METHODS FOR CREATING A LIGHT ORB IN LIGHT PAINTING
I do hear “I can’t see orbs any more” or “People can’t see orbs any more” more often lately, and I myself sometimes get bored of shooting the two thousandth orb, but light painting without light orbs is almost unthinkable for me and many other light painters. If I hadn’t stumbled across pictures of orbs by chance in 2012, I probably wouldn’t be a light painter today. While you should master as many other light painting techniques as possible and use them in your paintings, it certainly can’t hurt if you can shoot a clean orb. This article introduces you to some techniques.
In most cases the orb is rotated around a fixed point on the floor. You should mark this point. The light source is moved in a circle and after each rotation you move a small step in a circle around the mark on the floor. A full rotation around the point on the floor is not necessary, after half a rotation the orb is ready. Make sure that the mark is visible to you when you turn the orb, but preferably not in the finished picture. I usually use things that are present at the place where the picture was taken and therefore do not stand out in the picture, such as small stones, leaves or similar.
Another possibility is to attach LED’s to a ring or hoop and then rotate it around the centre axis; more about this later.
During the light painting you should wear dark clothes so that you are not visible in the picture later. Above all, there should be no reflectors or shiny metal parts on your clothes.
The most important thing is practice. No master has ever fallen from the sky. Your first orb will certainly not be a masterpiece, even after reading this article. Go out and shoot as many orbs as you can. After more or less attempts, you will surely succeed in creating clean, even orbs of light. During our workshops, many participants managed to shoot quite respectable orbs after our instruction and 4-5 attempts. Some other light painting techniques require much more practice and experience. So for an introduction to light painting, an orb is still relatively easy.
LEDs ON CABLE OR CORD
A simple and inexpensive method is to turn the orb with the help of a string or cable. The light source is attached to one end and you take the other end in your hand and turn it. You can simply use a battery-operated LED light chain as the light source. You tie all the LEDs together and then attach them to the cable. A big advantage of this technique is that this tool is very light and small. It usually fits in your pocket. The light chain is operated with 2 or 3 AA batteries or rechargeable batteries, which you usually have in your household anyway. You can find some more or less good instructions for this method on the internet.
BALL OF LIGHT TOOL
Denis Smith from Australia has been shooting many orbs with the technique described above for many years. The disadvantages of the tool described in the previous paragraph are, on the one hand, its rather short service life – the light chain is not built for this kind of stress – and, on the other hand, its relatively poor manageability.
So Denis fiddled around until he came up with a really easy-to-use and robust tool. For some time now, he has been selling his tool on his homepage.
Denis provided me with one of his tools for this article. Thank you my friend!
After the first attempts I realised that the tool is really good, but that I still need some practice to turn a clean ball with it. Denis always makes it look so easy.
The Ball of Light Tool has a modular design. It consists of the controller with a button to switch it on and off and a potentiometer to control the brightness, as well as a cable that connects the controller to the head. Denis builds different heads in different colours and colour combinations. In some of them he uses different sized LEDs, some are diffused. In the picture above I used three different heads for the Orb one after the other. The tool is powered by a 9V block. So far I haven’t had to change it, but I would have liked a better solution for changing the battery. Opening the four small screws of the housing in the dark and not losing them is not so easy.
If the very robust cable should break after the five hundredth Orb, it is very easy to replace it. Denis also sells the cables individually in his shop.
You can tell that Denis, on the one hand, knows exactly what is required of such a tool due to his great experience and, on the other hand, has put a lot of work into the development. Thanks to the hand strap attached to the cable, the cable will probably last a very long time. The main problem with the tinkering solutions from the previous paragraph is that the cable usually breaks after a few orbs due to the high stress.
The other parts of the Ball of Light Tool also make a very robust impression. The housing of the controller, just like the heads, is made of a very robust plastic. The biggest weak point might be the protruding LEDs, if you get stuck on a stone with them at full speed, they might not survive. However, in order to distribute the light reasonably in all directions, they have to protrude from the head, otherwise the orbs would have gaps. The circuit is designed in such a way that if one or more LEDs fail, the remaining ones will continue to shine. The heads are also available separately in Denis’ shop.
Marla then also used the tool for a different purpose. “You can also do something else with it! Yes, as you can see 🙂
THE VERTICALE ORB
For this you need a big ring or hoop. I use a hula hoop for this. A semicircle would actually be enough for our purposes, but then you would have to saw through the piece and it would no longer be so well balanced.
On the outside you attach your light sources, either a string of lights or, as in my example, an LED strip. This has the advantage that you can set several colours and also functions such as flashing and fading. You need a 12V power source for the LED strip. You can use a holder for 8 AA or 3 18650 batteries and connect it to the strip with a cable. You should only attach the lights to one half so that you have clean, non-overlapping light trails in the picture.
Attach a rod across the centre of the hoop so that you can rotate the piece properly. I used a planting stick from the DIY store. At the lower end of the planting pole you attach the batteries and controller so that the centre of gravity is as low and central as possible and your tool can be turned as cleanly and evenly as possible. The connection for the strip should also be at the bottom.
Many other shapes are possible with this technique. It doesn’t have to be a ring.
With this tool, however, you can also create “normal” orbs, i.e. those with horizontal light tracks. For this, you should place diffusers in front of the LEDs so that your orb does not consist only of dots later. A LED strip with a high density (60 pieces per metre or more) is well suited for this. The tool is best attached to the floor so that it can be rotated. If necessary, you can also do it by hand. You then position the tool for the first strip of light, switch the strip on briefly with the remote control. When the strip is switched off, you move the tool to the second position and switch it on again briefly, and so on.
The tool is quite unwieldy and therefore difficult to transport, and it is not particularly robust. I have already had to replace the strip and the controller on my tyre several times, even though I don’t use the part very often.
SPINING WITH A ROD
The disadvantage of turning an orb with a cord or cable is that this tool is very unstable and that you have to turn very quickly to achieve the necessary centrifugal force. If you attach the light source(s) to a rod, you no longer have these two problems. I can turn an orb very slowly and cleanly. It takes a bit of practice, but you usually notice when you’re spinning if you’re off track. Then I stop the recording immediately and start again from the beginning. I usually use a planting stick from the DIY store. These are thin metal tubes covered with dark green plastic. The sticks are light, sturdy and not expensive.
First you should buy a pole that fits your height. If you hold it in the middle with bent arms in front of your belly, there should be about 15 centimetres of space left to the ground. If you can’t find a stick that fits, you can easily shorten a longer one to the right length with a hacksaw. Next, mark the centre of the stick with tape or a suitable rubber ring so that you can feel the centre even in the dark. It is important to always turn the pole exactly around the centre. Now attach a lamp to one end of the stick. I usually use a small torch with a diffuser for this. Either you use a diffuser that fits your torch exactly, many manufacturers offer such a thing, or you can also use a white, semi-transparent film canister. It is important that the rod is well balanced so that it does not wobble when you turn it later. The easiest way is to attach a second, identical lamp to the other end as a counterweight. To create the orb, however, you only switch on one of the lamps. If you don’t have two of the same lamp, you can also attach flat batteries, bolts, solder or other heavy things as a counterweight. Try different lamps. If the tool has a heavier weight, it will turn easier and more evenly. However, if the part is too heavy, the arms will tire quite quickly. Turning the orb works in the same way as with the tool with the cable, as described in the section “Basics”.
You should always make sure that you hold the stick parallel to your body so that your Orb does not get ears. Move yourself and the wand slowly and evenly. Make the next small step, around the mark, always at the same position of the stick. I usually move when the lamp is down. Otherwise the light traces of the orb run out of track.
Another advantage of this way of working is that you can very easily attach a second shell or a larger light source in the middle to the staff, like in the picture above. I usually use a stick made of plexiglass, a front part of an old Led Lenser V24 to be exact. I illuminate this with another small torch. A Led Lenser M3R is a good choice, small, light, bright and it has a strobe mode. The focus system of the lamp allows you to distribute the light evenly along the length of the pole. I find that the inner sphere looks better when the lamp is in strobe mode.
PIMP MY ORB TOOL
ELECTRICAL ROTATING AID
Turn with the cordless screwdriver. In the middle of the rod described above, you attach a pipe clamp that matches the calibre of the rod. You clamp the bolt of the clamp into the drill chuck of the cordless screwdriver and the electric turning aid is ready. The technique has several advantages. The tool is easier to hold straight and when I hold the cordless screwdriver steady, the height of the individual light strips does not change. The cordless screwdriver used should be powerful and durable. You can also turn the Orb by hand with the same rod when the battery is empty, but if you take the heavy cordless screwdriver with you, the part can also work all night. It is best to switch off the torque setting, i.e. to drilling, so that the part does not stop in the meantime because the force is too high.
Another possible improvement is to mount a crank on the pole. Similar to the electric version from above, turning is easier than with just the rod. However, you also have to practice with this tool to make a clean, round orb. The easiest way is to attach a painter’s roller. Make sure that the pivot point is exactly in the middle of the stick. With the crank mounted, however, it is more difficult to transport the tool. This is not an unimportant point, as we already carry a lot of stuff around with us. I usually carry rods and tubes in a fishing bag, but the rod with the crank doesn’t fit in there. I usually tie the tool to the outside of the bag.
ORB WITHOUT AIDS
For this you only need a lamp and a light brush, e.g. a blade made of plexiglass or a lightsaber. In this technique, the pivot point for the orb is your shoulder joint. You move the stretched arm up and down, or in other directions, and move around the mark on the floor, as in the procedures described above.
As you can see in the example pictures, you can do other movements in addition to the up-down movement, such as swirls or zigzags. There are no limits to your imagination. Just try it out. In picture number 1, I moved several Light Blades in a rather disorderly way without moving my shoulder from the pivot point marked on the floor. For effects like colour change or colour fading you can use lamps like the Led Lenser V24 or torches like this one: 10 Colours LED Flashlight. These lamps are also very useful for many other light painting applications.
THE BROKEN ORB
One of the biggest secrets in light painting? I don’t know if so many people have been puzzling over how to make a broken orb for years, but you don’t see many broken orb pictures. Actually, it’s quite simple. I turn the light on and off while I’m shooting. But how do you turn the torch at the front of the stick off and on while moving? There are several possibilities. I use a cable switch for my Led Lenser P7 or M7. I attach the switch as far inside the pole as possible. As long as you keep the switch pressed, the P7 lights up; when you let go, it goes off. These switches are also available for many other torches, just have a look at the website of the manufacturer of your torch. And a cable switch is also available as a hobby solution for Convoy lamps.
With the Ball of Light Tool you can also turn a Broken Orb. The tool has a cable about 1 metre long and a button is built into the controller. You “only” have to switch it on and off at the right places.
Another possibility is to use LED light chains with remote control. In this case, it is best to have a helper switch the light on and off with the remote control while you are turning.
A Broken Orb is often a big challenge for the Light Painter. First of all, I have to shoot a clean orb and then switch on the light at the right time. A lot can go wrong and it takes a lot of practice until the result is really good. You should rotate the orb as slowly as possible. The higher the rotation speed, the more difficult it is to get the right moment for switching.
You can see a not very common variant of the orb above. Here, a somewhat longer diffuser, which can rotate around its own axis, is attached to the end of the rod. While you turn the orb normally, the diffuser turns in a circle with the lamp. However, this is hardly possible by hand, I usually use a small cordless screwdriver for this. I attach the screwdriver to the plant stick at the right angle, not quite 90°, and the lamp with the diffuser is then attached to the screwdriver. I then fix the switch of the cordless screwdriver with Velcro tape or gaffa tape.
Of course, many other variations of the orb and many other techniques to create them are conceivable. This article does not claim to be complete. It is intended to give light painting beginners some initial ideas for their own first attempts. The one or other old hand might have found some enlightenment in some places.
Do you use a technique that is not mentioned here? Then I would be happy to receive a few explanatory sentences as a comment to this article.
I wish you good light all the time