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Painting with light, an essay from Norway!

First of all I want to thank Mark Cargill for teaching me so much about photography in such a short period of time, and giving me the opportunity to write a bit about my last assignment, paint with light. This is something I´ve never ever tried before, I had hardly read about it – but Mark gave me clear instructions about camera settings and what could work to paint with light.

I saw before me a few locations that I have visited many times before with and without my camera, and I think that is where you have to start – to find locations you are quite familiar with. I live in the northeasternmost part of Norway, 650 km north of the Arctic Circle, so finding unlit places is absolutely no problem for me. I was struggling though getting my head around correct apertures and shutter speeds since it was a bit too dark here even in early afternoons to get a good histogram.

The first object I tried painting with light is an abandoned house I absolutely love. I revisited it several times, tried over and over again – and didn´t get it right, and I realized I had to ”kill my darling”.


I wanted to try to use the light from the full moon to take a couple of outdoor shots and the first shot of the breakwaters is shot on a beautiful, very windy, moonlit afternoon. I was hoping to get a nice backdrop to my shot with the sea, clouds, mountains and full moon. I used a LED Lenser flashlight with a blue lense attached to paint the tetrapods and a red laser pen to add some contrasting colour to all the blue. I was experimenting with shutter speeds and the photo I chose is shot at ISO 100, 16 mm, f/5,6, tungsten WB and 254 second.

The second photo (above) is also taken at a location that is very familiar to me and again I wanted to get a nice backdrop and take advantage of the full moon. I used the LED Lenser with a yellow lense and came here a couple of times to try and get it right. Luckily for me I could tell from the histogram I needed a long shutter speed which gave me time to run around and paint the rocks and try to create some movement in the sand. With even more practice I guess I could have created even better ”waves” – but I didn´t have too much time to get the final shot since the high tide was coming in quickly. The image is shot at ISO 100, 16 mm, f/5.6, tungsten WB and 214 seconds.

After having taken these two shots we had a long period with really bad weather, trying to take long exposure photos outdoors was almost unthinkble (but I did try, and the result was not good at all ;) So I had to come up with a plan B and shoot indoors.

I asked my husband to model for me at our local church. I wanted lots of colour in this shot too and asked him to wear his red velvet jacket. I was experimenting with angles and flashlights and ended up using my Maglite. I took the same shot several times since I saw my movments of the flashlight created very different looks. The image I chose had a nice vintage feel to it. Shot at ISO 200, 15 mm, f/5,6, tungsten WB and 30 seconds. I lit my husband with the Maglite for about 8 seconds.

After I got this incredibly interesting and difficult assignment, I tried to learn more about paint with light photography and had seen some really nice shots where photographers had used steel wool set on fire. My problem was I could not get hold of steel wool without soap where I live, so I had to take a 2.5 hr plane ride to the city of Tromsø to get hold of 0000 steel wool (well, I did have a meeting there ;) Once back where I live I returned to a familiar location that I knew could give me a cool backdrop.

My husband was kind enough to model for me again holding an umbrella – I think it would have looked even nicer with a big umbrella, but that was the only size we could get hold of. I climbed on top of the cliff and we had the camera set to ISO 100, 15 mm, f/8.0, tungsten WB and 30 seconds. I put some steel wool inside the balloon whisk, attached a cord to the whisk and set the wool on fire using a 9V battery and started spinning the whisk around (you need to think safety here since sparks are flying far). We just kept taking shots as long as I had steel wool left and was hoping for one good shot. I really liked the look of the shot in colour, but I wanted to try and see what it would look like in monochrome and I think it looks even better.

I had an incredibly fun time trying to get this right, and I can highly recommend each and everyone to get out there after dark!


Firstly, thank you Annette for taking the time to write about your experiences of this very demanding assignment. Technically it is about as touch as it can get and you did a great job. Keep up the excellent work, you have a great talent. :)

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