Dedicated to Light Painting Photography

Cliff at Bombo

Basalt Cliff at Bombo NSW

It might look like daylight, but this two-minute exposure of an abandoned quarry on the South Coast of New South Wales was made about 40 minutes after sunset. I light painted the rock-face and foreground grass. Later when I enlarged the film frame, I became fascinated with the feathery look of the distant wave action.

These days, when I mention to people that I shoot on film, I usually get one of two reactions: either people are incredulous that I still use “old” technology; or there’s a vacant look (particularly from people under 25) as they try to fathom how this ancient medium works. Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to turn back time, nor deny the fantastic advantages of digital photography. I enjoy using my DSLR as well as my digital compact. But I am of an age that knows and enjoys both worlds – digital and analogue. And for me, light painting on film is magic. It may be old magic but it’s still magic!

Ancient Pepper Tree

130-Year-Old Pepper Tree at Pokolbin NSW

The Hunter Valley, north of Sydney, is renowned as a historic wine-growing region.  This old tree with its tortured trunk grows beside one of the original family vineyards. Light painted during an eight-minute exposure on 120 Fuji T64.  

Here are the reasons I light paint on film:

1. For me, film is best suited to long exposure photography

My exposures are in minutes, not seconds. It’s not unusual for me to have the shutter open for eight or more minutes while I move around in front of the camera “painting” selectively with my torch (flashlight). This is how I produce my location light paintings, like the series, Landscapes at Dusk.

My difficulty with digital cameras is that long exposures and high ISO produce “noise” (random bright pixels) in the image because of the electronics involved. The longer the exposure and the higher the ISO, the more noise is generated. This is why most digital cameras don’t offer more than 30 seconds as a maximum shutter setting. And often, noise reduction (NR) software is required to reduce the digital noise that a camera generates.

The most effective digital noise reduction occurs in-camera using the manufacturer’s proprietary NR software. However applying NR while shooting in the field effectively doubles the exposure time – so a three-minute exposure becomes six minutes as the software works to cancel out the digital noise.

This significant time delay may not matter if you have all night to shoot, but when I’m light painting at dusk, my ideal working time is the 15-minute period between the sky being too bright and the night sky being too dark to register on my low ISO film. I don’t have time to wait for a digital camera to apply NR. I want to produce three or four time exposures of a scene before the dusk sky fades to black. So I’m chasing the diminishing skylight by increasing my time exposures – something film does very well.

Reaching Over, Angophora, Bouddi NPAngophora – Reaching Over

After I set up this camera angle and waited for dusk to darken, I realised a full moon was rising behind me and illuminating the scene. I decided to limit my time exposures to 60 seconds and light paint quickly so the moonlight didn’t affect the shot.   

2. I shoot film because I love the look of it

There are few things more exciting (or at times terrifying) than spreading a roll of processed 120 size transparencies on a lightbox and seeing your triumphs or your mistakes up close through a viewing loupe. With reversal stock like Fuji Velvia or Fuji T64, there is very little latitude in exposure – your image either looks perfect or depressingly unusable.

When I first began light painting flowers in the late 1990s, I was shooting on 35mm film. Digital photography was in its infancy and at the time few digital cameras could match the quality of 35mm film so I continued working with my Pentax camera and macro lens, trying to perfect my use of the Hosemaster Light Painting System.

StrelitziaStrelitzia

This Bird of Paradise image is a wonderful example of the precise lighting you can achieve with the handheld, fibre-optic light source that is the hallmark of the Hosemaster Light Painting System. Shot on 35mm Fuji Velvia in 1999.

It is amazing to look back and realise that just 20 years ago the best quality photographic images were still being produced on medium and large format transparency film. I remember visiting my mentor, Robert Clark, a professional photographer who was shooting food shots for a popular cookbook series throughout the 1990s. I wanted to see Robert at work in the studio because I was thinking of upgrading from 35mm to medium format. Robert was shooting with a Fujifilm GX680 camera. The 6cm x 8cm format produced images five times the size of a 35mm frame. This outfit looked ideal for my floral portraiture, so I bought a new GX680 with a 125mm lens, a second-hand Gitzo tripod, a professional light meter and my first roll of 120 Fuji Velvia film.

