2017 10 - Painting with Light

25th November 2017
Retford & District Photographic Society - Press Release - Joy Allison
25th October 2017
Painting with Light

There was a full hall for our first practical session of the season when Neil Pledger came to get us painting with light. He introduced himself as a miner’s son from Mansfield with a passion for heritage. Another strand to his photography is derived from that but he admitted his portfolio is diverse as he follows different interests as they spark his imagination.

We were soon to discover that Neil has tremendous creative energy and he described how he is driven to engineer situations to photograph. He showed us some of his own images and immediately generated interest in his techniques. A crystal ball was used to good effect and elements of the natural world had provided subject matter.

A desire to share his passion led Neil into teaching photography to college students and he also works for the Nottinghamshire Arts organisation ‘Inspire’. He suggested scenes which would work well for light painting such as fairs, fireworks and traffic during rush hour. All are particularly good at this season. The technique for light painting involves working with long exposures - not something everyone is familiar with. To create interesting images Neil had brought a collection of readily available and cheap props. Strings of lights, torches, coloured plastic bottles, coloured acetates etc. can all be used to good effect and we learned that no one’s light painting kit is complete without a light sabre.

Then it was our turn to get out our cameras. A forest of tripods sprang up as we all arranged ourselves with a clear view of Neil. First, and fundamental to success, was to adjust our camera to appropriate settings for long exposure work. We began with 2 – 5 second exposures which allowed everyone to see how their camera was performing fairly quickly so that it was ready for the longer exposures to come. This soon found out those who could not find their way round their camera controls in the dark.

Focusing was something of a challenge as the lights were turned off for the exposures. We also needed to understand that the camera’s autofocus feature would try to keep refocusing on the moving lights during the exposure, meaning that once we had focussed on Neil’s start point, we needed to turn focussing to manual. Once everyone had got to grips with that Neil began a series of exercises for us to photograph. At this point we discovered that Neil’s energy is not only creative as he danced around the room and whirled lights about for us to photograph.

Using various props he created fascinating designs with light which only became apparent when we looked at the images our cameras had captured. Volunteers were called upon as Neil created light angels and outlines of figures. The clicking of cameras, questions and murmurs of approval were proof everyone was fascinated with the process and thinking about the possibilities.

Thoughts and ideas were shared during the break after which everyone moved outside into what was, thankfully, an unseasonably warm evening. By now we were working with exposures of around 15 seconds which all the cameras could manage without difficulty. Neil continued to create patterns and stories with light, assisted by members who volunteered to help. He also demonstrated how a torch can be used to light up a building or any other target during a long exposure. The possibilities are limited only by the imagination of the photographer.

The evening concluded with a short period spent beside the road photographing the patterns created by the lights of the passing traffic. One driver obviously realised what was happening and helpfully flashed his hazard lights briefly to add interest to our images. We thanked Neil warmly for an inspiring and interesting evening and hope we may be fortunate enough to see him again.