A practical in three parts using local models Ashley Claire, Steph Kiddle and Paul Walker, who were brilliant (as usual) and four lighting stations (the fourth being occupied by a mannequin’s head) run by club members, Richard Clayton, Steve Dyer, Gerry Painter and Myk Garton.
Again, I am glad to report, there was much discussion and sharing of knowledge and practice between members and it just underlines the wide range of experience there is in the club and a shared willingness to develop as photographers together.
Using lights/flash/combination thereof we can, as was amply illustrated, create a wide range of lighting effects. All are about the light, of course and when we say light we also mean shadow. In fact without at least a hint of shadow we aren’t going to have an image. There has to be a minimum of contrast.
There are two sorts of contrast, colour and tonal. Colour contrast (a.k.a. luminance or luminance contrast) is the difference in the colour and brightness of the object and other objects within the same field of view (or frame). Tonal contrast is created when light tones and dark tones lie alongside each other.
This weeks blog is going to concentrate on tonal contrast, easiest when referring to monochrome, more specifically black and white (there are other colour combinations, for example cyanotypes). Luckily there was a station using Film Noir as its inspiration, run by Richard.
Although the noir refers to the darkness at the heart of the story line, hard contrast lighting was, in turn, at the heart of its cinema photography especially in its mood setting scenes.
Although this can be accessed using natural light, by far the best technique is to choose the background first and then place the subject in it. That applies to nearly all photographs, one way or another, but, given the inflexibility of natural daylight at any given time, it is a pretty sound rule of thumb.
And keep it simple.
But we were talking about studio (at least indoor) photography, being by far the easiest for the amateur photographer to control. It is quite straight forward but takes application to master. Like any other skill it needs to be practised.
The nature of our cameras’ sensors is that, at least at the current time, they can “see” a lesser range of dark to light than can our eyes. This means that certain decisions have to be made and introduces us to a rule of thumb known as “Exposing to the right” or ETTR. It applies to monochrome and full colour. It’s also a strategy known as “Protecting the highlights”.
The right referred to is the right hand of an exposure histogram. Most CSC/DSLR cameras produce one of these for each shot. The right hand side plots the brightest part of the picture. If not accounted for – if the end of the graph shows a big spike – then areas of our image will be burnt out – just white with no detail.
Generally we try and avoid this by exposing for these highlights. Shadows also hold a lot of detail and it is easier to get this back into the final image than detail in the highlights. We want to try and avoid a spike (the spike is evidence of something called “Clipping”) to the left too, where everything is too dark to see detail, but, normally, shadows are more forgiving.
The reason that black and white is a good way to do this is that it takes the distractions of colour out of our equation. The results are a little more obvious and black and white has an aesthetic all of its own, particularly boosting the effect of shape and line.
Metering in general tends to be something that first timers, in particular, can find a little difficult. Yes we can buy flash meters, but they are not cheap. They do make things go a little quicker. However, good old fashioned practice will soon determine what is right using test shots.
The guide number for our flash gun is the how far that unit will project light at theoretical f1.0. This will be a GN xx and is usually printed on the unit or it can be found in the handbook. It is calculated thus: Distance x Aperture = Guide Number. So my Amazon Basics flash unit has a GN of 33 (Meters) on full power. So if I want to use an aperture of f8 my optimum distance to set the flash is 4.125 meters (13 feet 6 inches) calculated GN/Aperture=Distance or 33/8=4.125.
In reality I would probably set the unit to ¼ power and put the flash between 3 and 4 foot way. It would be a start because ambient light will play a part and whether the flash gun is the soul light source (rare for me) or balancing out ambient light. Again practice is the key and this is one instance where chimping is a desirable technique. Trial and error is a good teacher.
Thus far thus technical. But, and when shooting models it is a big one, by far the most important thing it is talking to not at or down to our model. If they are experienced they probably know a lot more about this process than we do.
Lighting the Portrait – by Richard Clayton.
How many lights does it take to successfully light a portrait, two, three, five? In reality, it only takes one light to make a successful portrait – and the best way to start, is to learn with one light. Look at the shadows it creates, lighting a portrait is as much about shadows as it is about highlights.
