How to do light painting
Photography isn’t just a grown-up hobby. You can play around and have a lot of fun – even involve the whole family! Light painting is a fun, creative form of photography that anyone can join in with. There are just a few simple, inexpensive items (other than your camera…!) that you need if you want to create pictures by painting with light. Firstly, you need a light source of some kind. Torches are ideal as they are small, easy to hold and easy to move around with. You could also try LED glow rings or LED gloves, for example. You can even use sparklers, which is great around bonfire night, but obviously you need to make sure everyone is kept safe when working with sparklers.
Unless you have a very fancy torch that can do lots of colours, then the next thing you might want is some way of creating different coloured light. You can use simple, everyday objects for this, there is no need to go spending money on fancy gadgets. Some suggestions for colours are milk carton lids or sweet wrappers, for example. The object needs to be partially transparent or you won’t anything when you try to shine your torch through it. It also helps if it is small enough to keep in your hand so you can add it when you want it or even stick it to the end of your torch if you like. Use your imagination!
Light painting is a great activity for autumn or winter time. When the evenings are getting dark earlier and earlier, you have even more possibilities to try light painting without having to stay up late. It is important to find somewhere reasonably dark. The darker it is (without street lights, for example), the more you’ll see your light painting and not the environment around you. If you can’t find a suitable place outdoors, why not use a room indoors? As long as you turn out any lights then you should be able to get it dark enough. Then, set up your camera on a tripod or something similar that will keep it stable.
Here comes the only slightly tricky part – set up your camera. Normally speaking, in order to have time to do anything much, you will need around 30 secs to do some light painting. Any shorter and it can be a bit rushed (although it may still be possible). So, set up your camera so that the shutter stays open for about 30 seconds. You probably don’t want to see the surroundings (or your furniture!) in the final image so it doesn’t matter if most of the image is going to come out black. The main thing is that we can see where we have painted with light. To avoid wobbling the camera, you can either use a remote or set the timer to start it off.
Now the real fun begins! Point your torch at the camera and start moving it around, creating patterns or whatever you feel like doing – maybe try to write your name! Check the results on the camera. You might find sometimes there are some spots that are too bright. If so, you probably held the torch still pointing at the camera for too long. If you can’t see your colour but only a white light then you may need to find a way of making things darker – use a smaller aperture (larger f number), a lower ISO, a shorter shutter speed and see what works. There is no one setting that always works best. Experiment with settings and experiment with your lights. Why not use more than one at a time, maybe different colours together? How about having two or more people all painting with light at the same time? Light painting can produce some surprising results. Keep experimenting until you find techniques that give the look you want. Have fun!
© Joe Lenton, October 2014