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The Art of Having Fun

Light Painting: painting with light, light drawing, or light art performance photography are terms that describe photographic techniques of moving a light source while taking a long-exposure photograph.

As winter creeps towards us, many start to look for a hobby to keep themselves amused for when we're plunged into darknesss for a few months. Others are lucky enough to have year-round activities, so here I was looking for something creative to get involved with.

One such dark night I was browsing YouTube and stumbled across Light Painting. On their main page was a ‘suggested video’ that clearly showed a glass ball, coloured lights, and an attractive pattern.

Typically, and thanks to our ‘click to watch’ world, I was treated to a step-by-step tutorial on how to duplicate the photo in the tutorial. It involved (spoiler alert) a glass ball, a mirror, and a string of Christmas lights. I ordered a glass ball and bought some lights from Robert Dyas on the high street. I'd set everything up as per the tutorial, and lo and behold, within a few hours I’d cracked it with a near perfect copy. Then just because I do this, I set about adapting it in an attempt to improve it, as there's nothing like a bit of tinkering to figure out how to put your own spin on things.

Each night when the sun went down, I'd draw the curtains, switch off the lights, assemble the camera kit and get my balls out, so to speak. I found all sorts of different props about the house. I tried using different camera settings and experimented with a collection of torches or anything that gave me light: key fobs, emergency beacons and strips of LEDs. I found another tutorial where the poster was using clear ‘plastic wands’ that had been attached to torches, then covered with coloured lighting gel . It was a fab idea, but sadly it wasn't very well demonstrated, so again I set out to improve it.

Basically, pre-cut shapes of clear plastic are attached to the business end of a military-style tatical torch, and as the light passes through the ‘wand’, the pattern made by the escaping light when waved in front of the camera left an interesting trail.

I tracked down where I might buy some of these 'wands' and a portion of my collection is pictured, left. There are all sorts of plastic ‘wands’ available, many different light sources, coloured gels of all colours, shapes and sizes, funky fibre optics, and many, many rolls of coloured electrical tape. Unless you have the skill and wherewithal to make your own wand, then there are a few commercially available brands (along with all sorts of weird and wonderful paraphernalia), but most come at a price. The majority are made abroad, so after import taxes, be prepared to pay a 2nd invoice.

The wands proved to be extraordinary, and when I positioned coloured gel or electrical tape along the edges or across the faces, some astonishing results were ending up om my camera. Standing in the dark and waving bright plastic wands in a smooth, dance-like motion, was giving me stuff that people wanted to buy. As soon as I relasied that this was serious creativity, I booked a spot in a local expo, I organised image printing and framing, and I kid you not, when it finished I was (slightly) in profit. A win's a win, right?

Once back in creative mode, during the day I'd think of all the different things I could try that night, I'd hunt around for different tools, alternative light sources, and different props. I couldn't wait to get out of work so I could plunge myself into darkness and start waving my new-found gizmos in front of the lens. I then invested in some fibre optics and began producing images, like the one you see below.

There are so many excellent Light Painters out there, the majority of whom produce stuff that I can only dream about. Some of the braver 'Painters' use derelict buildings, monuments, aircraft and vehicles, though I keep myself to the modest table-top stuff as I know my limits.

I went up to the woods once ...

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