Painting with light–a study


ISO 200, f/5.0, 43 seconds – DW painting

Wasting no time after picking up the Nikon D90, my first DSLR ever, I wanted to do some long exposures and a bit of an experiment with LED lights.  For this shot, the camera was tripod mounted and in “bulb” mode for shutter, triggered by a remote control.  Shot this in Dave White’s near-totally dark bachelor pad.  We used a hacked-up dollar store “fibre optic” lamp that featured a red, green, and blue LED.  I tripped the shutter and traced around Dave White with the red LED.  After a couple of trials, Dave White suggested slowing the LED trace around the hands to highlight them more.  Cool effect!


ISO 200, f/4.0, 8 seconds – Dave White painting

It’s really cool how pauses fatten and flair/flare the line.  I gather that the camera sensor’s colour response curve is somewhat geared to the human eye, so the green LED here really pops more than the red (though aperture is bigger here too).


ISO 200, f/4.0, 40 seconds – Dave White painting

After Dave White demonstrated some impressive backward-writing skills, it occurred to me that we could write normally and then just flip the image in post-processing.


ISO 200, f/5.0, 15 seconds – Dave White painting

Here we used a paper cone with some vellum on the end to create a diffuser for the LEDs.  Fatter brush.


ISO 200, f/5.0, 27 seconds – Dave White painting

More with the diffuser and then Dave White came straight out at the camera and the line goes out of focus.


ISO 200, f/5.0, 12 seconds – Dave White painting

Dave White turned the cone down point-up to create this ribbon effect.


ISO 200, f/5.0, 27 seconds – Dave White painting

Cone diffuser for the red traces back in the kitchen and exposed blue LED in the foreground.  Dave White just switched from the red LED to the blue LED on the lamp before coming out of the kitchen.


ISO 200, f/5.0, 7.7 seconds – Dave White painting

Exposed blue LED trace at left that Dave White then put into a domed safety light housing from the junk pile that diffuses the light.  He paused for while in the dome so we got a nice bright spot there.

D90_firsts 106

Here are some of the “tools” we used, clockwise from top left: domed safety light shell as a diffuser, hacked dollar store RGB lamp (I pulled the LEDs off the PCB and mounted them on a wire stalk), and a paper cone diffuser.


ISO 200, f/5.0, 8.8 seconds – Dave White painting

Dave White had this flashing LED-lit mini soccer ball that he sort of swooshed from left to right here.  If you look closely you can see his hands cradling it on the right.


ISO 200, f/5.0, 11 seconds – Dave White painting

Here we used a glass lens hacked from a projector in front of the exposed LEDs.  Dave White was moving toward the camera here, so I’m thinking that is partially responsible for the lack of focus.  Note at the bottom that both the red and green LEDs were on simultaneously.

So that was pretty fun.  The results are always a bit surprising: intriguing process of discovery.  Lots of makers have done this sort of thing before us, but reading about doing it and actually doing it are two completely different things.  This little experiment generated many many ideas for future experiments, so watch for those in the new year.


ISO 100, f/8.0, 9 seconds – DW – Engineering 5, University of Waterloo

Since we were up late anyway, we toured around town a bit looking for cool buildings to photograph on timed exposures.  I’ve been watching Eng 5 get built over the past year, so it was really great to photograph this unique building.


ISO 200, f/8.0, 2.4 seconds – DW – Dave White at Engineering 5, University of Waterloo

I often walk to lunch past these steps and it makes me think of Battleship Potemkin (for you film buffs).  Different kind of revolution going on here, though.


ISO 200, f/8.0, 3.2 seconds – DW – Engineering 5, University of Waterloo

I’ve got some things about focus to figure out, but hey, I only read half the manual so far.


ISO 200, f/8.0, 3.7 seconds – DW – Engineering 5, University of Waterloo

I think my model’s getting cold.


ISO 100, f/2.6, 5 seconds, Canon P&S – Dave White – DW shooting Eng 5, University of Waterloo

As am I.


ISO 100, f/8.0, 1 seconds – Dave White – Engineering 5, University of Waterloo

Dave got some awesome reflections in this show he did with his Canon on a 4” mini tripod.

It was a great year of making and I know it’s going to get even better in 2011.  Thanks for tuning in.

Happy making,


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4 Responses to Painting with light–a study

  1. Natalie says:

    Wow, that’s cool!

  2. Suzanne says:

    I love the ribbons! totally cool!

  3. Duncan M. (Dunc) White says:

    OK, OK… this information presented by you and Dave are fine… the two of us really enjoyed the unique time exposed night shots. I wonder why you worry about focus… can we discuss that? I figure that the camera (D 90 Nikon, what great piece of equiptment) can bring things into the focus you want… am I close to the answer?

    Hugs, Mom and Dad

    PS: (Bed time… cannot view more tonight… but tomorrow may be the right day!)

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