Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Light Painting

On the insistence of Vishy, I have decided to pen down the recipe for a photography technique I just learnt - light painting. For a layman, light painting is essentially capturing shapes drawn in the air using a light source. Though there are incredible works in light painting available online, I will only explain the most basic technique used when you want to combine photography with fun and friends.

The most basic ingredients for light painting are a camera with manually adjustable shutter speed, high ISO (800 and above gives decent results), a tripod and a light source (LED torches are the best option but practically any intense tiny light source would do, like cell phone torches). Besides equipment, you will need people willing to draw/pose as subjects for you.

Follow these seven steps to produce results as seen in the photographs (though we were not meticulous with them) above.
  1. Decide upon the light shape to be painted and the position of subjects of the photograph.
  2. Set the camera to a high ISO. The shutter speed is adjusted according to the intricacy of the shape to be drawn. Higher the complexity, lesser the shutter speed (we used something between 4s to 12s). But higher the time the shutter is open, tougher it is for people who are posing to remain still!
  3. Adjust the camera on the tripod at the height at which the painting is going to be drawn.
  4. Get the painters/subjects in position. You may want to focus the camera on the light source initially and then lock focal length manually to avoid blurring of the light source.
  5. Keep the flash on. You want to capture the faces of the subjects when you click. However, be careful to keep the light sources and the painters out of the frame till the flash turns off.
  6. Once the flash is off, then all the people in the photograph are supposed to do is remain still. It also marks the cue for the painters to begin their work.
  7. With the light source concealed, painters must first get to their positions in the frame. After unveiling the light source, they must draw as continuously as possible, with minimal crossovers (to avoid problems of alignment with previously drawn lines in the frame). Moreover, if there is a break in the painting, the light source must be concealed in the interim. While drawing alphabets, keep in mind that they are written in a manner that they do not appear laterally inverted in the frame.
It is not as complicated as it sounds. The only challenge is managing everything/everyone in the limited time frame of few seconds. If you make a mistake, start over. A few tries are enough to get the first decent shot.

Improvisations can be made with multiple light sources/painters. An advanced level application of the technique is in stop motion films involving multiple light paintings.


Harjot Dhaliwal said...

Finally I know how to give it a shot !! Lets see how it goes ! Thanks :)

arshat.chaudhary said...

Thanks for such a detailed explanation, Kapil.

I was looking at these pics on FB and wondering how u clicked them!

Anonymous said...

Nice outputs.
If I may suggest- using another light source to light up your subjects initially(compared to using the camera flash) might make your job easier and give a better output.

The Illuminator said...

Yeah that would do as well, but using the flash is not too bad an option in itself

Anonymous said...

You have the outputs, it does work well.. I was thinking technically - if you don't want other objects in the frame, and also, the subjects don't have to stand still throughout.
Of course, to each their own...

While on photography, have you tried getting the same person in the frame multiple times?