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Monday, June 15, 2009

Laser Pointer, a Light-painting Tool

My laser pointer. © 2009 Martin Liew Photography.

I want to talk about one of the tools used in my nocturne photography i.e. laser pointer. It's a small lighting gadget and yet so useful. I came to discover its usage a few years back when I was doing nocturnes at a local botanic garden, in which they have a small park named Evolution Park. It's a man-made garden in the age of Jurassic with some man-made "dinosaurs" foot prints. As it's not as gigantic as the real monster size, I was thinking hard on how to bring out the shape of the foot-prints in color. That was when the laser pointer idea came to mind. I know it's not something new especially in light-painting and night photography, but it certainly helps me in my creative work which I'll show you shortly.

Laser pointers are battery-powered laser diode and are often used in educational and business presentations where pointing out details by hand is inconvenient. It comes in varies colors - red/red-orange, blue, green, yellow, violet.

As far as I know, we only can get red/red-orange and green colored ones in the local retail stores. Nonetheless, we can still order on the internet, but the prices are steep based on the power level, measured in milliwatts, mW. The power output can be as low as 1 mW and as high as a 125 mW. It would be a thrill to own a set of varied colored laser pointers. It serves like a small paint brush to do light-painting on more precise and specific area. Take one good example from the photograph I made, shown below.

Waiting Chair. © 2009 Martin Liew Photography.

In this nocturne photograph, I applied the usual simple light-painting techniques. The room interior on the right side was lit up by a flashlight with a yellow colored cellophane paper. Next I used my LED torch light to light-paint the wall. As I set my digital camera White Balance to Tungsten, LED light induces a blue color cast which is not as vibrant as a true blue colored gel. Yes LED torch light is also another useful light-painting tool.

Lastly I used my laser pointer for the window panel. The great difficulty of using a laser pointer is the tremendously flicking shaking light due to our own natural hand shake, not to mention controling of the light beam direction. Not even people with steady hand power are able to hold still or light-paint in straight line. The greater the subject distance, the more difficult to light-paint as the area is getting smaller. Well, in this case the window panel is in straight symetrical lines, vertically and horizontally. The surface area is slim and narrower which poses great challenge. I did practice a few rounds before I press the shutter release. It takes practice to do a proper light-painting job using this small tool.

Here's another nocturne example I made using my laser pointer on the leaning door.

Red Leaning Door. © 2009 Martin Liew Photography.

I opened up the diopter on my laser pointer to have a wider light beam in rectangular shape, so I can light-paint on such bigger objects with large surface area. The subject distance is closer and controlling is a lot easier. But still, the light spilled and touched onto the wall.

So if you do many light-paintings, you can consider using a laser pointer for additional effects. I do find it very useful and certainly helps me in my creative process of nocturne photography. Thought you might be interested to know and try them out yourself.