Intro: Light Painting
For this first unit of my Media Arts course, I looked at photography with a new lens. I have had the opportunity to study incredible artists such as Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Hockney, and Alfred Stieglitz. Their work ranges from candid photos to landscapes to really zoomed in photo. I also had a chance to learn HDR and RAW photography and explore light painting. This last part amazed me the most and got me thinking about photography differently. You would imagine photography to be just capturing moments or motion. But, light painting is where you can capture light and take your viewers into a whole new world filled with unimaginable, artistic light creations. And that was the technique I wanted to explore further. Unlike last time, where I made a smooth, colourful circular pattern with my phone's screen, I chose a subject (my teddy bear) and outlined it with bright light. It was a great experience and if you follow the steps, you can create the same effect too.
Step 1: Gather All the Necessary Materials
To achieve the same result, you need the following materials:
- A subject (I chose my teddy bear. But, you can choose a person if you want.)
- A camera (I used a DSLR camera)
- Tripod (If you do not have a tripod, you can choose any steady surface.)
- 1 glow stick (Do not forget that you can have any colour you want. I chose pink.)
- Black Construction Paper
- Tape or Glue stick
Step 2: Modify Light Source
One thing I like about light painting is that you can really work with any type of light source you have available.
If you have a phone, you can use the screen and create smooth, circular patterns.
If you have a flashlight that creates a wide spectrum of photons (as shown in image 3) like I do, you can still use it to your benefit, like I did. All you have to do is take a black construction paper, and make a cone (as shown in image 1) that can easily fit the top of the light source (as shown in image 2). You will notice the difference immediately (as shown in image 4).
The reason why you want a thinner line than the one obtained in image 3, is because you are going to use it to outline your teddy bear. And for outlining--with the materials accessible at home--this is a great way to go acquire a thinner line.
Step 3: Location
The very first--and very important--rule to follow in light painting is
shooting in a location that is pitch black (as shown in image 4). This way you can paint anything on a plain and clear background. Having such a dark background will help especially when you are using more than one bright colour and you want them all to synchronize with each other. Lastly, a dark background eliminates all everything that can otherwise distract your viewer from the main subject.
Step 4: Camera Mode, Settings and Angle
But before you start shooting widely in a dark room and start having fun with this cool technique, you need to make sure that the following three sub-steps are properly completed:
1) Camera Mode
Although Auto mode is good, it does not give you any control over settings. And believe it or not, you do not want to use that. Instead, use the Manual mode, which can be found on the top of a DSLR camera (as shown in image 1). This mode lets you control everything from shutter speed to aperture to white balance to ISO.
2) Camera Settings
To obtain the same result for this light painting, I suggest you use the BULB setting for your shutter speed. BULB setting captures light for as long as you want as long as you have pressed the button for the required time period. So, if you are going to outline the teddy bear, you will need someone else to press the shutter button until you are done with the outline. Aperture should be set up around f4.5. And an ideal ISO would be either 100 or 200 (200 in this case).
3) Camera Angles
For the same result, you do not need to worry intensively about camera angles. Just use the normal, eye level. You can adjust it for your subject is standing tall instead of sitting down like my teddy bear.
Step 5: Work Your Magic and Have Some Fun
Before you start, just make sure you have all the necessary steps completed. Like so:
Check. 1) Materials
Check. 2) Modifications on the light source
Check. 3) Location
Check. 4) Camera Mode, Settings, and Angles
Now you can turn the lights off and start painting.
For this particular light painting example, I suggest you take some trial photos with only flash light or glow stick involved (as shown in image 1 and 2). This way you can get the hang of it and when it comes to show time, you will be good to go.
Get someone to cue you on when they start the shutter. Once they have started, you can go ahead and draw an outline around the teddy bear with the flash light, which will create a bright, white outline--in a way illuminating the subject. Then take a glow stick and start by placing it near the ear of the teddy bear. Wait for 3-4 seconds and then lift your glow stick (almost) an inch away and wait for another 3-4 seconds for the light to get captured. Due to this capture of light over the whole time period, you can notice the pink lines coming off of the teddy bear.
NOTE: Lift your glow stick every time. If you drag/slide it, you will get something like image 2. And for the final product, you do not need that.
It is okay if you can see the teddy bear or the floor line on the back wall. It all came into light due to the flash light and glow stick. It only adds to the effect!
Needless to say, you can have as many dress rehearsals as you want. In the end, you might discover that you performed your big show already.
Have fun experimenting with some new ideas after you are done with this! :)