Fun with Long Exposures: Light Painting

We all love clicking photographs, standing behind the camera peering through the viewfinder and firing the shot away. Dont we love it when we capture the subject the way we see it or the way we want to show it. This integrity between the actual photograph and the virtual picture in our minds is what we strive to achieve every time we click the button. This definitely is the objective of photography. What if I don’t worry about capturing the subject or worry about adjusting to the light falling on my subject. What if I don’t need a subject.

Absence of light in a picture presents infinite possibilities for photographers. I have come to admire the stunning and surreal effects of  photographing with long exposures in practically no-light or very low light conditions with nothing but a flashlight. This is Light Painting. This concept has been around for more than 100 years almost since the inception of photography. As matter of fact in its initial days the objective of light painting was not about art but study of motion. History of Light Painting makes for a very interesting read.

Credit- Nhuisman's photostream

My tryst with light painting began with the above photograph by Nhuisman. This photo set my mind off on a thousand different ideas. The appeal of this photography lies in simplicity of equipment required, absence of light and the need for creativity. I decided to make a humble beginning in my own bedroom. What resulted was a set of some photographs. Now, I wont judge them or rate them. Being the photographer I don’t have the liberty to do so. But you certainly can. In this post, I will showcase some basic light painting photos succeeded by more complex ones in later posts.

 For lack of caption I call this photo LP1. I started by drawing some real simple shapes in the confines of my bedroom in total darkness. It’s like you have a blank canvas, but of course limited by the frame of your picture. In fact setting up the boundaries of your frame is the most important pre-photo work that one needs to do before everything else. Clicking in dark is akin to walking in dark. Hence set up your frame with lights on and with some reference boundary or a space between two objects so that you know the size of your canvas. In this case I referred my frame against the wall of my bedroom.

Now for some technicalities. I  set my lens on ‘manual focus’. This has to be done or you will wait forever for your camera to focus. I set my camera on Shutter Priority and chose 20 seconds as my shutter time. Please note it wont matter if  it were 30 seconds or 10 seconds. I thought 20 seconds would give me sufficient time to draw my  light. Since it is complete dark, varying the shutter speed wont matter. What will matter is the time you want to draw.  In this photograph, I have tried to draw a circle which clearly is not perfect. I love the aura of flashlight that lingers behind the circle though. ISO has been maintained at 200 to keep out noise.

The next photograph (LP2) is a notch up with regards to drawing complexity. Here I have tried to paint a DNA strand with the flashlight. Having a sense of placement of  different lines with respect to each other becomes supremely important in drawings  especially if the lines are curved. Your light source needs to be switched off after completing the first continuous curved line before you switch it on again for the next curved line. If this is not done, you will have unnecessary lines of light interfering with your main drawing. In this photo, I  first moved my flashlight to draw the upper curves of the DNA and switched it off. Then switched it on again and drew the lower curves before reaching the side from where I started. The intersections between the upper and lower curves make for a beautiful DNA strand. As a matter of fact I completed this photo within 15 seconds exposure bettering my previous time record of 20 seconds.




 I call this photo ‘Romance in the light’. I have added some additional light points here other than my painting. The comet-like light that you see was obtained by very quickly moving the light across the wall. This effect is an antithesis of light painting. Light painting is done with light source facing the camera whereas certain subjects either in foreground or background can be illuminated by throwing light on them for very short durations usually in few seconds. In this photograph I have thrown light on the wall (background)  and the bed mattress (foreground) to  supplement the light painting. There is virtually no dearth of permutations & combinations of light paintings and cleverly placed subjects to achieve highly pleasing and creative photographs. Point in case is the Swedish Light painting photograph on the top.



This genre of photography is very exciting and full of limitless possibilities. What I have touched upon in this post is  very rudimentary. Nevertheless I intend to present more creative and intriguing photos in my upcoming posts as I experiment with light . If you want to suggest, critique or appreciate my work, kindly do so.

Happy clicking!


Categories: Light Painting | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Fun with Long Exposures: Light Painting

  1. liezeneven

    Wow I really want to try that!

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