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Painting with light


The majority of amateur photographers discover this by pure accident while taking photos, not noticing their camera is set to a long exposure. Others apply the setting to achieve a desired capture and yet another group of creative people opt for a surprise by breaking the rules deliberately to discover an unexpected result.

Thinking about long exposure we automatically apply the technique to an interior or night scene. Long exposure in daylight is nothing extraordinary, especially to experienced photographers and those who work with a pinhole. Learn to use available filters and accessories, find a good balance between shutter speed and aperture and you can take a photo of Times Square at noon and it will show no traffic or people, but brick and mortar, people who stopped for a moment to look and think, a few cars waiting for the traffic lights to change. The rest of the busy, mad rushing world will merge into a swoosh or disappear altogether.

But what happens when we push the boundaries a little further, by going against the textbook rules, allowing just a little more light into the lens and not worring about the fact that the object is in motion? It does feel unnatural and the results are hard to control, so if you are precious about every single frame on your film this experiment may not be for you. But if you do want to explore an alternative way of playing with light and you are open to the artistic process of trials and errors, why not give it a try?

"Bradford in flower', courtesy of Carolyn Mendelsohn,


There are a few things you can actually do to reduce the risk of failure:

  • Use the slowest film speed you have.
  • B&W films tend to have a wider exposure tolerance.
  • Choose cloudy, overcast days.
  • Using the ‘B’ setting on your camera - push the shutter release as quick as possible and use a tripod for stability if you want some sharp image content in the picture.
  • Alternatively set up a very slow shutter speed if you have a choice.
  • Try to find some contrasting light and colours. A single dark object on a light background or vice versa will make the photograph more interesting. A wide range of colours will make the photo taken on a colour film, look like a painting.
  • In addition, you may consider using a neutral density filter or a polarizing filter to cut down the amount of light entering reaching the film. Although ND filter for exposures of many seconds in daytime will make moving objects disappear.

'American Landscape', by Patrick J. Caine


It is best to aim at a moving object. Landscapes and nature are great on a windy day. Autumn trees with falling leaves, fast moving animals, dynamic sport events like football or cycling, groups of dancers, kids in the playground, event cliche fanfares can be really interesting again. In fact, this is also a good way to play with the camera when you don't feel particularly inspired surrounded by familiar views and events. How many times have you photographed the same thing but differently?  

'The Sleep Walker', courtesy of Genevieve Lee,


Until you develop the film you have absolutely no idea what's on it. This is the exciting part of the process. This is what analog is about for many film enthusiasts: anticipation, discovery and surprise. 

When the photographs taken with this technique are ready for display, they are best viewed in small formats otherwise too much noise and blur will be distracting. This is exactly why we step back when we look at a large painting and we are interested in the whole composition rather than the individual brushstrokes.

If you are not experienced in creating such deliberate effects, you can be very lucky just by experimenting. Your photo will look like a painting and you may surprise yourself with an entirely new dimension to your artistic talent. Don't be afraid of disappointments. After all they make that one great shot event more appreciated and fulfiling.

'Holga aikido', courtesy of Jenni Callard,


'Swimming pool' by Ewa J