Once you’ve got the basics of painting with light sorted, it’s time to have some fun and get more creative. In addition to illuminating subjects within the scene, light can be used to create a subject.
How does light painting work?
Painting with light uses the light from a torch or similar light source to illuminate a subject in the dark during a long exposure.
However, you can also get more creative and include the light itself in the image. If the light source is small and diffuse, it will register as a dot in the image.
If you move the light during the exposure, you get a streak of light and that gives you the means to draw shapes (or words) and paint with light.
The brightness of the light, the speed at which you move it and the length of the exposure all play a part in how the light looks in the final image, that’s part of the fun.
What do I need for creative light painting?
The kit that you need for creative painting with light is essentially the same was for ‘standard’ painting with light; a camera with bulb mode, a remote release, a tripod and a light source. However, the light source needs a little more thought as it the light it creates will be in the image.
The light needs some form of diffusion, or something that is illuminated like a coloured dome to make it visible. It’s possible to buy lighting kits online, but battery-powered Christmas lights and LEDs can work very well.
How do you paint with light?
If you’re organised it’s possible to paint with light alone, but the creative techniques are far easier when you’ve got one or two people to help. I shot the images for this article with two other photographers, Baxter Bradford and Rachel Riley and the images were a real team effort.
We found a location with an attractive archway and tunnel of trees and found that we could achieve attractive results with an exposure of around one to two minutes depending upon how much painting we did with a powerful Maglite torch.
That was our background into which we planned to paint a range of shapes.
How do you paint an orb of light?
An orb is created by spinning a light around an axis. The key is to keep the centre point of the spin as still as possible – that’s easier said than done when you’re also trying to keep it spinning.
We used a small battery powered LED on the end of a short cable, and as she span the light, Rachel moved her body around so that the light rotated as it span. If she had just stayed still, the light would have created a ring instead of an orb.
Meanwhile, I used the Maglite to paint in some of the detail of the trees. As the torch was powerful I was able to do this from my position next to the camera.
Baxter had the job of firing the other two cameras.
How do you paint an object with light?
With the festive season in mind we decided to create some appropriate objects in light form. The first, after a couple of practice runs on a more human shape, was an angel.
This time Rachel used a light with a translucent dome and, starting at her feet, she traced her body from side to side with smooth, steady movements.
Once she’d gone from toe to head, and down each arm, she turned the light off and Baxter stepped in with a white fibre optic light brush and painted in some wings.
The fibre optic light brush fits on the end of a torch so that the fibres illuminate. It creates some very interesting shapes and effects.
Once we were happy with the angel, we moved on to painting a Christmas tree. The branches were painted using the white fibre optic light brush but we squeezed a green gel between it and the torch to create the colour we wanted.
Again Rachel was the designated painter and after she’d done the branches, she switched to a list with a red dome. Holding the light still and turning it on briefly created small reds dots within the tree’s breached.
Waving it in the air where the tree had been painted added a garland. The final touch was a white star at the top.
The key to painting the objects is to keeping track of where you painted.
Which cameras are good for painting with light?
You can photograph light painting with any camera that has a bulb mode, but the Olympus OM-D series is especially useful because of the Live Bulb, Live Time and Live Composite mode, which allow you to see long exposures building up on the screen on the back of the camera.
I shot with the OM-D E-M10 Mark II and it enabled me to see the shapes of objects as they were being painted.