FIAT LUX - "Let There Be Light"

The term “photography” is taken from the Greek phōtos meaning “light” and graphé meaning “representation by means of lines" or "drawing”.  In other words “drawing or painting with light”.

As photographers we use light to make our photographs. We look for that right time of day, how light plays on different subjects and how it gets reflected back to the camera to highlight a surface. But what if we decided to make “light” itself the subject of our photographs. This can be done in many ways but one technique that gets closest to this concept is to capture how light can be painted directly onto the sensor without any subject present. My “source” is simple multi-coloured Christmas lights.

I first do something that most photographers would never think of… take the lens off the camera. The reason cameras have lenses is to “focus” the light reflecting off objects to create a well defined subject. My technique does away with the lens altogether so there is no direct focusing of the light coming into the camera. But I still need something to “direct” the light into the camera body as without the lens any light entering would just be a diffuse exposure with no defined shape. For this I use a simple rectangular magnifying glass that is held about 6 inches in front of the open camera body and turned or tilted at an angle to direct the light rays coming off the lights onto the sensor when the shutter in tripped.

I’m not trying to use the magnifier to “focus” the light sources but in essence I’m creating out of focus highlights that are then “smeared” into different shapes. By adjusting the angle and the distance from the camera body I can warp the shapes into an infinite number of patterns.

This is all done hand held with the camera body in one hand and the magnifier in another so I can quickly alter the relationship between the two and see the result as they happen through the viewfinder. Then when I see a pattern I like I press the shutter. In fact with no lens on the camera the only thing controlling exposure is shutter speed and ISO so with the light flooding into the camera the exposure times are usually easily hand-holdable.

Being creative in photography sometimes means thinking “outside the camera” – FIAT LUX, “Let there be Light”

This article originally appeared in Canadian Camera Magazine, the official publication for the Canadian Association of Photographic Art.

© Paul Sparrow 2016