I set the camera up in my “studio” (our garage without the car), borrowed a neighbour’s hanging orchid, switched on the Hosemaster and produced my first floral portrait on 120 film. I was hooked! The quality was astounding. Decades later, I still get excited every time that camera shutter clicks.

 Orchid -- Stanhopea Tigrina

Stanhopea Tigrina

This stunning orchid originates from Mexico. What makes it unusual is the way the flowers come from the bottom of the plant. In this particular case, the flower spike emerged through a hanging basket. Initially it had two capsicum-shaped bulbs that gradually opened out to reveal these amazing flowers. Its strong perfume reminded me of vanilla. This is one of my first images shot on the GX680 in December 1999.  

3. I enjoy the level of technology developed in this camera system

The GX680 is a remarkable camera — a real studio workhorse that produces quality images (6×8 colour transparencies, in my case). This camera system offers 15 superb prime lenses. When one of these lenses is mounted on the camera’s front bellows, there are additional movements available like swing, tilt, shift, rise and fall that increase the apparent depth of an object – an extremely useful facility when shooting close-ups of flowers!

My Fujifilm GX680 Camera with a Fujinon 65mm f.5.6 lens

I use the 65mm for all my landscape shots. The lens itself is an absolute monster, weighing almost 1.2kg. In this photo the lens is not extended, so the bellows are not apparent. The device connected to the camera is a remote release that has been customised — the silver toggle switch was added to change the camera operation from B (Bulb) to T (Time) function. This allows me to make manual time exposures of any duration. 

Although the GX680 is a motor drive SLR camera, its controls are mostly manual. There is no autofocus or true auto-exposure. So time and care need to be taken when setting up and shooting. It’s very hands-on. Each roll of 120 film has to be threaded onto a film cassette. This is inserted into a film holder, which is then attached to the back of the camera. I manually focus the lens, then use a hand-held light meter to calculate the exposure.

Of course, what’s also essential is professional film stock. Fortunately Fuji still manufactures 120 colour transparency films that I love to use. For my studio floral portraits I use Fuji Velvia. The outdoor work like Landscapes at Dusk requires a film matched to my tungsten torch (flashlight), so I use Fuji T64.

Unfortunately Fuji stopped manufacturing T64 some years ago. I still have a few rolls left in my freezer but once that supply runs out I will have to move on to Fuji Provia, with an 80A filter on the lens to balance for my tungsten torchlight.

An Angel VisitsAn Angel Visits (from the series, “Heaven on Earth”)

During a 60-second time exposure, I light painted both sides of these statues in Waverley Cemetery, Sydney. I was so moved by the poignancy of this angelic embrace that I decided to begin a new light painting theme — angel statues. Shot on 120 Fuji T64.

4. I like the enlargements produced from film

For a long time, digital photography could not match the size and quality of a 120-film frame enlarged to its maximum. When one of my 6cm x 8cm frames is scanned at 3200 pixels per inch, a huge 465Mb file is produced. Few digital cameras come close to that file size. And if they do, I can’t afford them.

To date, the biggest enlargements I’ve had printed are 102 cm x 73 cm (or 40 in x 28 in). These archival inkjet prints look fantastic and validate my move to medium format.

Rose - David Austin's Sharifa Asma

Rose – Sharifa Asma

When a friend of mine first saw this image she said to me, “It reminds me of a woman. It’s so sensual.” Certainly I wanted this to be an intimate portrait, but more than that, I wanted the viewer to be enthralled by the translucent beauty of this classic flower by the English Rose breeder, David Austin. Shot on 120 Provia 100F in 2000.

5. I shoot film because I have the time

I don’t have the delivery pressures of most professional photographers. Compared with digital photography, shooting medium format film is a slower process: to set up; to expose; to process; to scan; to post-produce.

My method of light painting is a slower process too, particularly when I’m working outdoors. I arrive at location an hour before sunset. Usually I’ve already recced the area. I scout for the best angle, set up the tripod and lock down the shot. I usually shoot just one set-up per night because I need to wait for the crucial lighting balance between the fading dusk sky in the background and my light painting of the foreground subject.

So there’s lots of waiting, and thinking while I rehearse my lighting sequence. And when I do shoot, the exposures are long – up to ten minutes if I am light painting a large area.

I enjoy shooting on film. It may be old technology. It may even be endangered. But as long as it is available (and there is a lab to process it), I’m happy!

