Saturday, 17 December 2011

Experimental Photography: Painting with Light

Painting with light photographs are extremely effective images, which are very easy to produce. The basic principle to producing a painting with light image is to get hold of a light source e.g. a torch. Photographers will then use this light source to either feature in the photograph, to paint light trails, or, to light the subject within the photograph, where it is not seen in the image itself. By experimenting with different lights, subjects, colours of lights, and the camera's aperture size and shutter speed, you can create some impressive photographs that look modern and arty. This technique of photography can take a while to master, but sometimes, photographs that you think went wrong, can produce some very striking results. This is why I enjoy the painting with light process so much. 

You need to be able to control the shutter speed and aperture size of your camera when using this technique, so if you don’t have a Digital SLR camera, or the ability to use manual mode on your compact camera, then the `Night Mode` setting on your camera would probably be your best opinion for producing painting with light images.

Here are five simple steps for you to follow if you want to take your very own painting with light image:

1. The basic principle to producing painting with light images is to have a light source e.g. a torch. If you are going to paint with the light source itself, where it is moving within the photograph, it is very important to set the camera up on a tripod, to keep it still. The other alternative would be to keep the light source still and to move the camera.  

2. Set the camera to the shutter speed control mode, `Tv` mode if you have a Canon. This will allow you to control the time that the shutter remains open for. Set the shutter speed to, let’s say, ten seconds; this will allow you to get a good amount of movement from your light source. The aperture will probably set itself to f-stop 8.

3. Next, if you are painting onto a subject, shine the light onto it, and using manual focus, focus it into the shot. If you are painting with the light source itself, then focus the place where you are going to stand.

4. When you are ready, set the camera to timer so you have time to get into place.

5. Now, when you press the shutter release button, you will be able to get into position and when the shutter opens, you can start painting with light by moving the light source. 

When the shutter closes and you look at your image, you will be able to see the light trail that you have drawn. This is because all the time the shutter was open, the camera's sensor was picking up all the movement of your light source, causing this trail of light that you can see in your image. You can experiment a lot with this technique to produce some outstanding images. An easy place to start would be to draw simple shapes, like stars and swirls with your light source. You can then try outlining objects to give them a bold light trail outline. This would also allow for a very atmospheric glow from the object itself. 

Here are some of my photographs I have produced using this painting with light technique:

Click on the images to enlarge them.

Fire Spin
I was inspired to take this image after studying the photograph titled `Spider on the Track` taken by Brent Pearson. The equipment I used to create this image included my tripod, a household whisk, some chain, some steel wool, and a lighter. The basic principle to creating this image is to attach some chain, around 34 inches long, to the handle of the whisk. Then, get a medium sized handful of steel wool and stretch it out, being careful not to rip it apart. You stretch it out to allow more oxygen to come into contact with a larger surface area of the wool when you are burning it later. Once you have stretched it out, place the steel wool inside your whisk, spreading it out inside the whisk cavity. Now, go to somewhere that isn’t going to be a fire hazard, e.g. a wet field. For my photograph, I stood on a cattle trough, which was situated in a field. It was raining whilst I took this photograph, so there was no chance for a fire to occur. As my steel wool didn’t spark for very long in my pervious tests, I used a shutter speed of 10 seconds and an f-stop of 5.6 for this image. I set up my camera on the tripod and got my assistant to stand on top of the trough, shining the light on herself, whilst I focused her into the frame. I then put the camera on a ten second timer and got into position. Just before the ten seconds were up, I used the lighter to get the steel wool smouldering, as it only creates the sparks when you spin it quickly. Once my assistant told me the shutter had been released, I began to spin the chain which ignited the steel wool causing it to spark. I continued spinning it until I was told the shutter had closed. The outcome of this technique is extremely impressive, and one that I would definitely like to experiment with in the future. 

Light Graffiti
I took this photograph in an empty barn, as I wanted to create a large landscape image, something that I wouldn't have been able to do in a studio. To create this image, I set my camera up on a tripod and set it to the `Tv` setting, the shutter speed priority setting. This would therefore enable me to control how long the shutter was open for. For this image, a shutter speed of 25 seconds was used. This gave my assistant plenty of time to paint with the light source. An f-stop of around 4 would have been used with this shutter speed. After setting the shutter speed and aperture up, I got my assistant to shine the torch on himself so I could focus him into the photograph. After using manual focus to focus the shot, I put my camera on timer, and waited for the shutter to be released before telling my assistant to start painting this abstract pattern as soon as the shutter opened. The randomness of the light trails has created a really abstract photograph. 

Shining the Light onto Myself 
I used the other painting with light technique here, creating the illusion of six versions of me. By shining the light onto myself from my stomach up, for about four seconds in each stage, and then switching it off and moving to my next position, I was able to produce a photograph where it appears that there are six of me. I used a shutter speed of 30 seconds for this photograph as it was needed for the camera to have time to capture each of my positions. An f-stop of 4 was used to allow as much light into the lens as possible. With the positioning of my characters, the under lighting, and the silhouetted trees, the overall feel to this image is a spooky one. The way in which the character nearest the camera is crouching, with his hand on the floor, is quite scary as you can’t see him at first, until you spot his hand, as his face is white due to it being over exposed to the bright light. I also like the aeroplane that has created a red light trail in the sky, located in the top left third of the image. It’s a nice feature to the photograph, even though it was unplanned. 

Light Laser
I took this painting with light image in a barn; like my other image that was taken in a barn, I needed a large amount of space to work with. The theme to this image is me, on the far right of the image, firing a light trail `laser beam` at my friend, who is positioned on the far left of the image. Because of the complexness of this image, it took me quite a few times to get it right. The large amount of movement meant that I needed a long shutter speed of 30 seconds and an f-stop of 4. First of all, I got my friend to stand where I am standing in the image, so I could focus the photograph. I must mention that the camera was set-up on a tripod, to keep it perfectly still, and to stop any motion blur. I set the camera to a ten second timer to allow us both plenty of time to get into our positions. Once I heard the shutter being released, I shone the torch on myself for about four seconds, I then switched it off and placed it in front of my hand where the `laser beam` is coming out of, before turning it back on again. I then began to move forward, moving the torch in a circular motion. As I got close to the end position of the photograph, I told my friend to come into the frame and stand in her position; whilst she got into her pose, I turned the torch off to avoid any motion blur. When she was ready, I shone the torch on her for four seconds, like I did with myself at the beginning of the image; I then turned the torch off. I was really impressed with the image when I saw it and was really happy with the natural exposure level. I like the way the barn floor has been lit in certain areas, creating the effect that it is glowing. This photograph is a great example of how the simple technique of painting with light can be experimented with and taken to a new level, in order to produce a stunning image.

Top Tip: 
`When taking photographs using the painting with light technique, don't be afraid to experiment! This is why this post is titled `Experimental Photography`, because you need to experiment in order to create your own unique photographs.
A good starting point is to move your light source in all different directions and to draw different patterns when the shutter is released; you are sure to end up with an impressive abstract painting with light photograph by doing this.`