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Drawing with Light

If you stopped by the Center for Creative Connections during the October Late Night at the DMA, then perhaps you saw or experienced the wild creations in the Tech Lab.  Visitors of all ages were given 15 seconds to create a drawing with light.  Light Drawing has been around for nearly a century, and yet it remains a fresh, fun, exercise that many photographers experiment with today.  The influx of new light and camera technologies has made this concept more accessible.

First a word about how it works.  All cameras work by controlling light in two ways –through the aperture and the shutter speed.  The aperture or f-stop determines how much light is exposed in each shot. A smaller aperture, like f/2.8 results in more light being let through, while a larger aperture, like f/22 results in less light being let through:

The shutter speed controls how long the shutter is open.  If your shutter speed is 500, that means that the shutter is open for 1/500th of a second.  If your shutter speed is 15, that means your shutter is open for 1/15th of a second, therefore capturing more light (and action) over time:

For drawing with light, it’s best to have the shutter speed set for over 1 second.  When we took our visitors photos during Late Night, we set our shutter speed to 15 seconds.  You are probably best off setting your aperature to a medium setting like around f/8 or f/11.

So, how can you bring the magic of Drawing with Light into your home?  Here are some steps to get you started:

  1. Gather materials: Digital Camera with adjustable shutter speed (all Digital SLRs are capable of this and some point and shoot cameras are as well); a tripod (or other way to stabilize your camera); a few light sources (laser pointers, cell phones, flashlights, Christmas lights, etc.)
  2. Set camera to a manual setting where you can control the shutter speed.
  3. Set the shutter speed to 15 seconds (or as slower if you want more time).
  4. Set the camera on the tripod and position it as desired.
  5. Turn off all the lights in the room.
  6. Hand the kids the flashlights, laser pointers, etc.  and press your shutter button.
  7. Now you have 15 seconds to make a drawing!

The great thing about using a digital camera to capture your Light Drawing is the instant feedback.  Take a few photos where your kids can just play with the lights, with no end product in mind.  After the picture is made, let them look at their creation.

You can keep it simple or get more complicated; work as a team, with one person posing while another draws around them; make words in the air; or dance with the lights and see what happens.  Above all, have fun!

Check out our slideshow for more inspiration.

Posted by: Jessica Fuentes

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Filed under 6 to 12 year olds, Art Projects, Center for Creative Connections, Just for Fun, Late Night