Written by Ewan McDougal
Playing and experimenting with light can be a lot of fun for children. One of the first things many children do when they are given a torch is wave it around quickly to make patterns. Here is a tutorial for a simple photography technique which allows children to capture these patterns whilst learning some of the basic science behind photography.
Camera - The most important thing you need is of course a camera. It does not have to be a particularly specialist camera, if you have an SLR great, but a compact digital camera will do, as long as you are able to change the exposure time on the camera it should work.
Tripod - The camera needs to be left perfectly still for light painting, a tripod would be ideal but if your short on digital camera accessories you can probably come up with an alternative, any stable surface at the right height will work fine.
Light - You need some light to do the actual painting with, different kinds of light will produce different effects, be creative when thinking of things to paint with. Obvious things to start with are torches, laser pens, and sparklers.
You can change the colour of the light by placing coloured carrier bags (thin enough to let light through) over a torch.
Setting up the camera - Your camera needs to be in either manual mode (often represented with an M) or Shutter Speed Priority mode (often represented with an S) this allows you to change the length of time the camera lets in light. How long your exposure time needs to be depends on how complicated your design is and how long it will take. 45 seconds might be a good starting point but it really depends on you. With some cameras you can set the length of time to Bulb which means the shutter will stay open for as long as you hold the Shutter release this will give you the most flexibility but means the person taking the picture can’t also be in it.
If you have set your camera to manual you will also need to adjust the ISO and Aperture the higher the ISO and aperture the more clearly the background and figures will be visible, however the lower the picture quality will be (particularly if the ISO is set above 400)
Generally you should turn off the flash for light painting, although if you get more advanced later the flash can be used in creative ways.
It’s very important to keep the camera still whilst light painting. The camera lens is open for a long time so even the slightest movement can blur your images.
Any light in the picture will be hugely exaggerated, it is therefore important to take the pictures in as dark a location as possible. If you are out side and there is lighting that you can not control try to make sure it is not in shot as it could over shadow your image.
Different techniques can create different effects, and with practice you are sure to develop your own style.
Take your children to the area you have prepared and give them the torches you have for them. Encourage them to draw big pictures in the air with the torches pointed at the camera, encourage them to draw big shapes slowly.
With younger children perhaps suggest shapes and see if they can make them. If they are using torch or sparkler have them point this at the camera, if they are using a laser pen have them point the camera at a wall and draw with the laser on the wall.
Once they have the hang of it start the camera, and then either let them freely draw whatever pattern they like, or if necessary with young children help guide them into drawing shapes.
Remember to draw the shapes as big and as slowly as possible if you want the details to be captured.
Try to encourage children not to draw shapes in the same location, but to move as they create them so that they do not overlap.
Remember everything will be captured so if the child is creating a more complicated shape they need to turn off the light when they move from one area they are drawing on to another. With sparklers (which can not be turned off) some pre planning made be needed in much the same way it is with an etch-a-sketch.
As older children get more confident with creating these images you can become more imaginative, perhaps have models standing very still for the photo whilst an artist draws things over them, they could make it appear as if your models are shooting lightning bolts, or label them with their name. If you want the figures in the image to stand out you can do this by “colouring them in” with a torch, simply do this by shining the torch at them from a fairly close distance and covering them with the light.
Photo by Ewan Cambell McDougal
|Using a sparkler the word RARR has been written. The person writing the letter can be partially seen in the background as they stood still.|
|First the torch was shined at the person in the picture (the model), and then with the torch beam facing the camera lightening beams were drawn from the models fingers. the artist is not visible because they did not remain still in any position, but the model stood still so can be seen.||
Photo by Mohamed Saad Hussain
By shining the torch at the models feet, then having the model move and then shine the torch at the entire model the figure is seen in the photo with two sets of feet.
Exposure time: The amount of time that the camera is letting light in. Values are given in fractions of a second so 160 would be 1/160 of a second. So a larger value is shorter time.
Shutter Speed Priority: This mode lets you change the exposure time, but the camera still decides the other settings for you such as aperture size.
ISO: This is similar to changing the film sensitivity in old cameras. High ISO means the camera will work in less light but the picture will be grainier.
Aperture: This is how much light the camera lens lets in.