Painting with Light part 1

I have recently joined the Douglas Photographic Society. The first meeting which I attended was a workshop on Painting with Light. 

This is a technique which I remember working on in my first term of studying photography and I remembered it to be a lot of fun. However after that term I never really tried painting with light again. 

What is Painting with Light?

It is a very simple long exposure technique, which as you may have guessed involves using lights to paint various shapes or patterns.

Although the idea is very simple there is many way to work with the technique. There are many different light sources which you can use:

  • fire (steel wool, fire poi, fire sticks, etc)
  • torches
  • led lights
  • fairy lights
  • fireworks and sparklers 
  • glow sticks
  • and many more

There is also many different ways to use these light sources:

  • spinning (attaching the light source to a rope or chain and spinning in circles)
  • juggling 
  • making shapes (drawing circles, spirals, squares, writing names)
  • attaching lights to a stick and moving the stick to create patterns 
  • Lighting up subjects (use a light source to highlight part of a scene)
  • backlighting and silhouettes
  • using filters to create different effects. 
  • And many more

As you can imagine there are endless possibilities. Every photo you take will come out completely different to any you have taken before. 


How do you Paint with Light?

It is very easy. All you need is a camera, a tripod and a light source. A remote release can also come in useful but it is not essential. 

It you have a remote release set your camera to bulb mode. Use your lowest ISO setting and a medium aperture. You will have to experiment with your exposure as different light sources are stronger than others. 

If you don’t have a remote release, no problem, set the camera to manual, and turn on the 2 second timer. Again you are going to need to experiment with exposure depending your light source but aim for a long exposure of 15-30 seconds, a low ISO and a middle aperture.


Example Images

In my coming blogs I will go through the different styles which I have been working with, but here are a few examples from that first workshop to get you excited. Maybe you can experiment with some of these ideas yourself and post your results in the comments below. 

Painting with Lights - LED Stick
ISO 100, 30sec, F5.6
This pattern was created by attaching a line of LED lights to an old broom handle. A friend walked in front of the camera twisting and rotating the stick as the LEDs changed colors. 


Painting with light - spirals
ISO 100, 8sec, F5
This was created with three small torch lights. Two friends walked towards the camera making big and slow circles with the lights. However one of them tripped just in front of the camera resulting in the pattern breaking.
Painting with Light - steel wool
ISO125, 1.3sec, F5
This image was created by spinning steel wool. You will notice that the exposure time for this light source is a lot less than the previous images


Painting with light - Sugar Warf
ISO 100, 22sec, F5
This building was lit up using a large flood light. Over 20 seconds the light was slowly moved back and forth so it would light up the whole building.


Painting with Light - Ghosts
ISO 100, 10sec, F5
This is an example of lighting up multiple subjects or in this case a single subject with has moved. It is the same technique as the previous photo however the light is turned off to give the model a chance to move. 

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