Introduction: Painting With Light and Other Things

Large subjects inside large buildings are a photographic challenge.  Churches make a good example.  If someone were to simply fire off a home use camera, everything beyond about five pews would be very dark.  This photo was made by painting with light.  It also involved three separate exposures on one piece of film.

Step 1: Equipment

At the time my camera was a 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inch square format Yashica D twin lens reflex camera.  The photo in the Introduction was made on Kodak Ektachrome at about 80 or 100 ASA.  The Yashica D has a leaf shutter in the lens, not a focal plane shutter near the film, like most 35 mm single lens reflex cameras.  A leaf shutter makes multiple exposures on one piece of film very easy.  The camera was mounted on a tripod for the photo in the Introduction. 

(The photo is from Google Images.  I no longer have the Yashica.)

Step 2: More Equipment

The other key piece of equipment is an electronic strobe.  At the time I had a flash with just a bit less output than a Vivitar 283.  A couple of years later I owned a 283, too.  Set the automatic Thyristor for an aperture of f/5.6.  If your flash has no automatic Thyristor, just let it flash at full power.  I always worried about getting the exposure right when painting with light, but my experience with several attempts has been that it is a far more forgiving process than I imagined.  The flash will be fired by pressing the manual discharge button on the back of the flash. 

(This photo is also from Google Images.)

Step 3: First Exposure

I entered the church well after sundown.  There was a nearby streetlight, but it did not shine through any windows.  My first exposure in a series of three was for the lights and flames on the candles.  See the green boxes.  This photo was made about 30 years ago, but I believe I used an exposure of about 1/5 second at f/5.6.  Then I extinguished the candles and turned the lights off. 

The red oval is the location of an eternal light.  It was a wax candle inside a dark red glass holder.  I decided to raise the adjustable cable on it and hide it behind the crossbeam.  Otherwise, it would have made a disproportionately large red glow in the photo by the time I was finished making the second part of the exposure.  The lower part of the oval indicates where the eternal light would normally appear.

Step 4: The Second Exposure

For the second exposure I opened the shutter and locked it open with a cable release on the Bulb setting.  I was dressed in black.  I walked all through the camera's field of view firing off the electronic flash, but my silhouette does not appear.  I stood at the left side of the center aisle and fired toward the roof on the right side.  Then I would move about ten or fifteen feet up the aisle and repeat.  I kept doing this until I had made my way up the entire aisle.  I did the same from the right side of the aisle aiming at the roof on the left side.  I stood at various places in the pews and fired the flash toward the front of the church.  I stood behind the pulpit and lectern to fire the flash at the front of the church, but at an oblique angle.  Flashes are a bit cumulative in their effect, but not as much as you would think.  I tried always to keep the flash pointed away from the camera so no big burst of light would appear in the photo.  Some glare from reflections on finished wood is unavoidable.  When painting with light, simply try to cover everything.  Do not obsess too much about whether you gave some area a couple more flashes than some other area. 



Step 5: The Third Exposure

Notice the large stained glass window above the altar.  That cannot be illuminated from flashes inside the church, but only by light coming from the outside.  After the second exposure in the series of three I closed the shutter for the night and went to bed.  I returned after breakfast the next day. 

This window faces to the west, so early in the morning there is light coming through it, but not direct sunlight. 

Step 6: Meter for the Window

The window is quite high.  Holding an exposure meter near it for a reading was out of the question. I took my meter (shown here) outside to the shaded area below the window and took a reading from an 18 percent neutral gray card.  I cut the exposure about 1/2 f/stop below the reading on the meter.  I went inside and made the exposure.  Stained glass always requires a slight reduction in exposure to keep the colors from washing out.  (The photo of the meter is from Google Images.)

Fortunately, no one entered the church between my first and third exposures, or the camera could have been moved.  That would have ruined the whole process.

Step 7: Painting Another Church With Light

The church in the previous steps is in northern Ohio.  I was once the pastor there.  This church is in southwest Idaho where I am the pastor now.  I painted this church with light, too.  The procedure was the same: a short exposure for the candles and the lights followed by an open shutter while I walked through the scene and fired my flash unit.  This church has no large stained glass window to consider.

There are a number of verticals in this church.  I decided to favor the vertical beams on the right side of the picture.  Were I to do it again, I think I would favor the verticals on both sides of the cross in the center of the photo.

Step 8: 35 Mm With a Focal Plane Shutter

When the photo in the previous step was made, I no longer owned a Yashica D, but used a 35 mm single lens reflex with a focal plane shutter.

I placed the lens cap over the lens to make a shutter of sorts.  I opened the actual focal plane shutter on Bulb and locked it open with a cable release.  I set the f/number for a relatively small opening in the lens and counted off a second or two in order to expose the lights and the candles.  Then I replaced the lens cap to stop the "first" exposure.  I set the lens opening to f/5.6 and removed the lens cap.  I began walking about the building firing my flash as above in step 4.  When finished I capped the lens and released the focal plane shutter so it could close.

As before, the camera was mounted on a tripod.  The film was Kodak Kodacolor print film at ASA 100.  The building has a different look because the interior finish is quite different from the church in the previous steps.   

Step 9: Something Easier, But More Fun

This is the Ohio church again, but from the outside.  The photo was taken at dusk.  I metered the light coming through the windows and reduced the exposure slightly to saturate the colors.  Then I waited until what was left of the daylight was about the same intensity as the light coming through the windows.  I took several exposures over a ten minute period.  The light changes quickly at that time of the day, but this exposure was the most pleasing.  It is easy if you just meter for the light in the windows and take several exposures as the light fades. 

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