Recently I was thumbing through a magazine when I came across a car ad that caught my attention. I don't recall the make of the car or anything else in the ad - except that the vehicle was outlined in a soft swirl of blue light.
That got me thinking and by the time the sun went down I was outside posing in front of my camera - making dumb faces and "holding" nothing but air in my left hand. You may think I'm a little off plumb but there is a purpose behind my bizarre behavior. I was photographing the light trails of a flashlight, or painting with light.
Painting with light is a technique that can produce very cool images and it's not hard to do. You'll need a light source, such as a small flashlight or LED light and a camera capable of long exposures. A digital camera is great because it allows you to experiment and see the results when you take the photo. You'll also need a tripod. If you don't have one you can improvise by placing the camera on a stack of books or other stable surface.
To help visualize this type of photography, I've included a successful image (2013, in celebration of New Years Eve) as well as a practice image. The exposure for "2013" was set at 11 seconds (to allow time to write the numbers) at f-stop 13. I didn't note the IOS but I'm pretty sure it was set at 800.
Make sure you manually focus on the spot your body will be during the exposure. I was alone (and outside in the dark) so I improvised. I pulled out the vacuum cleaner, lit it with the flashlight and focused on the handle. I removed the vacuum but made a mental note of its location. (For view of Photo’s see the January 9 edition of The News, page 7)
Once you've set up, go through the motions without firing the shutter. Practice your timing, from tripping the shutter to drawing with the light. Once you're comfy with the timing then you're ready to experiment. It will take a few tries to get things right. My biggest problem was positioning myself in relation to the numbers however, unless you want to be part of the image, as in "2013" you won't have to worry about that. But if your game, turn on the camera's external flash. The initial pop of light captures your image but your movements afterward are not (remember, its dark). If anything, your body may show up as a faint blur, which can be really cool too.
Just think of the possibilities! You could create flames spewing from your nostrils or have a head full of zigzags or lightening bolts. As you let your imagination run wild, don't forget to try different light sources. A small flashlight is fun but sparklers create beautiful arched lines as they fizzle and spit fountains of flames. Note: don't hold a sparkler in one place or you'll end up with a blown out mess.
I am so inspired that I'm going to try lighting objects. Maybe I'll capture a martini glass overflowing with red swirls. Or maybe I'll transform a pile of Dove Dark chocolate pieces into a smoldering mound of deliciousness. I may need to stock up on those LED lights for that shot. And I'm certain it will require an entire bag of my favorite confection. Whatever it takes to get the shot - right?