Painting…with Light!

Written by Roan McLean, Class of 2017 and the Digital Photography Department

Slow Shutter-Adam- (4)Slow Shutter-Adam- (20)Have you ever seen a picture of a highway at night, where the tail lights of cars look like long red strands of Twizzlers pull-and-peel candy?  The John Paul photography students recently learned how this works! By controlling the speed of their camera, they learned how to draw…with light.

Here’s how:

First, they changed the shutter speed of their cameras to take a long picture, usually around one to four seconds.

Next, another person “drew” with a tiny light, like a phone flashlight, LED, or strand of Christmas lights.  As the camera took the picture, it recorded the movement of the light and created the effect in the photos seen here.

This is the same way photographers take highway pictures of cars at night. The extended shutter speed records the path of each car’s tail lights at it moves down the road, giving the appearance of the long red strands.

It sounds simple, but there are a few common mistakes to avoid.  If the person who is drawing wants to remain invisible, they need to move around a lot so that the camera doesn’t pick up their image.  On the other hand, anyone who wants to remain visible in the picture has to sit perfectly still so that they don’t blur.

After some trial and error, students figured out how to write their names (it has to be done quickly, and backwards!), draw pictures, and even created stop-motion sequences that gave their photos a sense of movement.

If you have a camera with an adjustable shutter speed, you can try this at home, then share your stellar results with the JP blog via our submissions page!

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