Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Newbie - painting with light

Eileen's photo of light painting
Eileen had shared one of her "painting with light" photos for the facebook page for the Phoenix Park Neighbourhood House where we meet and we thought it would be a good idea to try some painting with light.

Check the facebook page at

It turns out that painting with light is quite simple to set up - but as usual with any of these techniques it is difficult to get great photos.

Here are a few options that we tried at a couple of our night meetings.

Technique 1-  move the subject and keep the camera still

We found a couple of youtube videos of people who loaded very fine steel wool (available from hardware stores) into a holder (we used a metal egg whisk with a string attached).

Our intrepid club member (ICM) in his heavy protective jacket and hat stood in a safe spot in the dark at a local park and lit the steel wool. The camera was set on a tripod and focussed on the whisk and the fire.  The ISO value was set to 400.  This seems like a mistake - it's dark and there's no light coming in to the camera except the fire so I would have thought that you set the ISO high to capture all the light.  But here's the trick - you don't want to get all the light or else you lose the light you want!  Setting the ISO low means that the burning steel wool that is the point of the picture is going to be emphasised, not any background light.  You capture the light by setting the shutter speed for the camera to 15 seconds so that the lens is exposed to the light from the burning steel wool for a long time.  The aperture - I now call this the f stop value - was f/11. This opens up the lens to get the whole of the swirling light in focus rather than just having a point in focus.

On the count of 3 our ICM swung the rope around in a circle and we clicked the shutters. You can't see the photo until the 15 seconds is complete and the photo is saved. The camera records the movements of the sparks off the steel wool in the pattern that you see in the photo.  Exciting!

Our ICM got excited and decided to do another take this time slowly turning around through 360 degrees as he spun the steel wool in a vertical circle - ie not over his head but in front of his body - and the photo at right was the result.

A few of the better videos and a reference on ISO settings we found:

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