During this unit students go back to using Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras and their ability to hold the shutter open for long periods of time. They learn about the Bulb setting on the camera, which allows the users to decide on the exposure and with patience could lead to 30 minute or longer exposures. Students also get to review their knowledge of the manual settings on the camera. This involves more than a basic understanding of the exposure triangle (3 elements that effect the exposure of any photograph), including ISO, shutter speed and f/stop (aperture opening). These three work together to produce the quality of image exposure. Students also consider depth of field and how different f/stops effect the depth of field of each image. In beginning Photography students learn all this, but this unit really helps them apply their knowledge and understand the ramifications of their decisions.
My favorite thing about the Light Painting unit is PLAY TIME!! Students are encouraged to bring in lights of their choosing. I also have a big crate of varied lights that students can dig through. We then play around in the art studio and mac lab to write, draw and CREATE. Problem solving and critical thinking come into play as students make decisions on the fly in the dark. We've used a wide range of light sources including: candles, cell phone lights, studio red lights for dark room, LED hula hoops, LED gloves, Christmas lights, glow in the dark face paints with black lights and more. Students have also experimented with their cell phone lights mounting colored transparencies that they've created by coloring the transparency with markers to change the color of the light and then taped it to their phones. We have 1-2 studio days in the school setting. In addition students are allowed to check out the cameras and set up their own explorations outside of class time.
Ingenuity and innovation have been the hallmark of students off campus forays into light photography. The resultant imager has been varied and amazing. One student's father worked at the fire station and helped her set up a steel wool light shoot with fire. The resulting imagery was incredible. Others have explored the stars and tried to capture their trails in the night sky. One student mounted her camera to her car dashboard and drove around in the city on a rainy evening recording the light trails. All of these explorations are only the starting point of this unit. Students are encouraged to explore, but also urged to go beyond the gimmicky nature of the technique. I try to get all my students, but especially those in advanced classes to work towards more meaningful conceptual development and deeper meaning in their works. The magic happens back in the mac lab where students take their raw imagery and play with Adobe Photoshop.
The most beautiful and successful images have been the ones that have pushed beyond the basics of the unit-painting with light as technique to tell their story and enrich the development of their young artistic voices. This unit is truly magical in it's celebration of the science, technology and artistry through play and exploration. I encourage you to play with light and photography. If you don't have a DSLR you can certainly try with your cell phone. There are a number of apps such as Slow Shutter Cam or lots of Android apps too, that allow the cell phone to be like a DSLR camera. There are also a few accessories and techniques that will turn your cell phone into a long exposure dream machine. Have fun and play with light in the dark. You will be surprised by the results.
Light Painting Unit Resources
Light Painting Unit Description
Flickr Collection of Light Painting Images