HOW MUCH WORK WENT INTO THIS LIGHT PAINTING?
Some time ago, the highly esteemed colleague Tim Gamble aka Fade To Black Light Art painted a light painting in the eye of a model. I had the idea of doing such a light painting some time ago, but after taking some test shots of my eye with the macro lens, I discarded the idea (for now). The 100mm macro lens was not suitable for this, I could not take a format-filling shot of the eye, the close-up limit of the lens is too long. I didn’t want to buy another lens just for this idea.
But when I saw Tim’s picture, which proved that the idea worked, I immediately got back to it. The brain started rattling to solve the question of HOW.
First I had to find a solution to get the eye into the picture in the right size or to make the orb so small that it fits into the eye and then crop the picture so that the image is as shown above. The plan with the smaller orb, however, was not what I wanted and would therefore only be a stopgap solution.
I briefly thought about printing out a photo of my eye or downloading it onto the tablet and then photographing it. That would have been enough for my ambition to get everything in a single exposure, but it wouldn’t have been the same. It somehow felt a bit like cheating. In any case, this solution would have been too unsporting for me. So the eye had to go directly onto the sensor.
At some point I came up with the idea of attaching a close-up lens, a kind of magnifying glass, in front of the lens. With +4 dioptres, the eye was then big enough. The problem with this technique is that the depth of field decreases extremely. Focusing becomes a nightmare, even if I don’t photograph my own eye but take a model with me.
Most of the test shots then looked like this picture. This is a shot taken in daylight. But giving up was not an option for me, no matter if I needed 50 or 100 attempts for this light painting.
With the slightest movement of my head, we are now talking about less than 1 millimetre, the eye was out of focus. So I started with attempts to hold my head more stable. Eventually I fixed my head in a corner. I sat down on a chair and then leaned my head against it.
Next problem: how do I focus when I’m sitting in front of the camera myself?
In the daylight test shot, I could use the autofocus, but it wouldn’t work in the dark. And the autofocus no longer worked really cleanly and reliably with the close-up lens anyway. So I attached my tablet to the tripod in such a way that I could see it well from my position. My Manfrotto 055 has a connection for accessories, to which a Magic Arm is attached. I clamped the tablet with the clamp of the Magic Arm.
I connected the camera and tablet via W-LAN. With the software qDslrDashboard it is then possible to bring the Live View image onto the tablet. I was then able to focus comfortably on my eye. I sit only a few centimetres away from the lens, so I can easily reach the focus ring without moving my head. Without the Live View image on the tablet, it would be almost impossible to place the centre of the eye exactly in the centre of the image. And if the pupil is not in the centre, it becomes almost impossible later to place the light painting, i.e. the orb and the star, exactly in the right place.
Up to this point, I was able to do all the test shots and experiments in daylight. In the meantime, several days, many experiments and even more thought work had passed. I was ready to implement the light painting, but with the awareness that it would be anything but easy and could go quickly.
So the first step for this light painting was the eye. So I took my position and briefly illuminated my eye with a warm white torch. The lamp has about 1200 lumens. It’s not very pleasant to shine it directly into the eye from a short distance. But what won’t you do for art?
Next, I shot some orbs at different distances from the camera. For this I set up a second tripod and changed the lens. For the orb I used my Sigma 14mm/f2.8 with f/11.
After the fourth attempt, I had determined the correct distance between the camera and the Orb and marked it on the floor with a piece of gaffa tape.
Next, I mounted a cross-line laser on the camera’s flash shoe. I now aligned the laser cross exactly with the mark on the ground. This ensured (halfway) that the Orb would be exactly in the centre of the picture. The laser has a very small deviation, but I still had to turn the orb EXACTLY at the marked spot. If I deviated even 1-2 centimetres from the mark when rotating, the image would not work.
The last step, the star, would then be almost child’s play. The height at which the centre of the orb would be was determined by my orb tool. I have been using this for many years, so I know exactly where the centre is.
For the star I took some test shots with the 14mm Sigma lens. It quickly became apparent that the lens was picking up far too many funny effects, as can be seen quite well in the picture on the right. I neither painted blue light around the star nor this orange ring.
So I had to find another solution. I screwed the Meyer Optik Görlitz 35mm onto the camera, set aperture 22 and voilà, a picture-perfect star appeared on the camera’s display. The additional lens change was no longer a problem because of the effort required for this picture.
Now it got serious. Release the camera, light the eye, then change the tripod and lens, make the star with the Led Lenser P5R.2, change the lens again, turn the Orb and stop the exposure with the radio shutter release.
After the first attempts I noticed that the Orb was a bit too far to the right. I corrected the position by a few centimetres, then it was right.
On further attempts, either the eye was not exactly in the middle, the eye was not focused properly, the Orb did not look good, the battery of the Led Lenser M3R on the Orb-Tool was empty, the lamp for the star was switched on too long, the batteries of my radio trigger were empty… all the things that can go wrong. After “only” 23 attempts, the picture was actually finished. With all the test shots, 187 files ended up on the memory card that night, just for the one result at the top.
I don’t think these instructions will inspire anyone in their right mind to follow them. However, the article is certainly a good insight into our typical way of working in light painting. The effort for most of our light painting pictures is by far not as immense as for this picture, but the process from the development of an idea, to the construction of suitable light painting tools and other aids, to test shootings and rehearsals, to the realisation of the finished choreography is usually very similar.
In this sense I wish you good light all the time.