Light painting photography is best described as the artistic technique of moving a light source to selectively illuminate parts of the subject or scene that a camera is recording. Generally, these images are captured using long exposures.
There are a number of methods used to create orbs, from rigid frames with LED lights, a torch on a string being swung around, to a group of LED lights on the end of a cable. I personally use the latter method and as such that method will form the basis of this article.
Camera – any camera that allows full manual control, and has a port to allow a shutter release to be plugged in.
Lens – if using a DSL or mirrorless camera a lens wide enough to accommodate you light painting vision.
Tripod – due to the long exposure nature of most light painting images a tripod is essential.
Shutter Release – depending upon what scene I am trying to capture I use either the MIOPS Mobile Remote where I need to trigger the camera from a distance – usually when I am light painting solo or the MIOPS Mobile Dongle when I can be behind the camera to start the exposure. Either one allows me the flexibility of a timed long exposure, or a long exposure with delayed start (self timer), a very handy feature for light painters.
Both MIOPS Mobile Remote and MIOPS Mobile Dongle use the hardware inside of your smartphone to become even more powerful. You can trigger the camera using sound, motion, vibration, time, or even distance—all set and controlled from your smartphone via MIOPS Mobile application.
Here’s a short brief of the MIOPS Mobile app capabilities:
Road-lapse (GPS assisted triggering)
Time-lapse with bulb ramping
HDR time-lapse mode
Scenario mode (multiple triggers)
Remote shutter control modes (simple tap, press and hold, press and lock, timed release, self-timer, timed release with self-timer)
Flashlight – optional, but used to light up the scene if it is a very dark light, and/or for adding star bursts to your masterpiece.
Orb Tool – these can be commercial units or homemade, and there are a number of tutorials on the internet if you wish to follow that path. There are a number of commercial units available, personally, I use the ‘Ball of Light’TM by Denis Smith. These are rugged and well-made devices with the added flexibility of separate heads that can be easily changed to provide different colours and textures.
Clothing – wear black or dark clothes and shoes as you will be moving through the frame during the exposure, dark clothes will prevent you showing up as a ghost in the final image.
Manual Focus – If I am shooting on my own I use a reflective triangle and a small torch to aid focus. I place the triangle at the point where I will spin my orb, return to the camera, shine the torch onto the triangle and focus from there. When shooting in a group you may have the person spinning the orb to stand on the central spot and shine the torch on themselves.
Aperture – choose an aperture suitable to the scene you are shooting. I will vary between f4 and f16 normally.
Shutter Speed – again it depends upon the scene you are capturing. It takes me a bit over one minute to spin an orb, so my shutter is generally open for somewhere between 90 seconds for a single orb, up to 8 minutes if I am creating a number of orbs in a single exposure, or combining light painting techniques. Most cameras will need to use the BULB setting to generate an exposure of this time. On my Olympus camera, I may use the live time or live composite – especially if shooting in a well lit area.
Time to Spin the Orb
With your orb tool assembled, the camera mounted on your tripod and focussed appropriately it is time to make some magic. Open the shutter and move to your selected point – pick a point on the ground and start spinning in a consistent manner. If you have an on-off option it is best to have a smooth movement before turning the lights on – then rotate around this point keeping the lights steady so that they pass over the selected point at both the top and bottom of the arc. Depending upon the effect I am looking for I will complete between one and four rotations before turning the lights off. Generally, three is sufficient to create great orbs.
At this point, I may add a starburst or two with the flashlight, or paint in the surrounds with light if it is a dark night, or maybe add some additional elements using a light wand, or light flute.
My post processing is usually minimal – convert the raw file, tweaking highlights and shadows to get the look I am after. After that, I will sharpen, and save the image. That’s it!
© David Chesterfield
Related Article: Long Exposure Photography: Guide and Tips You Should Know
About the Author
David Chesterfield is an IT Manager, occasional author, passionate amateur photographer and a MIOPS Ambassador based in Brisbane, Australia. His photos and articles have been published in a number of books and magazines, as well as on-line.
Check out his photostream on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/david-chesterfield/
or Facebook photography page: https://www.facebook.com/DavidChesterfieldPhotography/
Check out ‘The Ball of Light’TM tool by Denis Smith here: www.denissmith.com.au