Dedicated to Light Painting Photography

light painting photography, studio floral portrait, long time exposure, Hosemaster, medium format photography, Australian flower, Richard Walker,

Leucospermum (Pincushion)

There were two “exposures” on a single frame of film for this light painting image.  The dark blue background was exposed for 35 seconds, then a narrow beam of light was skimmed across the top of the flower for 15 seconds to produce this dramatic effect.  Shot on 120 Fujifilm Velvia.

I’m here to confess. I have seen “the light” — and it’s beautiful!  There are few things more exciting and spontaneous than creating a photograph from the inside out.  That’s what happens in light painting and that’s why I became a convert.

Light painting is a relatively recent attraction for me.  I began my working life in 1970 as a photographer at a country television station.  In 1977, after I had moved to Sydney, I became a director of television documentaries for a national broadcaster.  For the next 20 years I was immersed in a world of 16mm film, but I also enjoyed getting away from television production, pursuing my own 35mm still photography.

In 1998 I made a decision that was going to affect the rest of my life.  I decided I wanted to become a great photographer of flowers!  At the time I had no idea about the rich legacy of flower photographers that had preceded me, so I was very naïve about my prospects or influence.  This story is about how I came to that momentous decision.

In September 1998, in our garden in Sydney, a bed of columbines (aquilegia) was flowering. It was the first time my wife and I had grown these delicate flowers so I decided to photograph them as a record.  On a sunny day I set up my camera and macro lens and as I framed a close-up of a columbine I realised there was no illumination inside the flower bell. I decided to experiment with additional lighting.  I tried leaning a small hand mirror at ground level to reflect sunlight into the flower bell.  But the mirror was difficult to align and the sun moved.  So I set up a small flash unit on the ground and aimed it at the flower.  I tried different exposures using this fill-in flash and then rushed the film off to the lab.  The resulting prints fascinated me.  Directing light into the interior of the flower had made a difference.  The flower bell seemed more translucent and the texture of the bloom was accentuated.  I wondered how far I could go with this style of flower photography.

columbine, aquilegia, fill flash photography, floral portraiture, lighting flowers,

The Effect of Additional Lighting on a Columbine Bloom

The columbine flower (aquilegia) on the left was lit by sunlight.  In the image on the right I used a small off-camera flash — diffused with tissue paper —to highlight the bloom and reveal the texture of the petals.

After this revelation I began to think about specialising in floral portraiture – in a studio, with controlled lighting.  I favoured the studio approach because I wanted to avoid the difficulties of location shooting – limited camera positions, distracting backgrounds, fluctuating sunlight and windy weather. The prospect of working with artificial light didn’t worry me. My time in television production had involved a lot of interior filming so I was used to tungsten lighting.  For me, the great advantage of continuous light is that you see exactly how the light affects the subject.  The big disadvantage, especially when the subjects are delicate flowers, is the amount of heat produced by tungsten lamps.  The last thing I wanted to do was fry my flowers!!

A salesman of second-hand lighting equipment suggested I avoid hot lights by “light painting” flowers in a darkened studio. He was keen to sell me a device called a Broncolor Lightbrush.

light painting photography, light painting device, Broncolor Lightbrush

Broncolor Lightbrush (image from cambridgeincolour.com)

This device looked like an electric hair dryer, yet it produced continuous light.  I asked to be locked in a dark room to see how it worked.  The Lightbrush felt clumsy and lacked subtlety in its light output.  Then the salesman mentioned that the Lightbrush was a cheap version of a “Hosemaster”.

I’d never heard of a Hosemaster so I went home to consult the Internet. Online, I discovered four things about the Hosemaster:

  • It was invented, and marketed by the American photographer, Aaron Jones
  • It produced remarkable lighting effects but was time-consuming to use
  • It was in vogue in the early 1990s, but out of favour within ten years
  • It was very expensive

I still had no idea how it worked and I struggled to find any images of the device.  Then I stumbled on the Calumet online catalogue and found an itemised listing of the entire Hosemaster system – complete with pictures, descriptions and prices!!  There was no way I could afford the thousands of dollars required to buy a new machine and the necessary accessories.

The prohibitive cost of the Hosemaster system had forced some photographers to devise cheaper ways of light painting.  I found a blog with posted images that had been lit with a MagLite flashlight.  So I decided to experiment.  I bought a new MagLite and taped an 80A filter to the front lens to correct the colour temperature of the light.  Then I attached a snoot of rolled aluminium foil.

MagLite, flashlight, torch, foil snoot, 80A filter

My Converted MagLite Flashlight 

The metal foil snoot enabled me to narrow the light beam – like a miniature spotlight.  A blue 80A filter was taped on the front of the flashlight.  This corrected the “yellowness” of the torchlight because I was shooting a daylight film (Fuji Velvia).

