Light Painting

March 3, 2010

This is my one and only attempt at Light Painting. It was a technique I first saw on flickr, probably by accident, and decided one evening to replicate. It has a strange sort of painterly feel to it that appeals to me and I really must try and do a few more.

What is Light Painting? Of coarse all photography can be described as such, especially in the early years (photography does mean light drawing after all), but that’s not what I mean. I am talking here about a very particular definition of the term.

If you search Light Painting in flickr you’ll get a collection of images that at first seem quite random, but mostly fit into two broad categories (these images are from other flickr users, click on them to go to the flickr page):

a) Generally abstract images made purely from light trails, like those from a sparkler, and

b) images with conventional subjects, generally still lifes.

To understand what these two  images have in common, here is a sort of hybrid one, which contains both elements and shows how still life light painting gets its strange and slightly unreal feel.

As the name suggests it’s all in the lighting. The setup is simple: a camera with the capability of doing long exposures, a steady tripod, a room that can be completely darkened and a small movable light source.

Back in Oxford Crafthole had a regular D&D evening which left me at a loose end every Thursday night. On one such Thursday, being in an experimental mood I finally got round to having a play with this technique. I used a bicycle light for my light source and our large low map chest (oh how I MISS our home) to set everything up on. I switched off every light, set my camera to a five or ten second exposure for the first image, and a fifteen or twenty second exposure for the larger one below. With my fingers covering most of the light to control the amount getting out I slowly moved the light over the objects, really painting the scene on to the camera sensor. I did this a few times and chose the best. The effect is quite arresting I think, and SO satisfying to do.

Incidentally, I did try and paint this one with actual paint, but it looks completely WRONG: you don’t take a painting for granted in quite the way you do a photograph and the absence of a knowable light source just makes it look like it’s being made up as it goes along. ‘Unnatural’ looks mysterious and interesting in a photograph but amateurish and sloppy in a painting. Unless you’re a genius.


3 Responses to “Light Painting”

  1. Crafthole said

    One day we SHALLe have the map chest and bureaus out of storage at the FLEETe and in a place of our own where we can be about our own entertainments and hobbies without impediment ;-)

  2. Vic said

    Love this post. And the images. Thanks for the illuminating information.

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