Dedicated to Light Painting Photography

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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.

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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

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First, the background is exposed

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

Then each flower is lit and exposed separately

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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

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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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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.

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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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