Add a modifier and see how that affects the quality of the light.
So what light should we use? The answer is any light will do, from a desk lamp all the way to an expensive pro level strobe, but don’t forget that abundance of free light that comes through a window.
Whatever light source we use, we can modify it in much the same way. A soft box for a strobe or some heavy net curtain for a window. Why not a soft box for a window? Well, one of the jobs of a soft box is to make a small light source bigger, with a window, we already have a large light, we just might want to diffuse it a little.
If outside, and wanting to use the free light in the sky, AKA the Sun, our best bet is to find some open shade, this will act like a large soft box in the fact that the light will be softer and less contrasty, we won’t get uneven highlights and shadows on the skin.
There are many options for a single light source that will make a great portrait. Mastering one light, gives us more confidence to add another. Recreate this video, it doesn’t matter what light source, and black and white is as good as colour.
Two evenings to get into this weeks blog, member Andro Andrejevic took us on journey through his development as a photographer over the last couple of years and a welcome return for the Wriggly Road Show, for a fascinating hands on meeting.
As well as the club, Andro also belongs to the Dream Team photographers collective, and cited both as playing a roll in his continuing development. The value of having a team and fellow photographers to bounce ideas off (as well as light) has a value and effect of it’s own.
Certainly it was good to see that on the evening of the Wriggly Roadshow club members were interacting not only with the animals (and not just as subjects of a photograph) but with each other. Again, and talking to some of the other members who told me as much, the interaction of ideas and experience proved a strong point of the evening.
But there is one question that arises when we are all taking pictures of the same subject, how do we make ours stand out? This is a question that has broader implications. Somebody decided, on a pretty arbitrary basis I suspect, that the world has 2.6 billion photographers in it based on the number of smart phone users. Now that is a loose definition of “Photographer” extended to anyone with a camera. I would argue for a narrower one.
A photographer is someone with a device, we will call it a camera, with a notion of what they want the image they are creating to look like. Deliberation rather than intent is the difference. Otherwise we are just a person with a camera. A skill set beyond pointing and shooting is required to be a photographer – and that is what we want to be.
There are still a lot of photographers, though. Put several of us together in front of a common subject and the differences are likely to be quite small. There isn’t a point where a certificate is issued declaring us a compentant photographer. There isn’t a set number of likes on Instagram, Facebook or Flickr that qualifies us thus.
And it is not about the kit we use. Another difference comes from coverting another lens, body, light modifier, whatever and making the most of what we have. Yes there are advantages to that but poor composition doesn’t look any better through Canon L glass than it does through a pinhole punched in tin foil and placed on a camera body cap (with a hole drilled in it).
But given similar skill levels, how do we make a difference?
Assuming we all know to take the photo from the subject’s eye level, avoid distracting backgrounds, get close to the subject so as to fill the frame with it, place the subject off centre and so on aren’t we going to get very similar if not identical images? Yes we are.
Therefore, we need to look for other ways to get that moment. Monochrome? Square crop? Composite? These are, for the most part, post production methods but that doesn’t mean that they don’t make part of the decision making process prior to pressing the shutter. Intent, vision, is a big part of making an image.
As individuals with a photogrpahic bent we are drawn to different things in a scene. We frame it, make part of it the focus of the scene, something that, at some level is unique to us, the time, the place and the subject. This uniqueness, this vision is something, that, as creators, we use as the soul, the spirit, that drew is to the scene in the first place.
To use this as a development tool we need to grow our creativity and creativity grows when we are forced to come up with solutions in the face of very limited resources. Such as shooting – people, animals, buildings, nature, shapes, colours, shadows, you name it – as part of a group.
The group is essentially working the same scene. In attempting to make it different, unique, ours, we have to work the angles, make that scarce, fleeting opportunity ours. If we are looking for one thing it’s the quality of light. Photography is all about the light.
Photography is also about doing and doing is the basis of improving, technically and artistically. More important is doing with a purpose. Get out and take some more pictures – it’s what we bought the camera for after all.
