Painting With Light

This description ‘painting with light’, as used by photographers, has usually referred to the process of leaving the camera on a tripod, set on a long time exposure, with a very small aperture, whilst the photographer moves around the darkened scene illuminating different parts of the picture with a flash, or some other light source. This way the picture is gradually created by a series of short light bursts on only the selected areas.

Another method of ‘painting with light’ is also done in a darkened room, or outside at night, but this time by using a hand held torch whilst the shutter remains open, the torch is moved about to create an image (rather like the effect of streaks of light made by car headlights, on a busy road at night) this can also be used to light just very selective small parts of the scene. This form of painting with light is possible with just about any kind of light source such as; matches, candles, mobile phones, sparklers, laser light, or glow sticks, just about any light source can be used!

A third method is achieved by moving the camera instead, whilst keeping the shutter open, in this way one can add a sense of movement to the scene. Or if the subject is moving, by using a long exposure, a picture with the blurred movement is also obtained, this too has been referred to, by photographers, as painting with light.

These are the most well known ‘painting with light’ techniques. But there is a very interesting different photographic technique to create special effects that also really justifies this description too!

This technique is based on using projected images that are not always projected on to a screen, sometimes more than one projector is used and then the projected images are photographed. For example a projected portrait can be focussed on to a shell and then this scene can be photographed. This way the screen (in this case the shell) becomes part of the new picture. With careful masking more than one image can be blended, when more than one projector is used. So with two or more projectors it is possible to blend parts of different images, but it is also easily possible to mix black and white images with colour and even negative images with transparencies.

These techniques were discovered in the mid 1960’s, well before computers were available for photographers; it all began when the photographer noticed how a picture looked that he had projected (before putting up the screen) so that this image appeared partially on the wallpaper and the curtains. He then started moving the projector around and focused the image on to various different items in the room and soon decided it would be interesting to photograph some of the effects he could see. So began a fascinating way of creating amazing photographs.

This photographer won the London Salon Trophy in 1967 for a transparency of a portrait of the profile of a girl, blended with a negative of a tulip, all achieved as a transparency. This picture and many other award winning photographs created in this way can all be seen on his web pages where these ‘painting with light’ techniques are more fully explained, with pictures, in another article ‘The Magic Lantern’.


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