I loaded my 35mm camera with film and locked it on a tripod.  Then I composed a shot of some tiger lilies in a vase on our dining table.  It was night time.  I turned off all the interior lights and began taking time exposures.  I tried a variety of lighting techniques: first with an off-camera flash; then the MagLite; and finally a combination of the two. In the end, I was happiest with this frame, lit entirely by the MagLite.

Tiger Lilies 1999, MagLite flashlight, MagLite torch, my first light painting, long time exposure, light painting photography, Fuji Velvia, tiger lilies,

My First Light Painting — February 1999

The MagLite was used as a top light shining down on the tiger lilies.  Shot on 135 Velvia with a Pentax 100mm Macro at f16, each foreground flower was lit for 10 seconds, each rear flower for 5 seconds.

As I studied this frame I felt inspired by the endless possibilities of light painting!  It was as though I had found a key that unlocked a door to a new and exciting world.  A world I was keen to explore.

 (the story continues in

Studio Lighting with a Hosemaster)

5 Responses to “My Conversion to Light Painting”

  1. Chris Chamberlain

    Very happy to see your work Richard. I believe I was the frst to use the Painting with light technique but then stopped. It seems to be very popular now with many excellent photographers including yourself.

    Reply
    • Richard Walker

      Chris, thank you for stopping by. I agree with you — digital photography (with its instant image review) has rejuvenated “light painting” in all its forms.

      Reply
      • Chris Chamberlain

        I remember when I was very young, brave and perhaps a bit silly in the late 70s through the 80s, I used to turn up to a shoot with client and art director, with a tri-pod, camera and a case of 5 plastic torches (with or without tracing paper and coloured gels on the front). The look on the Clients’ face sometimes was priceless when they saw the torches. Luckily I used a Hasselblad and had a good idea of what I would get with the Polaroid. Photographing people on location was perhaps the scariest as I couldn’t go back and re-do it. Now I have no idea how to use Photoshop or Lightroom. Photographing Flowers; and in the studio must be very rewarding owing to their huge variety of species, shape and colour; and you have a lot of control. Where can I see more of your work?

      • Richard Walker

        Hi Chris,

        Thank you for your detailed response. Working with handheld torches in the late 70s and 80s makes you a pioneer in light painting. It’s always good to hear from photographers who have experienced the excitement (and unpredictability) of light painting on film. I have only ever included one person in a light painting so I can imagine your apprehension during a shoot.

        I am replying to you directly because I wasn’t sure if you were happy to have your reply posted on my website. I am happy to post it, but you were so candid in your observations that I thought it would be wise to ask your permission first before including it as a “comment”. It’s your decision and I’m happy to be guided by it.

        You asked about seeing more of my work. Between 2001 and 2006, I had several exhibitions in Sydney of my floral portraiture, but to date I haven’t organised an exhibition of my location light painting work. While I loved doing studio portraits of flowers, I moved out on location about 8 years ago to practise light painting on a bigger scale. In recent years I have been accumulating a body of work around various themes like large trees, angelic statues, dry stone walls and Sydney sandstone (in nature, and as a building material). It may sound a bit dry but I find the prospect of illuminating any scene with one torch very exciting (and challenging) — especially on film!

        I adjust the selected scanned trannies as Photoshop files and prepare them for my website. But I am way behind with my posting. It’s nearly 3 years since I posted a light painting image. I plan to post many more of my location light paintings on my website by April this year.

        I hope this answers some of your questions. I am curious to know where you are based? Would you mind telling me?

        Kind regards Richard

        >

      • Chris Chamberlain

        Hi Richard,

        I appreciate your reply. As the blog is about your work, probably better to keep any details about me on e-mail unless you want to put it up.

        In 1976 I shot my first Torch shot and then didn’t do another until 1978. That coincidentally, featured and very large fallen tree with a 5 foot hole in the centre, through which

        I had a friend stand. I shot her with one torch and a speed light highlighting her back edge. I was 19 at the time and the tree was near my home.

        I am now 59 and stopped shooting over 15 years ago owing to a stroke which gave me double vision.

        My Portfolios were lost while living in Japan so I have very little of that time left.

        The tree shot was 1976 the Razors were 1980, my first Torch still life lit with one torch, no retouching. I don’t have a scanner, so the pattern in the tranny is the material from one of my old Fish Fryers.

        It would be nice to see a book of your more recent work at some time. I hope you get the chance to produce one. At least a local gov sponsored exhibition of your outdoor work.

        I am in the UK, BTW

        Chris

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