And as we are in a photographic club looking at other peoples work isn’t exactly difficult, but we live in a very visual world and to keep critically looking at the many images that are pushed at us daily requires a small but significant shift from being passive viewers to active, critical ones – I like this because …. that works because …. I would change ….
Revisiting our own work and trying a different crop, a vignette, monochrome, harder contrast, soft blur or any other variation is a variation of this, but gives us a better understanding of how we ourselves work and how we might change.
And last if not exactly least we need to take a few chances, even of they mostly turn out to be “Mistakes” because doing the above means that these mistakes are actually learning opportunities, if we let them be and continuous learning is the best way to develop as a photographer.
Lighting options, from basic budget and food photography after break, special thanks to the ever inventive Ian Coombs for the artistic food plates, and to Myk Garton and Richard Clayton among others for their light tutorials.
The most important thing in photography is light and the best camera for the job is the one you have got on you. Two propositions that in themselves are their own truths. That said the cameras that we have offer us varying degrees of flexibility. Beyond developing us by making us think of the things that we do automatically more deliberately, an effect that quickly wears off, new/new to us equipment is just another way of getting the job done, maybe a little easier.
These days we are as likely, in fact, more than likely, to move from a camera phone to a more traditional form factor – something we think of more as a traditional camera – as a means of getting “better” photographs. Form factor is the physical size and shape of a piece of equipment. These days we think of cameras as being, mostly, hand holdable items. Certainly, when coming from a hand-holdable device like a camera phone, we look to how the camera handles, where the buttons are, weight and heft, balance.
Different formats have different aspect ratios, basically the ratio of the width of the sensor to the height. The 16:9 of our camera phones fits the the aspect ratio of our TV’s. Mirrorless and DSLT APS-C crop sensors are usually 3:2. DSLR’s (and SLR’s) 4:3. That effects how we frame – one isn’t necessarily better than another – because those are the dimensions we are given to work with. Those frames are given and we tend to adapt accordingly. It becomes more evident when we move between formats, such as cropping a 3:2 to a 4:3 competition format, especially for prints.
The sensor size is usually the single biggest factor in overall quality. Not necessarily the number of (fantasies of camera company marketing departments, by and large) but the size and number and layout of the pixels. A phone sensor is approximately 5mm x 3.5mm, a full frame camera 34mm x 24mm. Compacts, Bridge Camera’s, Micro Four Thirds, APS-C come in between. Bigger is generally better.
More complex is the arrangement of knobs, switches and dials, which at best will be software options, more likely not options at all, on a phone. Full manual is a lot easier concept to mount on a larger form factor.
On the flip side pure convenience, connectedness with programmes and channels that enable sharing of pictures, and, not least, portability are on the camera phones side. These days people rarely travel beyond the front door without their phone and therefore a camera. The biggest downside remains those lower quality images, which look fine on a phone screen, probably the most frequently employed method of display.
Although what we see as a “proper” camera these days is subject to change, the fact remains tha the best camera you have is the one you have got, but there is no escaping the fact that cameras still take pictures but photographers make photographs. Make a poor photograph and it will not be improved one iota by how much money was spent and how sophisticated the means of capturing it were. It will remain poor.
Last week we put forward the proposition that light is everything in photography. It is. This, sooner rather than later, leads the photographer to the question of “Settings”. Indeed the more time we spend on the internet the more it would appear that settings are the most important thing in photography. They are not. Light is. This obsession as Mike Browne points out, is nonsense on stilts. Settings do not lead to the picture. The scene, what we are taking the picture of, leads to the settings. The light is what nature or the photographer, makes it (natural/artificial light). Light is everything in photography.
The principles set out using a portrait setup are applicable to everything else. A good way to think about using light is that we are manipulating the direction of light and from that the direction of shadow. The same effects can be replicated using a torch or reading light, LED or other strip light, a flash or a specifically designed lighting rig. A piece of grease proof paper makes a great diffuser. Black card or material makes a good flag. Aluminium foil makes a good reflector. The important thing is to practice. As with last weeks video a simple set up is best. To remove the effect of colour use black and white. Try replicating this short video on your own table top.
Our thanks to all those involved in setting up the portrait areas on Thursday night, in particular to members Steve Dyer, Gerry Painter and Myk Garton. Also thanks to our models Melisa Wright, Helen Morgan-Rogers and Bethany.
“Portrait photography or portraiture in photography is a photograph of a person or group of people that captures the personality of the subject by using effective lighting, backdrops, and poses”. Wikipedia
The key phrase there is “Effective lighting”. Yes the pose matters and yes the backdrop or background matters, but the lighting has to be effective too, it is the biggest single factor. Let us dig into this a little bit further.
All photography is about the fall of light on a subject, I know. We are here weekly (more or less) in this blog. We are here every time we push the shutter button, for good or otherwise.
Effective – having an expected or intended outcome; producing a strong emotion or response. So, we are talking about lighting that does as we designed it to do and in so doing produce a strong emotion or response in the viewer. Or as we have said (frequently) always start with the end in mind.
This is easier in the studio than outdoors and in fully candid photography a.k.a. Street. It is true that beggars can’t be choosers, but this merely underscores the importance of picking the background first then letting subjects pass through it. Obviously we have to mindful of the fall of light and, if shadows are part of the composition, the dynamic range that we are asking our cameras to deal with. What we want to avoid is the background swamping the subject to we end up with unintended under or over exposure.
Outdoors we need to be more mindful of natural reflectors and flags, that is light sources and environmental shadows rather than the ones we create for the purpose of getting an acceptable shot. Again, putting ourselves in the optimal position and waiting for the subject or scout and bring your model along on the live shoot.
With the studio, as we had in the hall, then the preparation is just as important. For those of us new to it, on a restricted budget, or just casual studio portraitists one light can be used. Grids, beauty dishes and soft boxes can be improvised. Cheap versions can also be sourced (e.g. Grids, beauty dishes and/or softboxes / diffusers) but if we are going to use them often then we are better off on paying for more robust versions.
Poses are as established as any other part of art and the symbolism and interpretations that the idea of the pose creates are based on, or at least can be based on, the assertion that body language accounts for 55% of the communication between two or more actors. A photograph takes out the verbal and the wordage, the other 45%, and in doing so makes the visual element more important, makes the subject’s form and shape the only. So far so obvious, but the human body can express so much with just a few small adjustments.
There are differences in posing men and in posing women, based in culturally based perceptions of masculinity and femininity. As ever practice makes perfect and preferably with the same subjects. Posing in itself is a big subject, but in essence it is a form of composition, or at least a branch thereof. Mastering the art is still 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration, and as ever, having the end in mind when we start can help us immeasurably.
There are any number of poses that work, but the pose itself may break an image but it is not going to make an image. The eyes have it. Engagement between the subject and the viewer make the image, the rest of the subjects body, that is that of it which is visible in the image. This goes for any pose, and any gender and age.
In putting these three essentials, light, background and pose, together meaningfully lies the art of photographing people. And here we are talking the difference between grabbing a picture and making a photograph, between reciting the alphabet of buttons on our camera body and writing with light. It doesn’t have to be complicated, though that won’t stop people trying to make it so. It is about two (or more) humans communicating to a common purpose. Even so it has its own grammar.
It is worth repeating that the image that works most effectively is the one that is the product of the photographers craft, not their camera’s algorithms. As was once said of the example of the great American Jazz player, John Coltrane, their “Must be a priority of integrity, honesty, decency, and mastery of craft” (Cornel West).
I think the same can be said of portrait photography, whatever its form.
Jo Gilbert took us through the first exercise in generating materials for the 2019 Kingswood Salver. If you missed last Thursday’s “Shadow” Panel session, fear not, bring in your versions and, if available, a lap top or similar device that you can edit on and you can join in too. This week we shall be editing our panels and extra shots will be welcome. Doesn’t even have to be a shadows panel at this juncture, though it would be better if it were.
Three things we found out across the shadows session: They are simple to create, difficult to capture just right and working in teams can be very productive. We started with a look at some past panels entered in the Kingswood Salver and applied a critique to each individual image in the panel and the overall panel itself. Certain patterns started to emerge and each of the six teams then at least had a grounding in where to start.
I have mentioned Stephen R Covey before and his most famous work: “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and specifically his admonition to always “Start with the end in mind”. When faced with a task and a time limit the temptation is to wade straight in and start experimenting. The flip side of this is that it can quickly become quite dispiriting when the expected result doesn’t emerge or doesn’t emerge quite as quickly as expected.
As amateur photographers (and not a few professional ones) have found out that having a clear idea when we start shooting simplifies the looking, framing, shooting of our images is “A good idea”. In our we set out some common criteria to the panel entries from last year and included or rejected ideas simply by adding the magic word “Because” to our impressions.
It was, on looking at what was being produced around the room, “A good idea” because the story behind the panel became part of the focus of producing our own. Mainly the story seemed to follow the images, which gets us going, but drawing a story from what resulted wasn’t always going to be easy. Without the continuity then building a panel gets a lot harder and we end up with a frame driven by necessity rather than by design. Other than by luck this will produce weaker stories.
Weaker stories are a problem in photography because photography is a way of exploring and telling the stories we gather by the reflection of light. Stronger photographs tell better stories. This then can be easily extended to a series of pictures, can’t it? When introducing photographs in a series they may be equally strong, then the problem becomes, if not complementary, of there being a tussle for attention and the whole display becomes weakened.
So the idea is that, in any multi panel presentation, the whole is more than the sum of its’ parts, which is as far as most people get with Gestalt theory. There is something – a whole photo-book at the very least – absolutely useful in the eight “Laws” found in Prägnanz (and you didn’t think you could at your age), basically that:
Proximity – when objects are close together we perceive them as a group and give them meaning as such.
Similarity – elements, (colour, form, shape, shading etc.) within an assortment of objects we group together in our mind’s eye if they correspond to each other.
Closure – we perceive objects such as shapes, letters, pictures, etc., as being whole when they are not complete, we fill spaces in the visual gap to produce a consistent view.
Symmetry – our minds perceive objects as being symmetrical and forming around a centre point. We tend to like splitting scenes into an equal number of symmetrical parts which goes some of the way to explaining the rule of odds when we want to make a number of objects stand out in a composition.
Common fate – states that objects are perceived as lines that move along the smoothest path. Short explanation: this is why leading lines work. The eye and all objects in the frame are visually drawn to a point which becomes the point of visual weight.
Continuity – We are less likely to group elements with sharp abrupt directional changes as being one object, we like things to go as expected.
Good gestalt – objects tend to be perceived as grouped together if they form a regular pattern that is simple and orderly.
Past experience – under some circumstances what we see is categorised according to past experience.
As photographers rather than psychologists we can use these ideas to promote harmony and continuity among not only objects within a frame but subjects across frames. For the Salver competition that means across five frames.
Frames are useful in the context of our individual development as photographers. I remember from when I first started out in photography as a hobbyist in my early teens coming across a piece of advice that came back to me when discussing their progress with one of the groups.
Basically it was an axiom that, and this is in the days of film (of course!), you should frame your shot three times from different angles before pressing the shutter to capture the strongest view of the three. In these days of virtually zero cost to the additional frame this is still good advice but one where we have taking the luxury of pressing the shutter each time we frame.
A very good general exercise is to think of your compositions in terms of three frames – a form of triptych. This allows us to expand the possibilities that just one shot precludes, it is also good practice in presenting different angles and it is a very good way to remind us to vary our perspectives, It is also generally quite instructive when we take even a basic structure to looking and critiquing our own pictures.
Apologies for missing a post, IT problems. Our guest speaker was the always welcome Peter Weaver, who will be returning in a couple of weeks to judge Round 3 of the Open Competition. This was followed by a video tutorial and a table top session. Peter showed us many instances of his own photographic journey and this set me to thinking about one particular aspect which we have talked around but not directly addressed in a while, that of taking pictures of people.
