The Greek roots of the word photography mean ‘drawing with light’, and this project takes the idea quite literally, but moves it forward into the digital age, writes Jon Adams. Normally, we take a picture that is lit by a static light source, but if you extend the shutter speed to several seconds, you can move this light source around during the exposure and record the illumination it casts as a blur. This will increase the apparent size of the light, and soften the shadows it casts. Alternatively, if the lightsource is visible within the photo, any movement will turn it into a light trace – a streak of continuous light that etches onto the photo like a marker etches onto a sheet of paper. You can even use multiple light sources – like LED string lights, to get multiple streaks at the same time.
If you shoot in a dark room and ensure your camera is kept in exactly the same position, you can take several shots – some with the light source shining on the subject and some with it visible in the frame – and combine them together in Photoshop Layers. Because each frame is composed in exactly the same way, everything that’s static in the scene will line up perfectly, so the different layers will reveal only the different lighting effects. And with each lighting effect on a separate layer, you can then switch the effect on or off, and even change the colour of the lighting.
In this video, Jon shows the quick way to load your painting-with-light shots into a layers stack, and then how to make colour changes to individual layers. Once you’re armed with these skills, you’ll find that painting with light is a fabulous way to spend an hour or two in a dark room, and because of the level of control you get with this method, you can create some amazing images that have a lot more finesse and precision than traditional light paintings that try to do everything in a single, long exposure.