Light painting in the studio was something that we introduced to our family photography sessions at the end of 2019.
They add an element of fun and unpredictability to a photo shoot which I really enjoy.
Even the grumpiest teenagers admitted enjoying themselves while the younger children fully embraced the experience.
We found that light painting wasn’t just for the kids as parents really liked getting involved. It was really nice to see the excitement of everyone’s faces as they rushed to see the image they created on the back of the camera.
When considering how to bring light painting into the studio we needed to look at other light painting photographers.
There’s plenty of amazing light painting artists working today but I also wanted to take inspiration from light painting of the past.
A brief history of Light Painting techniques
I’ve always been fascinated by light painting and the different ways that artists and photographers use the medium.
Light painting, painting with light or light drawing, are terms that describe the techniques of moving a light source while taking a long exposure photograph.
The technique is not new by any means and has been practiced since the 1880s when when Étienne-Jules Marey and Georges Demeny traced human motion in the first known light painting Pathological Walk From in Front.
Throughout the 20th century photographers and artists pioneered light painting techniques that are still used today.
By the early 1940s strobe lighting was explored by engineer and was a self-taught photographer Gjon Mili. The technique allowed Mili to capture multiple exposures of movement within a single frame.
This technique was used to study the motion of dancers, musicians, and figure skaters.
It was Mili that introduced light painting to Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse in 1949 while on assignment for Life Magazine.
Pablo Picasso’s light drawing are now arguably more well known than Mili’s images.
Photographs of light movement
Photographs of light trials created by vehicles was explored in the 1940s by photographers like Jack Delano who capture the movement of railroad cars. Andreas Feininger famously produced light painting photographs of helicopters taking off and landing.
Kinetic Light Painting is a fascinating technique which involves camera movement to create a design within the frame.
In 1953 David Potts explored the technique of rotating the film back on his 5×4 camera with his images of famous London landmarks.
In the 1970s Eric Staller produced light painting which is closest to today’s light graffiti work.
Eric’s “Light Drawings” series could be the first examples of Light Art Performance Photographs created. These light drawings included street light trails and light tubes.
The first artist to dedicate his entire body of work to the light painting art form was Dean
He may be the first person that actually called what he was doing “Light Painting”.
An evolving timeline of the history of light painting photography can be found at Light Painting History
Light painting in the studio
A few months ago I was thinking about how we could improve our studio family photography experience and how we could incorporate light painting in the studio.
We need to introduce light painting in the studio in a way that was accessible to children of all ages.
After doing a bit of research I settled on bringing in a handful of light painting techniques that different aged children could get to grips with.
Light painting with Poi Balls
Poi is the Maori word for ‘ball’ and the art of poi spinning originated in New Zealand.
These balls on cord are great fun for people of all ages and help to improve co-ordination, confidence, strength and flexibility.
The Poi balls we use are soft plastic balls on a elastic cord with multi coloured LED lights inside.
As the balls spin the colours change which produce a rather pleasing effect.
We’ve used poi balls in the studio with children as young as two years old with some success.
Poi balls are also very good at producing light orbs in the studio.
Light painting with light sticks
A while ago I came across a rather peculiar light stick on Amazon that was safe for young children to use (when swinging it around in the dark).
Along with being a colour changing light it also doubled up as a light pen that could be used for light drawing.
This is a more specialist form of light painting that has a huge community. I purchased a light blade from Light Painting Paradise.
Light blading is certainly something for older children and adults.
Video light bars
Being quite fragile we use these with older children and adults. They do produce rather interesting and surprising results when mixed with the studio strobes.
The future of light painting in the studio
Our initial light painting experiments have been really well received so I certainly think we’ll continue to develop it further.
With over a hundred years of light painting history to draw inspiration from I’m sure there’s plenty of more ideas to come.
Light painting at home
Our series Creative Photography for Kids includes light painting that you can try at home.
All of the projects we’ve developed have been done with my daughter so any child 5 and up can get involved.
Our first project Light Painting with a plastic bottle needs very little equipment and is easy to do with children
View our Creative Photography for Kids library or start with our weekly articles. Best begin with Week 1.
Family portraits in our Croydon Studio
If you’d like to find out more information about our family portraits and photo shoots then visit the family section of our website.
Each family session normally lasts about an hour so there’s plenty of time to get the must have shots and a few light paintings too!