Behind the Photo – Painting with Light

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Thanks for reading! Andrew.



Painting with light and a FutureHoop

Things have been a bit quiet around here lately (I was away for a couple of weeks at the end of last month) but will be back to normal shortly. I am going to share photos from my trip in the coming weeks, but in the meantime here is an article about another shoot I did a month or so ago.

Painting with light and steel wool spinning are popular techniques that I’ve written about before on this blog. I discovered a new take on these on a recent shoot (you can see my favourite image from it above).

There are a few factors that went into making the photo, but the main one is that it was a collaboration between myself and my friend Tess (who you may remember from this video tutorial).

Tess is a professional hula hooper and owns an electronic hula hoop with internal lights that can be programmed to flash in different colours and patterns. It’s called a FutureHoop and is what we used to create the images in this blog post.

A few notes on technique:

  • We shot at dusk, to try and find the right moment when the lights from the FutureHoop were bright enough to dominate the scene, but there was still enough light in the sky to illuminate the background. It was fairly light when we started, and we shot until it was almost dark.
  • I used a Fujifilm X-Pro 1 camera with 18mm f2 R lens. I set the camera on a tripod and used a cable release to activate the shutter to avoid camera shake. I made sure the camera was upright to avoid converging verticals in the columns.
  • The setting was important as the photos required a strong background in order to work. We shot at Massey Memorial near the city of Wellington, New Zealand. I set the exposure on the camera manually, adjusting by raising ISO as the light faded. The first photo in the sequence had an exposure of 2 seconds at f8, ISO 200. The very last had an exposure of 4 seconds at f11, ISO 1600. That tells us that the light faded by a total of 3 stops during the shoot.
  • I shot in Raw to obtain maximum detail from the photo files. I set the white balance to daylight so I could see the natural colours of the ambient light and the FutureHoop. I didn’t try it but I suspect that setting auto white balance would had resulted in some strange results. Not that it matters when shooting Raw as you can set white balance in the Develop module. But consistency is useful when viewing the images on the camera’s LCD screen.
  • Shooting Raw greatly simplifies the shooting process as there are only five settings for the photographer to be concerned with. They are ISO, shutter speed, aperture, focal length and focusing distance (i.e. deciding where to focus the lens). In this static shoot with a tripod mounted camera the variables were reduced to three (ISO, shutter speed, aperture). I kept the aperture at either f8 or f11 throughout the shoot, and raised ISO as the light faded to prevent the shutter speeds becoming too long. The feedback of viewing images after they were taken enabled me to judge the best shutter speeds to use and also to give Tess some ideas about what patterns to create with her hoop.
  • The original, unprocessed Raw files were fairly light as I was using the expose to the right technique for exposure. There was also variation caused by the changing ratio between the light from the FutureHoop, which was more or less consistent, and the ambient light, which faded during the shoot. I processed the photos in Lightroom, and aimed to make the selected images from the shoot as consistent as possible in terms of brightness.
  • Here’s a comparison of an early and a late photo. The overall brightness is similar, thanks to the processing. In the earlier photo the sun was setting to camera left, casting a warm glow on the columns. In the later photo the sun had set and the columns are mainly lit by the glow from the FutureHoop. The light pattern from the hoop also seems brighter because the strength of the ambient light had dropped.

Painting with light and a FutureHoop

  • If Tess stayed in the same position during the exposure, her figure was recorded along with the light pattern from the FutureHoop, despite the long exposure. She needed to twirl the hoop behind her, creating a silhouette, for this to work best. If she moved around, the light pattern covered a wider area, but you couldn’t see much of her.

Further resources

The following articles from my blog will help you make the most out of shooting in low lighting conditions like these.

Painting with Light: How to Add Interest to Landscapes

Steel Wool Spinning

You may also find these articles I wrote for Digital Photography School useful:

Playing with Fire: Steel Wool Spinning in the Landscape

Intentional Camera Movement and the Landscape

The Surreal Landscape: Long Exposure Photography

Painting with Light in the Landscape

The Magic of Natural Light: Twilight

Photo Gallery

Here are some more photos from the shoot.

Painting with light and a FutureHoop

Painting with light and a FutureHoop

Painting with light and a FutureHoop

Painting with light and a FutureHoop

Painting with light and a FutureHoop

Painting with light and a FutureHoop

Painting with light and a FutureHoop

Painting with light and a FutureHoop

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