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.
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.