Most of my light paintings are available as limited edition, archival prints (see the menu heading — Prints).  My watermark does not appear on purchased prints.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What is it about flowers that intrigue us? Is it their intricate shapes and patterns, or their incredible variety? Is it their symbolic significance, or the way they cue our memories? For me, it’s all of these aspects.

Flowers have fascinated me since I was a child. Our family home was in a country town and my parents were very keen gardeners who grew many Australian native plants. So early on I was introduced to the large diverse families of Grevillea, Acacia, Eucalypt and Banksia.

banksia brownii, floral portrait, studio portrait of flowers, Horst P. Horst

Banksia Brownii

This particular banksia attracted me for two reasons – the central position of the flower and the delicate nature of its leaves. I am a great admirer of the lighting techniques used by the German-American fashion photographer Horst P. Horst (1906-1999). This is my tribute to his photographic style.

My parents were not fanatical purists about Australian native plants, so I have memories of other exotic plants in our garden like a shady bed of Coleus (with its highly decorative variegated leaves), a trellis filled with flowering Sweet Peas, and the wafting fragrance from a Gardenia bush.

My wife Helen and I have adapted and nurtured the gardens of six homes in our time together (yes, we’ve moved a lot!). We share a love of flowers and try to grow our favourites.

Meconopsis, Poppy, studio portrait of flowers, floral portraits, light painting photography, Hosemaster Light Painting System, long time exposure

Blue Himalayan Poppies

These flowers were so exotic we had to grow them! We bought the seeds via mail order and planted just one pot. We watched their growth like anxious parents. As the flower buds developed, it became a waiting game: would I be away, travelling when the flowers opened; would all its flowers appear at once? Luckily, I was at home when these blooms opened so the pot went straight into the studio, in front of the camera.  

Of course like all gardeners, we can’t grow everything. So if Helen or I want to buy particular blooms we visit the Sydney Flower Market – a bustling warehouse of colour and perfume where seasonal flowers jostle for attention and florists respond with cash.

Lilies, Lilium, studio portrait of flowers, floral portraits, light painting photography, Hosemaster Light Painting System, long time exposure

White Lilies

There is something about the way that lilies open that I find sensual and intimate. First their petals slowly part to reveal their inner sanctum. Then their stamens swell as they produce pollen. And finally their petals curl back until everything is on show.

What I love about the flower market is the variety of blooms on offer and the opportunity for me to choose the best specimens for a studio shoot. When I’m working in macro mode, the lens and lighting accentuate every crinkle and blemish. So I am always on the lookout for perfect flowers.

studio portrait of flower, floral portraits, light painting photography, Hosemaster Light Painting System, long time exposure

Tulip

I’m intrigued by the translucence of petals. When I first looked into this open tulip and began positioning the camera for this close-up, I had no idea how I was going to light its beautiful interior. But once I fired up the Hosemaster and began to play with lighting positions, I realised that lighting through the petals was going to produce the most revealing shot.

Another benefit of being at a flower market is that I get to meet the actual growers. On occasions I have been invited to visit their properties so I can choose the best specimens for a studio shoot. For me, it is a real privilege to enter the grower’s world and to see the care and attention they give their crop of flowers. To be standing in the field, surrounded by the practicalities of flower-growing is such a contrast to the showy atmosphere of the florist’s shop.

Telopea, Waratah, NSW floral emblem, studio portrait of flowers, floral portraits, light painting photography, Hosemaster Light Painting System, long time exposure

Telopea (Waratah)

I was once invited to a waratah farm. It was a crisp October morning in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, and the usually scraggy waratah bushes were flush with these beautiful flowers. The grower and I walked up and down the rows of bushes selecting the best blooms. This stunning specimen was the pick of the bunch. In the studio I lit the flower so it appeared to radiate its beauty.

There are other sources of flowers. I have had neighbours and friends call me to mention particular flowers in their gardens — wanting to know if I’m interested in photographing their specimens. My mentor, Robert Clark (an accomplished food photographer), grew a range of potted orchids in his backyard. One day he rang to offer me a spray of flowers. He was going on holidays and wanted me to see these blooms at their best. The next morning when I opened my front door I found a single stem of Brassia Orchids standing in a bottle of water. Rob was right – these orchids were exquisite.

