Recently I interviewed Austin, TX photographer Matthew Danser about some innovative ways he uses light in his digital photos.
For the photo shown to the right, taken at night in a Texas ghost town, Danser assembled the following items: a powerful, handheld LED light; his Canon 5D Mark iii camera and Canon 16-35 mm L lens (at 16mm); Canon 580ex 2 flash; a red gel (piece of red cellophane to color the light of the flash); a tripod; and his girlfriend’s finger (to graciously hold down the shutter release button because he forgot his bulb release at home!).
Danser told Pegasus: “So, I set my camera on bulb mode and had my girlfriend hold down the shutter release button for 13 minutes, while the camera was very sturdy on the tripod. The place was pitch black except for the stars and the moon (very little ambient light pollution in the desert). As my girlfriend was keeping the shutter open, I walked to one side of the structure and methodically shined my flashlight (rated at 2000 lumens, so it’s pretty bright) all along the exterior and front facade of the building. This lasted for about five minutes before I turned the flashlight off and ran to the other side of the building and ‘painted’ for another five minutes.”
Danser said that one of the important tricks of light painting is to show off the textures of the buildings by shining his LED flashlight at an angle instead of from the camera position.
After “painting” the sides of the building for five minutes each, he ran inside and popped off about 10 red-gelled flashes to create the effect of a warm glow pouring out of the building.
When asked how he was able to run in and out of the building without showing up in the photo, Danser simply replied that “The camera could not ‘see’ me because I was moving quickly, and there wasn’t enough ambient light to expose me in the picture.” While popping off the gelled flashes in the building, he always made sure he was not visible to the camera.
After 13 minutes at an aperture of 2.8, Danser was able to get an excellent exposure of the night sky while having ample time to do all of the “light painting” that he had planned beforehand.
Soon I hope to try some light painting of my own with less expensive equipment to show you how anyone can adopt Danser’s technique. After all, light can be used in all kinds of art and photography projects.
In the meantime, check out this Huffington Post article on painting with light and be sure to visit Danser’s website to see tons of beautiful experiments playing with—and painting with—light. Thanks, Matt!