There are many forms this can take from the happy snap via passport style documentary through street to high art. For all of these we are going to use the same basic formula with appropriate, or lack of appropriate, vigour, starting with the background, putting our subject in it, lighting it then recording it. We are speaking generally.
So, background. Avoiding the classic lamp post/tree branch growing out of the subject’s head takes a bit of practice. Border patrol needs to become a habit when our attention is mainly on the subject, but that is easier said than done, especially when we are starting out. Choosing the background against which we will contrast our subject helps in getting this right. Not fool proof, but it works more often than it doesn’t and that little equation can be affected positively by establishing a routine and sticking to it.
Two easy to stick to rules for backgrounds are fill the frame with your subject (goes for all single subject photographs) and blur the rest. In the first of these we can either zoom with the lens or zoom with our feet. Perspective doesn’t change the same way when we zoom with the lens as when we zoom with our feet, as different focal lengths will handle background compression in a different way (sort of, it’s the subject to distance that changes in order to keep the subject the same size in the lens).
Putting the subject into a pre-selected background minimises the chances of there being unintended distractions in frame. Basically, if it doesn’t add to the story you are trying to convey, get rid, either by moving to another location, cropping tighter or changing the angle between lens and subject.
In the studio we might generally light the scene at this stage and refine with the model in it, which is fine where control is total, but we don’t always have this option. In more public and more chaotic situations, “Running and Gunning”, we might need to see what we are lighting first but this is really a personal preference and down to the workflow we adopt – not all workflows are automatically the most efficient but we are after the most effective and that means thinking critically about them from time to time.
Where ambient light is variable it is preferable to put the model in the scene, then light. Variation is part of every point on this process as each time something changes we have a different image and opportunity. Being prepared for the opportunity is a vital step in capturing it.
Posing our model is relative to the formality of the shoot. The corporate head shot is probably the most convention bound of these as portraits of friends informal. Inflation of ego aside, it always amazes me that the item by which their audience is going to judge them most, the corporate mug shot on the annual report, on advertising, on the web, commands such little time in the executive’s “busy” day. Herd instinct aside, the corporate headshot is a very conservative market. Everything can be pre-lit because so very little changes.
Admittedly there are poses to generally avoid because body language is very specific in what it conveys. Posing is also gender specific, at least by convention, so we have the idea of male poses and female poses, which, in actuality, are merely what society expects.
Then the lighting. Lighting is as straight forward or as difficult as you want to make it. Essentially it is the interplay of light and shadow and it is something over which we have varying control over depending on the environment we are shooting in.
A home photo-studio doesn’t have to be expensive to build, and if we start out with flash, as many of us do, then we have a very versatile and portable light source that has many uses, the light from which can be usefully and quite cheaply modified for hard light (grids, snoots, beauty dishes and reflectors) or soft (soft boxes, umbrellas, diffusers and flags). What we get in the studio is control.
Light is by far the biggest factor in any photograph. It’s in the name, as we have discussed before. Its qualities are exactly what we trade in. That balance of light and dark we control has four elements: quality, position, intensity and colour and the modifiers are how we go about it when using artificial lighting or a mix. The portability of modifiers (well the smaller ones, a seven foot octobox may not weigh a lot but the slightest of breezes will turn it into a sail) doesn’t preclude them being used outside (and here).
As, more often than not, we are using a mixture of ambient and boosted light, the options for control are broad. For non-artificial lighting we have the exposure triangle, white balance and filters to affect the look of the light. We have exposure compensation, full manual too.
It is all dependent on the way things are arranged in the frame of course. Composition is no small matter. It is as important as the light, indeed it is at least half of what we do to capture our vision, that thing that grabbed our attention. It’s about making a statement, or taking that statement and making it our own, but remember : “It’s one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are.”
— Paul Caponigro
Pixelsticking, if there is such a word, was our last little venture and thanks to members Rob Dyer and Myk Garton for providing the pieces of kit aforementioned. The pixel stick is a relatively new device, for those of us unfamiliar, that allows the projection of an image across a frame using a long exposure. It is a form of light painting and requires a certain amount of dark in the frame in order to get a long enough exposure and a high contrast.