Orchid, studio portrait of flowers, floral portraits, light painting photography, Hosemaster Light Painting System, long time exposure, Moulin Rouge dancers, footlighting

Brassia Orchid

In the studio, my constant quest is to try to capture the essence of a flower — to find a new way of “seeing” each bloom. The shape of these orchids suggested dancers to me — perhaps cancan dancers at the Moulin Rouge in Paris. So I chose to light the flowers from underneath, to suggest footlights in a darkened theatre.

What I find exciting about photographing flowers is the sheer diversity of subjects. There are hundreds of thousands of flowering plant species around the world and I have only just begun recording their images. My joy is finding a way of bringing these blooms into the studio and giving them the star treatment!

Most of my light paintings are available as limited edition, archival prints (see the menu heading — Prints).  My watermark does not appear on purchased prints.

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Richard Walker, Light Painting Photographer, Hosemaster Light Painting, Fujifilm GX680 camera, floral portraits, studio flower photography, fibre-optic hose, fiber-optic hose,

Using the Hosemaster Light Painting System in my Blue Mountains studio — a self-portrait from 2006

In this multiple-exposure image, I am lighting an arrangement of lilies with the Hosemaster’s fibre-optic “hose”. The snaking ribbon of light results from the hand-held fibre-optic hose being moved during a long time exposure. On the tripod is my Fujifilm GX680 medium format film camera. The Hosemaster’s external shutter (explained below) is not positioned in front of the Fujifilm camera because it is being used in front of the 35mm Pentax that recorded this image (yes, it sounds complicated, but read on as I explain how this remarkable lighting device works).

We all experience life-changing moments, and one of mine was purchasing a second-hand Hosemaster Light Painting System in 1999.

That may sound exaggerated but the Hosemaster enabled me to perfect my style of light painting as well as define my work as a photographer. Previously I had been dabbling in light painting using a MagLite flashlight with a homemade foil snoot, but moving up to a Hosemaster enabled me to produce complex, repeatable images with accurate exposures. The Hosemaster opened a whole new world for me and for that I am indebted to Aaron Jones, the American photographer who developed the device in the 1980s. Jones travelled the world in the early 1990s, demonstrating the Hosemaster and convincing pro photographers that $6000 was a reasonable price for this must-have machine. However by the time I bought my Hosemaster second-hand, the device and its useage had fallen out of favour.

What is a Hosemaster?

Essentially, the Hosemaster Light Painting System is a studio-based fibre-optic handheld light source that enables you to precisely accentuate elements within the frame. A key component of the system is an external shutter that allows multiple time exposures on the same film frame.Hosemaster Light Painting System diagram

Diagram of the Hosemaster in action 

 The system comprises three inter-connected components:

  1. A metal casing (on wheels) that houses a 300 watt arc lamp, a cooling fan and electronic controls.
  2. A 4-metre (13-foot) fibre-optic hose that conducts the light from the arc lamp to the subject being photographed.
  3. An external shutter that allows multiple exposures on a single frame of film.

Hosemaster Light Painting System, head and masks

The beam of continuous light from the fibre-optic hose can be modified by various devices, including these masks. The red button switch is pressed to open and close the external shutter positioned in front of the lens.

The action-end of the fibre-optic hose is effectively a small hand-held spotlight. There are clip-on attachments that modify the light output. These include metal masks for shaping the light beam, a broad “paddle” (like a square table tennis bat) for creating softbox effects, a long “wand” (a strip light) for light painting reflective surfaces and small pointed “probes” that produce tiny spotlights.

Hosemaster Light Painting System, external shutter, flower photography

Hosemaster Light Painting System, external shutter,

The external shutter in action (normally this occurs in a darkened studio setting)

In the first image, the camera lens has a clear view of the subject through the open shutter “window”. In the second image, the closing of the shutter window marks the end of one exposure. With the lens view blocked, the lighting can be changed. Then the external shutter is reopened for another exposure.

