Dedicated to Light Painting Photography

Posts tagged ‘lighting sequence’

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)

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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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