Light Graffiti

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What is it?

We all remember writing our names in the air with sparklers as children, amazed as the light lingered, and the same affect can be achieved by using a long-exposure shot to create modern art.

Indeed, light writing has come a long way since it was pioneered as a way to trace the movement of workers in the early part of the 20th century. Picasso famously used it to paint a Centaur, and an innovative bunch have used an iPad, possibly an iPad 2 to create block 3D light paintings, which they did by dragging different sized square shapes on its screen, through physical space, on a long exposure.


To get started, you will need some basic equipment, such as a tripod, to start: If you don’t have a tripod, improvise with anything you can rest your camera on which is stable and won’t move when you press the shutter.

You need a camera that can take a long-exposure photograph, such as an SLR camera or one with manual settings. You’ll also need to make sure that the light is focused properly, which is best done manually, because the darkness and contrast will confuse your camera’s auto-focus.

The idea is that you keep the shutter open for a long time, and the motion of the light creates trails – so it is essential to shoot in a darkened area. Otherwise, the ambient light will completely wash out the film. Even a photograph taken outdoors at 2am will look like daytime when the shutter is left open for long enough.

Given the dark environment, there are some settings, which you should play around with, that will help produce good results. The aperture- the f-numbers on your camera – should be kept at the highest number possible. It would usually be very wide (a low number) when shooting in the dark, in order to let in more light. But, if you use the long exposure times to make up for this, then keeping the aperture small will lead to sharper, more focused images.

Similarly, a low ISO setting, if you are using a digital SLR¸ will minimise grain and improve the quality of your photos. These little differences will be more noticeable if you blow up your photos or show them to your friends on an LED TV, for instance.

Light writing

Once you’ve adjusted your camera’s settings you’re ready to write. Work out where to stand in front of your camera. Then turn off the lights and take a photo on your camera. Stand in front of it with a torch, and write or paint in the air until the shutter closes. Depending on your settings, you don’t need to move too quickly.

In fact you can use anything that emits light. There are interesting results to be had with light-sabres, fluorescent tubes, flashing lights, fairy lights, attached to on hula-hoops, paint rollers, sticks or whatever.

Image via Flickr

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