How to Create Elaborate Light Painting Photo Compositions

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UK photographer showcases his techniques for painting the “largest indoor continuously-drawn piece of light art” in this self-published short (Michael Bosanko). Anyone who is familiar with the concept of light painting knows what an enormous feat this is; light painting requires long exposures, sometimes stretching into hours, of precision work in almost pitch dark conditions. The artist must craft an entire painting without being able to see it progress, except in his mind:

If you aren’t familiar, these paintings are made by darkening the room and creating shapes on the camera’s sensor/film by pointing light sources directly at the camera, while it exposes continuously on a tripod. Light painting can also incorporate people or objects which are lit selectively with individual light sources.

Painting with light (as it is also known) can help develop a deep understanding of light and the qualities of different light sources on a very detailed level.

painting with light

An overexposed light painting reveals Bosanko’s movement as he creates a small piece.

When painting with light, literally any type of illuminating device can be used: light bulbs, flashlights, camera flashes, candles, torches, exploding things – anything that creates light. The camera must be mounted on a tripod and the room should be as dark as possible. For this type of photography, you must set your camera to its “bulb” setting (it will be at the slowest end of your shutter speeds – if you can’t adjust your shutter speed, your camera sadly won’t do); close down the aperture.

A wired remote or cable release should be used to lock the shutter down, and then you can begin drawing the photograph by pointing your lights at the lens, creating points of light the width and shape of your source. You can also point the lights at other things.

painting with light

An overlay of the artist practicing the shape’s creation with the final shape itself.

Consider the colors that different lights emit, the different qualities of them, and how they’ll show up in the image. Use colored gels pulled over the light to create bright, saturated hues. If the room is very dark, these exposures can go on almost indefinitely, or at least until your battery dies.

Because of the nature of f/stops, namely that each stop is either double or half the duration of the previous stop, the recording of ambient light slows as the exposure goes on. For instance, if your base exposure is f/11 for 10 minutes, one stop beyond that is 20 minutes. Two stops is 40 minutes, and three stops is 80 minutes; you can see how the time can lengthen quite quickly.

Bosanko accomplishes his images through precise planning and practice, and probably a lot of trial and error; we all do that. The best way to get a good result out of light painting is to have the image absolutely clear in your head, and how you need to move to create it. Remember to wear black to minimize light spilling onto you, and never to get in between the light and the camera.

painting with light

The final image.

This is a fantastic experiment in the expansive scope of what photography can be, and how it has grown and continues to grow in its adolescence as an art form.

“one thing I’ve always wanted to do was just to have a complete black canvas, and just create my own environment, my own characters, everything, just completely out of light.”

For Further Training on Light Painting:

Look into this best-selling eBook on how to do many photography techniques that produce unusual, eye-catching results (including extensive chapters on various light painting methods). The new version can be found here: Trick Photography and Special Effects

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