Paint with all the colours of light photography

By Junior Reporter Christine Ling, 15, German Swiss International School

Our Junior reporter gets a masterclass in the hottest, brightest trend in photography: light painting

By Junior Reporter Christine Ling, 15, German Swiss International School |

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Photography is not exactly a new art form, but it’s one that continuously reinvents itself every few years. One of the most popular trends out there is light painting photography.

In light painting photography, artists use handheld lights to draw images in the air. These images are captured by the camera using long exposure times.

As an avid amateur photographer, I was thrilled to get to join a sneak preview of a light photography workshop that members of the public will be able to attend on the September 29. The workshop is part of a National Day event called “Colourful boating @ Aberdeen Fishing Port”, during which traditional sampan boats will light up Victoria Harbour in different colours. The light photography workshop is just one of many activities that will take place.

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At first I was a little bewildered by the concept of light painting, but after I set my eyes on a few sample pieces, I couldn’t wait to try this technique myself.

We were introduced to the various pieces of equipment needed to produce good quality images. Some of the light sources we could use ranged from simple LED lights to pixel sticks and magilights.

When creating a photo, the camera’s shutter speed is set very low. Once the shutter button is pressed, the shutter stays open for longer – usually for eight seconds, but sometimes for several minutes – so that more light can be taken in, which prolongs the exposure time. In the time between the button being pressed and the shutter going off, a light source is waved around in front of the lens. The photo that comes out at the end will show the paths in the air the light has taken. A windmill effect can be created around a person, for example, by waving an LED light all the way around them. There are no limits to the designs you could create. A few of the ones we experimented with were angel wings, rainbows, and hearts.

At first, it was hard to get a good shot, as it requires the subject of the picture to stay absolutely still, the person in charge of the light to paint their design before the shutter goes off, and for the background to be light pollution-free. However, by exploring different angles, trying to time the picture better and controlling the background lighting, I was able to produce a few decent shots. This is truly a form of art that takes time and a lot of experimentation.

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If you’re interested in creating your own light painting images, getting started is both easy and affordable. The only equipment you really need is a camera with a variable light exposure function and a light source. Many smartphone cameras already have this function, and any LED light will do to start off with. Simply find a dark background with little light pollution and get a friend (ask them to wear black so they won’t be seen in the picture) to wave the light source in front of your camera. Wait a few seconds and voila, you have a light painting!

Ivan Yip, who helped to run the workshop preview, says he hopes this art form will gain more traction in Hong Kong.

“Light painting … allows users to explore their creativity, to collaborate with friends and to even stay active, because you have to move around a lot. We expect it to develop even more over the next few years.” His advice for young photographers? “Have fun, play with designs, and never set limits on yourself.”

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge