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Painting With Light

Updated on June 23, 2014
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0 | Source
CC BY-SA 3.0
CC BY-SA 3.0 | Source

For photography to exist there must be light. If there is no light then no matter how expensive or technologically advanced your photographic gear is, no images will be captured. As a matter of fact the word photography means:

"The word photography derives from the Greek φωτός (phōtos), genitive of φῶς (phōs), "light"and γραφή (graphé) "representation by means of lines" or "drawing", together meaning "drawing with light." Wikipedia

This project uses nothing but light, in a cleaver and entertaining way. The only drawback is that you can control the output to a limited extend, the rest will take planning and some luck.

Besides your photographic lens and camera you will need a tripod, (you can do with just the tripod but if you have an electronic shutter release even better),a dark (completely dark) room, or an open area away from bright city lights, a person and a light pen, small flash light or any small item that produces light. Glow sticks are very useful for this project.

"A variety of light sources can be used, ranging from simple flashlight to dedicated devices like the Hosemaster, which uses a fiber optic light pen. Other sources of light including candles, matches, fireworks, lighter flints, glowsticks, and Poi are also popular....A tripod is usually necessary due to the long exposure times involved. Alternatively, the camera may be placed on or braced against a table or other solid support. A shutter release cable or self timer is generally employed in order to minimize camera shake. Color Gels can also be used to color the light sources."Wikipedia

You will need to do a little studying into night photography if you are not familiar with the technique. You also need to make sure that your camera allows you keep the shutter open for an extended amount of time, although a few seconds should be more than enough.The technique is often referred as painting with light, but this is the same thing.

"Light painting is a photographic technique in which exposures are made by moving a hand-held light source or by moving the camera."Wikipedia

Once you are ready to start shooting you can have your models stand in the center of the room and start "writing" in the air. Since everything is dark, the film or the digital sensor will record the light and not much else. However since the light source used for the "writing" produces a small supply of light , parts of the subject doing the writing will also be recorded so it is a good idea to plan accordingly and set your assistant / model / volunteer as if you were going to make him or her the actual subject of the photographs.

If you want to add color you can either use a light source that produces its own color like a glow stick or place a translucent color gel filter to cover the light emitting source/bulb.

"By moving the light source, the light can be used to selectively illuminate parts of the subject or to "paint" a picture by shining it directly into the camera lens. Light painting requires a slow shutter speed usually a second or more."Wikipedia

There are a few variations to the project. Although you can just "write" in the air, a good variation is to set your assistant in front of a blank artist's easel and pretend to paint a masterpiece. Another variation has the person doing the writing completely dressed in a black body suit, including the face. This helps eliminate or hide most human features and the resulting images show the writing and not much else.

However, It is OK to use a regularly dressed person since their features will not be that apparent in the first place plus the cost of a bodysuit and the trial and error rate to not capture the human element makes this variation harder to duplicate.

The images will be more of an abstract art than anything else, therefore they are suitable for framing, submitting to photography publications and to photographic stock houses. However, really good and creative samples can be displayed in most fine art galleries.

If you are going to submit your images to a photogrpahic publication, then accompany your images with an article detailing the steps that you took in order to make it happen, including the technical details and the equipment used.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. | Source

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© 2012 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      3 years ago from Miami, Florida

      searchinsany: Thank you

    • searchinsany profile image

      Alexander Gibb 

      3 years ago from UK

      Now that's really clever.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      4 years ago from Miami, Florida

      moonlake: Thank you

    • moonlake profile image


      4 years ago from America

      This was very interesting I have never heard of it. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and shared.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      teaches12345: Thank you

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      Wow, what a fascinating topic and so cool to look at! You certainly captured these lights with intensity and creativity.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Rebecca E: The key is to do it in a dark space and use a narrow light source.

    • Rebecca E. profile image

      Rebecca E. 

      5 years ago from Canada

      wow, amazing, I didn't think that these could be photographed so well.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Richard-Murray: Thank you

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      pretty photos, writing with light always looks attractive


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