This description ‘painting with light’, as used by photographers, has usually referred to the process of leaving the camera on a tripod, set on a long time exposure, with a very small aperture, whilst the photographer moves around the darkened scene illuminating different parts of the picture with a flash, or some other light source. This way the picture is gradually created by a series of short light bursts on only the selected areas.
Another method of ‘painting with light’ is also done in a darkened room, or outside at night, but this time by using a hand held torch whilst the shutter remains open, the torch is moved about to create an image (rather like the effect of streaks of light made by car headlights, on a busy road at night) this can also be used to light just very selective small parts of the scene. This form of painting with light is possible with just about any kind of light source such as; matches, candles, mobile phones, sparklers, laser light, or glow sticks, just about any light source can be used!
A third method is achieved by moving the camera instead, whilst keeping the shutter open, in this way one can add a sense of movement to the scene. Or if the subject is moving, by using a long exposure, a picture with the blurred movement is also obtained, this too has been referred to, by photographers, as painting with light.
These are the most well known ‘painting with light’ techniques. But John Cohen has a very interesting different photographic technique to create special effects, that also really justifies this description too!
John Cohen’s technique is based on using projected images that are not always projected on to a screen, sometimes more than one projector is used and then the projected images are photographed. For example he has projected a portrait of a young girl on to a shell and then photographed what can be seen. This way the screen (in this case the shell) can become part of the new picture. With careful masking more than one image can be blended, when more than one projector is used. So with two or more projectors it is possible to blend parts of different images, but it was also easily possible to mix black and white images with colour and even negative images with transparencies.
He discovered these techniques in the mid 1960’s, well before computers were available for photographers; it all began when he noticed how a picture looked that he had projected (before putting up the screen) so that this image appeared partially on the wallpaper and the curtains. He then started moving the projector around and focused the image on to various different items in the room and soon decided it would be interesting to photograph some of the effects he could see. So began a fascinating way of creating amazing photographs.
John Cohen won the London Salon Trophy in 1967 for a transparency of a portrait of the profile of a girl, blended with a negative of a tulip, all achieved as a transparency. Titled 'Spirit of Spring' this picture and many other award winning photographs can all be seen also these ‘painting with light’ techniques are more fully explained, with pictures, in his article 'The Magic Lantern'.
"To Cohen, the impossible in colour merely takes a little longer..." Photography Year Book
His limited editions (of only 8 of each picture) can be seen at: -
To see examples of John’s new images, in different colours, please have a look at: -
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