CAMERA ROTATION LIGHT PAINTING
In most cases, the light painting artist will work with moving light in front of the camera. A not so widespread form of light painting is kinetic photography. Here, choreographed movements are made with the camera during the exposure. In most cases, the light sources are fixed and the traces of light are painted into the picture solely by the camera movements.
With quite simple equipment, rotations around the optical axis, as in the title picture, turning the zoom of the lens, panning to the left, right, up, down or also the rotations around the axis of the tripod head are conceivable here. For other directions of movement you need special equipment like sliders. That will not be the subject of this article, hardly anyone will have such equipment at home.
For this type of light painting, an absolutely firm stand of the camera is essential. If the light trails are to be clean and straight, the camera must not move during the exposure.
Short focal lengths are better suited for such pictures than long ones. The longer the focal length, the more you see small blurs; the light trails then run off track.
Basically, there are two ways of working. Either light traces are drawn by the movements of the camera or different steps are taken. To do this, the lens is covered in the meantime, i.e. during the movement. But combinations of both techniques in one shot can also be very exciting.
The “simplest” variant of choreographic photography. Simply because almost every photographer has a zoom lens in his possession. During the exposure of the Brandenburg Gate, I moved the zoom ring of the lens several times.
The zoom range does not have to be large, for the example picture I had a Tokina 19-35 mm on the Nikon D750. In order not to have too hard beginnings and ends of the light traces in the picture, I did not move the zoom all the way to the stop, but only to just before it and then immediately in the other direction again. In order to make the Brandenburg Gate more visible, I then exposed it for a few seconds without moving the zoom. For the second picture of the Brandenburg Gate, I covered the lens again and again and then exposed for a few seconds with the different focal lengths.
ROTATION AROUND THE OPTICAL AXIS
In the meantime, this light painting technique has become quite widespread. Many artists work with a wide variety of tools, ideas and ways of working with the technique of camera rotation photography. The possibilities of creating impressive works of art with this technique are almost limitless. A quite simple variant is to take the picture in two parts, once the right way round and again upside down, i.e. rotated by 180°.
Of course, the number of steps can be increased. I usually expose for a few seconds, then cover the lens with a black opaque cap, rotate the camera a bit around the optical axis, then remove the cap again for a few seconds, and so on until I have completed one rotation. Even “incomplete” rotations can be quite exciting.
Rotating the Berlin Cathedral or even the town hall in Görlitz exactly in the centre of the head is anything but easy. Without a precise tool and meticulous alignment of the camera, such shots are not possible.
Movements such as tilting, inclining, changing the height or rotating around the fixed point of the camera on the tripod can also be used to create impressive effects in light painting. The creative possibilities are almost unlimited.
Depending on the effects you want to achieve in your light painting pictures with this technique, you will need various tools. In addition to your camera and at least one lens, you should take an opaque cap or hat with you. You can then cover your lens with this to be able to carry out movements “invisibly”. A (radio) remote trigger makes the work easier. I usually use a simple cable release for a few euros.
With the rickety, light travel tripod, you will hardly succeed in taking such pictures. An absolutely secure stand for the camera is essential for this kind of light painting. For most of the shots shown in this article, I used a Manfrotto 055 with 3 segments. It’s not exactly lightweight, and it won’t fit in my small backpack, but it’s very stable. The heavy DSLR with the heavy 14mm lens, all attached to the Camera Rotation Tool, is held securely. And, more importantly, I don’t have to worry about the tripod and camera falling over during light painting.
I put luminescent tape around the legs of the tripod so that I, and other people, don’t run into the camera in the dark.
For some of the techniques mentioned above you don’t necessarily need a tripod head, you could screw the camera directly onto the tripod. This has the advantage of greater stability, but you lose a lot of comfort in aligning the camera. For my light painting pictures I almost always use a 3-way panhead from Manfrotto. A clean alignment works better and easier than with a ball head because it always moves in all directions at the same time when you loosen it. With the 3-way head I can adjust each direction separately. A video head might also work well, but I haven’t tested it yet.
No matter which tripod head you want to use, you should make sure that it can safely support the weight of the camera and lens as well as the camera rotation tool. In my case, that’s about 3 kilograms in total.
CAMERA ROTATION TOOL – GIMBAL HEAD
With the Gimbal Head you can buy a “ready-made” camera rotation tool. The parts are actually intended for the thick telephoto lenses of paparazzi and peep-shot photographers, but if you mount the camera on the gimbal instead of the telescope, you can rotate the camera around its own optical axis.
Before you can use the tool, you have to set the right height for your camera. The easiest way to do this is to use the Live View function. You switch it on, let the grid lines appear, find a small object which you place exactly in the middle of the picture, and then rotate the camera around the optical axis. If the object does not move from the centre, you have set the correct height. Either you write down the value from the rail or you mark the position.
However, this solution has some disadvantages. Firstly, a gimbal head is usually not available for a bargain price and secondly, the part is big and heavy. I had just put the gimbal on the scales, 1.2 kg. When I use the gimbal head, I mount it directly on the tripod and not on the head to minimise the risk of camera shake. For the tripod head, the combination of gimbal, camera and heavy lens is almost impossible to hold.
Another disadvantage is that the gimbal has no grid for the angle like the CRT from the next section. So I need an additional protractor, e.g. as an app on the mobile phone.
However, the solid construction makes this tool very stable and smooth-running. There is hardly any danger of wobbling during rotation.
CAMERA ROTATION TOOL – DIY CRT 2.0
Because of the reasons mentioned above, I wanted to replace the heavy gimbal a few years ago. After many tests and modifications, my Camera Rotation Tool currently looks like the picture on the right. I will spare you the many intermediate steps up to the current CRT here.
The tool consists of the following components:
-Arca Swiss quick release plate
– Panorama head with indexing
– Arca Swiss bracket
– Arca Swiss plate 180mm
– 2 screws M6 x 20
– screw glue
– Arca Swiss clamp
The Arca quick release plate is attached to the underside of the Pano head so that the CRT can be easily attached to the tripod head. I converted the Manfrotto 3-way panhead to Arca Swiss because I always have matching L-brackets on my cameras. These are always Arca Swiss and don’t fit the proprietary Manfrotto mount. I simply screwed the Manfrotto plate to an Arca clamp (see above).
I unscrewed the above mentioned bracket and replaced the short part with the 180mm plate. Since the original screws are too short, I had to replace them with longer ones. To prevent them from loosening I used screw glue. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a suitable bracket, either one side is too short, like the one I used, or unnecessarily long and therefore unnecessarily large, heavy and expensive.
I attached the long side of the bracket to the Arca clamp of the pano head. I screwed the Arca clamp onto the short side. After everything was mounted and precisely adjusted, I sawed off the long rail at the end of the pano plate. The CRT is now no bigger than necessary and the display of the Nikon D750 can now be folded over the CRT. So I can also see something on it.
The angle is adjusted using the rotary wheel on the side of the pano plate. At the settings 15°, 30°, 45°, 60° and 90°, the plate noticeably engages. In the 0° position, the plate runs freely. In contrast to other pano plates with angle preselection, I particularly like the solution with the rotary wheel. With the other pano plates, you have to turn a screw from the outside into the respective thread for the different angles. This is therefore less convenient when changing the setting and these parts are also larger and heavier.
Since I have not been using this pano head for very long, I cannot say anything about its robustness and durability at the moment. At first glance, the part is well made, everything holds firmly and securely. The plate runs cleanly and evenly.
I wish you much success and fun with the rebuilding, and especially with the use of the Light Painting Tool.
Good light all the time