The crucial component of the Hosemaster is the external shutter. Mounted on a C-stand, this large black metal plate is positioned close to the front element of the camera lens. In the middle of the plate is a 13-centimetre (5-inch) sliding window. When the window is open, the camera lens has an unobstructed view of the subject. When the window is closed, the lens view is blocked. This sliding window is activated electronically by the press of a button switch on the end of the fibre-optic lighting hose. Press the button once and the window slides open, with an audible beep occurring every second. Press this button again, the window closes and the beeping stops. After repositioning the light and checking the exposure, the shutter window can be reopened for the required seconds and then closed again. In this way, a single film frame can be re-exposed many times.

Hosemaster Light Painting System, light painting, studio portraits of flowers, floral portraits

The Hosemaster set up in the studio

Hosemaster control box, light painting

The metal casing contains the arc lamp and the electronic controls. The four-metre fibre-optic hose carries continuous “cold” light to the subject.

Working with the Hosemaster in the studio

For me, the Hosemaster is a dream lighting machine. In the studio, it enables me to produce multiple exposures of the same set-up, without touching the camera. The Hosemaster’s diverse range of light modifiers makes any lighting possible. Aaron Jones originally conceived the Hosemaster as a way of highlighting or emphasising elements within a set-up. He often began a shooting sequence with an underexposed “base exposure” using a strobe, then re-exposed the same film frame multiple times using the Hosemaster to light paint the detail and texture of selected objects within the shot. Jones also added a special diffusion filter to the external shutter that allowed him to “blur” the light. This produced his signature lighting style that is evident in his “Still Portfolio” gallery at http://aaronjonesphoto.com/   My lighting style is very different to that of Aaron Jones. I don’t use strobe lighting at all. I rely on the continuous light from the Hosemaster for all my lighting effects. It enables me to create an image with multiple light sources, as broad or as focussed as I choose.

How the Hosemaster and camera work together

In the studio, after I have composed my subject (for example, flowers) in front of the camera, I use a large C-Stand to suspend the external shutter close to the front element of the lens. With the external shutter’s “window” open, I check that the camera has a clear view of the subject. Then I close this window so the lens view is blocked. The Hosemaster lamp is turned on, the house lights switched off, and the film camera’s shutter is locked open using the “B” setting. I don’t touch the camera again until I’ve finished the entire lighting sequence.

At this time no exposure is effectively occurring because the lens is pointed at the black surface of the external shutter window and there is no other light in the studio except that coming from the end of the fibre-optic hose. The film in the camera is unaffected until I choose to press the button switch at the end of the hose, and the shutter window slides open to reveal the subject lit by light from the fibre-optic hose. I usually expose the background first. This long exposure silhouettes everything in the foreground (in my case, the flowers). When that exposure is finished, I press the button on the end of the hose and the external shutter window closes. With the lens view blocked, I reposition the hose light and prepare to individually spotlight each of the flowers.

Studio Light Painting Sequence

light painting sequence, Hosemaster Light Painting System, silhouette, everlasting daisies,

First, the background is exposed

light painting sequence, Hosemaster Light Painting System, silhouette, spotlighting, everlasting daisies,

Then each flower is lit and exposed separately

light painting sequence, Hosemaster Light Painting System, silhouette, everlasting daisies, spotlighting, floral portrait,

This final image is the result of three separate exposures on a single frame of film

The advantage of handholding the hose is that I can precisely position the light at any angle. The Hosemaster gives me the freedom to light each flower differently. It is important to keep in mind that the light output of the Hosemaster is balanced for daylight film so I shoot a low ISO transparency film like Fuji Velvia. I use a light meter to take incident light readings of the hose light in each new position. Because I expose at f.16, my meter readings are between ten seconds and two minutes, depending how close I hold the fibre-optic hose to the subject.

When I push the red button switch on the end of the hose, the shutter window slides open, signalling the beginning of an exposure. The device now beeps at one-second intervals. I count the necessary seconds then press the switch again so the shutter window closes. That’s one exposure. I move my light to a new position, take a new meter reading (if necessary) and open the external shutter to make a second exposure. I continue to make multiple exposures on that single film frame until my lighting is complete.

