shutter. Check to see that the image is satisfactory. Repeat until you are happy with the result.
Concept – Lightsabre. With a wand draw a three dimensional shape. Experiment with different patterns and abstract designs.
Well this is the basic idea.
At Carrieton, I thought I was a real Jedi Knight making this complicated design.
I prefer this design was done by David Atchinson with a home made lightsabre being swung up and down as he moved slowly forward.
You can build a light Sabre by sticking a plastic tube, or a rolled paper tube on the end of a torch. A stopper on the end with tin foil will prevent dispersal of light from the end. David drilled holes in his plastic tube to give texture to the arc of light.
It is always easier if you have a black clothing and a black backdrop. Set up the camera on a tripod with the basic light painting settings as above. Work out where you will stand and frame the photo leaving enough room for your light writing. Shine the torch on yourself and have an assistant focus the camera, then switch into manual focus. Use Bulb setting. Open the shutter. Facing the camera swing the sabre to make your design. Use slow even sweeps. Remember that you can create 3 dimensional shapes. Close the shutter. Check to see that the image is satisfactory. Repeat until you are happy with the result. Adjust settings if you need to correct for aperture or focus.
Here is a gallery of some of the images submitted from this workshop.