Light Painting Physiograms





Introduction: Light Painting Physiograms

About: I'm an engineering student who loves to disassemble and create things, especially electronics. I also love to do projects that are easy for someone on a college budget to accomplish, though hopefully that wi...

This is another one of my favorite light painting techniques. It is very simple, but creates incredible photos, and if you desire it wouldn't be too difficult to think up ways of making more complex photos.

Physiogram's are rather old actually, dating back to the 19th century, and have become rather lost in time, so here is how I created these interesting photographs.

Step 1: Setting Up the Equipment

First you have to gather the supplies, which shouldn't take very long. The main supplies consist of a flashlight (the smaller the beam of light the better, single LED preferable) and a long piece of string. Tie one of the ends to the flashlight and you are almost in business.

Note: If you're like me you have a bunch of really small single led's lying around. These do not have enough weight by themselves to create smooth physiograms, and therefore need to be tied down with something a little heavier. Anything will work, but make sure you can secure it safely so you don't have objects falling on your camera lens.

Now tie the other end of the string to something attached to the ceiling, hanging down anywhere from 1 to 2 meters from the ceiling (this will be adjusted later). I found my ceiling fan to be perfect for this.

Step 2: Place Your Camera and Adjust Your Frame

Take your camera (which must have manual controls) and place it directly under the led light facing up. This is where you want everything tied down tightly, if something falls on your lens it could cause some serious damage. Having a remote trigger would also help but isn't necessary.

Take the led (turned on, other lights off) and swing it in the air, in a circular motion. Doing this during a long exposure (at least 15 seconds, a camera on bulb mode if preferable) will create the physiogram. Make sure to take a couple test shots, adjusting either the length of the string or the zoom on your lens as necessary to make sure the physiogram fills the whole frame.

Experiment with different throwing patterns, making the path more line-like or more circle-like, and see what you like. There are also many people who experiment with moving the camera under the moving lights, and multiple physiograms on top of each other. The possibilities are almost endless.

Step 3: Editing the Photo

Because the area you are working in isn't 100% dark (it wouldn't be anyway, plus the light from the led), you will need to (if you want to) edit the background to be completely black. This will improve how the photo looks drastically. If the photo was well taken to begin with this step will be very easy.

This step requires an image editor, I use photoshop and this is what I will describe, I'm sure it can also be done in GIMP too. Use the photoshop magic wand tool to select the actual physiogram. You may have to mess with the tolerance to get the picture right, but this is all you should have to do. Once you have selected the physiogram you must invert the selection so everything but the physiogram is selected.

Once you have done this you must delete everything but the physiogram, and then place it over a black background. Sometimes messing with brightness and contrast before using the magic wand tool can help.

Step 4: Done!

You have learned how to create a physiogram!

Now that you have that knowledge, you can use it in even more advance long exposure/light painting projects, such as making a light painting animation.

Or you can continue to experiment in the world of physiograms, there is much more than can be done with this art, I have only just scratched the surface with my photos.

Thank you for viewing this and comment if you have any questions. Also if you enjoyed it and you think someone else you know might then please find it in your kind hearts to spread this around, I want to see an inrush of physiograms on flickr.

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    I never thought of this. It looks really cool. Thanks for sharing :o)

    can that be done with a mobile camera?

    1 reply

    If by mobile camera you mean a point and shoot camera, then yes it is possible, but the camera must support manual shooting in one way or another. You need be able to choose your shutter length and its very important, but not necessary, to have a bulb mode. If you have a canon point and shoot you can use the chdk to gain these abilities

    If by mobile camera you mean a camera that is on a mobile phone then almost definitely not, at least with the stock camera app. If you can find apps that let you take "long exposures" then they will work.

    I'm confused. Why wouldn't "swing[ing] it in the air, in a circular motion" just make a plain circle?

    1 reply

    You are correct in your thinking, but it would need to be a perfect circle around the radius, which is very very unlikely. I used the word circular because its more circular than linear, though perhaps a better term would have been "parabolic" motion.

    great work!!!!!!! love it


    Actually, you really would love Luminosity Masking. Surgically precise selections impossible to make by any other means.

    I did exactly this many many years ago as a teenager with a Pentax and Tri-X film.. I made the image into Christmas cards in my darkroom. Can't do this now with my digital camera because the shutter won't open for long, but I could dig up my old Pentax.

    1 reply

    I see how these could be a pretty cool christmas card, though imagine it with a light that switched between red and green colors, that would be cool.

    I really love the unedited picture much, much more! In the edited version, it looks like you just drew it in Illustrator, whereas the original one has this eerie, magical atmosphere. Perhaps it also has to do with the way you edited the picture. Never use the magic wand for this kind of stuff! Better to play with hue/saturation and brightness/contrast to get a more natural result. If necessary, use the stamp tool to remove things like the smoke detector light. This preserves that subtle glow around the light. Or, you can think of using a background that you like to see, like hanging the light from a tree outside. Well done and great idea otherwise!

    Very nice example one of the best I have seen done with such a simple construction. I have been researching in this area for over 50 years and seen many related technologies including harmonograms, pendulumgrams etc. I am even interested in the etymology of the terms used. Lately I have been doing them in software.Instructables could do a competition in this area alone.

    1 reply

    Harmonographs are absolutely fantastic, I've been looking towards creating a pen and paper machine, but I would need plenty of free time to do so. I also enjoy looking at a harmonograph machine thats just as much art as what it makes, incredible what hobbyists can accomplish.

    Thanks for this Instructable. Very simple, but very good results posible.
    You can make more complex patterns by tying a shorter piece of string anywhere along the original bit, and tying the other end to a point on the ceiling about 30cm away from the suspension point. The motion of the weight will now be more irregular. Practise with even more bits of string, and different distances.

    1 reply

    Oh yeah the possibilities are almost unlimited, I was thinking about making a programmable rgb led to do physiograms with, thought that would be a cool inclusion.

    Also, I would suggest looking into this website: I think that what they did with these would interest you very much, I found it amazing the quality of these physiograms.