All my floral portraits involve multiple exposures.  Here are three examples:

Hosemaster Light Painting System, light painting, Richard Walker, dahlia, silhouette, studio lighting, multiple exposure,

Frederica’s Dahlias

I lit this portrait with three separate exposures – the background, then a spotlight on each flower

Hosemaster Light Painting System, light painting, Richard Walker, canterbury bells, campanula medium, flora portrait, art nouveau lamp, studio lighting, silhouette,

Canterbury Bells (Campanula Medium)

I wanted this floral portrait to look as though each flower was lit from inside – like an art nouveau table lamp. I used a small probe attachment on the end of the fibre-optic hose and aimed the light inside each flower, being careful not to overexpose the foreground stamens. This image has eight separate exposures: the background; soft fill on the entire arrangement; and individual spots for the interior of each bloom.  

Hosemaster Light Painting System, light painting, oncidium orchid, Richard Walker, multiple exposures

Oncidium Orchid — my most complex studio light painting

There are nine separate exposures in this orchid portrait: one for the background; the seven blooms were individually exposed; and finally the arrangement was lit from underneath to highlight the edges of the petalsDuring this precise work the flowers cannot move a millimetre, otherwise there will be a slight shift in the flowers’ positions in the next exposure.  The shift is obvious in the final image, appearing as a drop shadow around the edge of the flowers.

For years I have used this image — displayed as a framed 102 cm x 73 cm (40 in x 29 in) print — to draw people to my exhibitions. I call it my “people magnet” because the intense yellow and blue contrast seems to attract immediate attention.

Most of my light paintings are available as limited edition, archival prints (see the menu heading — Prints).  My watermark does not appear on purchased prints.   

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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)

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Centennial Park, stairs and tree, light painting photography, long time exposure, Fuji T64, Fujifilm GX680, flashlight, torch light, treescape

Centennial Park, Sydney

This tree and stairway were lit by flashlight during a ten-minute exposure.  The actual lighting sequence took three minutes but I kept the shutter open for the extra time to try to capture more detail in the fading sky.  The trickiest part of the shoot was descending the stairs in the dark while I concentrated on evenly lighting the iron handrail.

One of the great attractions about light painting photography is the dramatic tension between time and play.  I say “play” because that’s what happens when I begin to light a scene after sunset.  There is a sense of unpredictability, of playfulness, for me during each new exposure.  I might change the angle of the light beam or accentuate different textures. Or I could highlight a different part of the frame.  Each exposure is a chance to experiment with my hand-held light source.  This means the lighting is dynamic, unique — no two frames are the same!

A time interval is essential to every exposure, and in light painting I use long exposures, from 60 to 600 seconds!  During these lengthy exposures the remaining light in the dusk sky silhouettes the background trees and horizon.  Meanwhile I have an opportunity to put my stamp on the foreground.  So it’s what I do during these long exposures that really excites me.

That adrenalin rush begins with the clunk of the camera’s opening shutter (using the B setting).  Then I click the start button on the digital timer that hangs from my belt, and I jump into shot — literally.  Although I’ve previsualised the shot and rehearsed my lighting sequence, there is something wildly crazy about scurrying around in front of the lens, and remaining “invisible” (at least to the slowly exposing film frame).  Of course I help myself by wearing dark clothes and hefty boots, and by constantly moving about so my image doesn’t appear as a ghostly shape in the shot.

I try to design my lighting sequence so that I’m close to the camera at the end of my timed exposure.  But invariably I find myself some distance away when the timer on my belt beeps that time is up.  I then need to stumble my way back to the camera to close the shutter.

Cougal Park, northern New South Wales, long exposure photography, light painting photography, blurred water, blurred rapids,

Creek at Cougal Park, northern New South Wales

This was my first attempt to light paint moving water.  I shot four frames during dusk — each of increasing duration as the light in the sky faded.  This was the last frame — a time exposure of eight minutes.  The foreground tree, creek rapids and grass along the banks were part of a 60-second lighting sequence.  My main concern was not to overexpose the rapids.  Shot on 120 Fujifilm T64 in 2011.

There is also a tension about the way I light.  I don’t like frontal lighting.  It’s flat and uninteresting.  I try to light objects from the side, to accentuate their texture.  The danger is if I position myself too far to the side, the light source itself will feature and appear as a bright, wriggly pattern in the final image.  So as I move around in front of the lens, trying to complete a lighting sequence within my chosen exposure time, I am always thinking how best to use my flashlight — and not shine it into the lens.  Sometimes that can be quite a balancing act!

Most of my light paintings are available as limited edition, archival prints (see the menu heading — Prints).  My watermark does not appear on purchased prints.

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