October 2013 and the Pixelstick was yet another project on Kickstarter a way for pre-designing a light painted image invented by two photographers, Duncan Frazier and Steve McGuigan, and as we saw, the possibilities are almost endless. Frazier and McGuigan’s invention allows not just for sweeps of coloured LED’s to be recorded, but by breaking down image files into 198 x 1 pixel format and displaying them one line at a time any image can be rendered. Each full colour RGB LED in the 198 high (6 foot) stack represents a line when moved across the field of view of the camera lens (utilising anywhere between 1 and all 198 pixels) and combined make for a time lapsed light painted image.
Not that light painting is new. (Time line by light painting photography). The first light painted image on record was taken in 1889, and had the really snappy title of “Pathological walk from in front” (only in French). As such it was a documentary photograph, recording the movement of joints, created by Étienne-Jules Marey and Georges Demeny. Denemy was a student of Marey, when Marey was teaching physiology at the Collége de France. They attached a set of incandescent bulbs to the joints of a subject in the dark and took a long exposure. Long exposures were pretty standard in 1889. Marey also was the first photo-sniper, being the inventor of the chronophotographic gun, and a very great deal more.
The next name in the development of light painting is not a photographer but an early supporter of the Scientific Management movement, you’d probably know it better as Time and Motion, though that was only part of the larger movement, and certainly those of us who engage in any volume of editing in post are aware of the idea of efficient workflow. As with Marey and Demeny Frank Gilbreth Snr used the light painting to study the actions of workers in their work looking for the least effort to produce the most work volume (read profit). He also invented a concrete mixer, but that is by the by.
Perhaps the first name recognisable name to us as photographers to use light painting to effect is that of Man Ray. Man Ray is regarded as a leading figure in the Avant-garde and Dada movements, and he was an extensive, but not exclusive, user of photography in creating his art. He used light painting techniques in a series he called “Space Writing”.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s there were experiments in light painting by artists like Gjon Mili, famous for attaching lights to the boots of ice skaters and his experiments with flash exposures, but most famously in the light paintings executed with Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse; Barbara Morgan; Jack Delano; and Andreas Feininger. In the 50’s David Potts started moving the camera rather than the subject and explored the use of colour film in what became known as Kinetic Light Painting a.k.a. Camera Painting. George Mathieu, an Abstract Expressionist, used the more traditional method to portray movement for a Japanese magazine cover but his work was mainly as a painter and portraying movement a key feature of that work.
Light painting, then, was something of an oddity, not at all mainstream even though the technique, comparatively, is pretty straight forward. It lurked upon the fringes of photography until the digital age. It starts to look more familiar to us in the 1970’s. David Lebe’s Light Drawings came from his experimentation with pin hole cameras, which capture movement over long periods of time on an essentially still medium. He has an extensive oeuvre in the style. Eric Staller’s work looks like it could be contemporary, many of us have images that look like a Staller, only his were the originals. That said it is David Chamberlain who is the flag bearer in the modern era, being the only artist to exclusively use the techniques of light painting to present his body of work, at least the only one wrooith an extensive reputation. Susan Hilbrand, Jacques Pugin, fill out the cast and into the 80’s artists like Jozef Sedlák, Viki DaSilva, Mike Mandel, Kamil Varga, John Hesketh and Tokihiro Sato show the popularity of such techniques moving towards, if never actually becoming part of, the mainstream of photographic techniques.
But it is simple to do and you can get a lot of very striking images and it engages the imagination. It is a problem solving exercise, as photography is at heart, and it is fun. It is also getting more popular and though the PixelStick is part of that, it is still expensive and in its infancy. Flickr has its small assembly of PixelStick groups, in the wider Light painting communities there are dozens of groups to choose from. Other social media has its fair share too.
It doesn’t take a lot of extra equipment, most of us will have something around the house we can use to get started. It’s one of the more fun aspects of photography, if you haven’t tried it, why not give it a go?