Quick tips: Indoor light trails

January 21, 2017

Most of us associate light trails with shooting long exposures of traffic and fairground rides outdoors after dark; however, you can achieve creative results indoors as well. With a torch and a piece of string you can capture a variety of geometric light trails known as physiograms. These are created by a single, long exposure of a light source simply spun from a piece of string attached to the ceiling.

To make your own, all you need to do is set a long exposure on your camera and then let gravity work its magic. This is a fantastic technique to try when you don’t feel inclined to venture outside into the cold. You will need a room that is dark – some heavy-duty curtains will block out any ambient light – or simply wait until the evening.

  1. Hang a light source, such as a torch, from the ceiling using a piece of string (approximately a metre long) and a drawing pin or some strong adhesive tape. Ensure the light source is pointing towards the floor and that it can swing freely.
  2. Put your camera on a tripod, set it in a low position and place beneath the torch with the lens pointing towards the ceiling. Make sure you can access the viewfinder to compose and focus on the stationary torch.
  3. Set your lens to a wide focal length and switch to Bulb mode. Select a narrow aperture, of, say, f/18. Not only will this reduce any ambient light, it will also ensure the light trail stays in focus for the duration of the spin.
  4. Spin the torch and take a test shot. The shutter speed will depend on the ambient light, try a 30-40sec exposure to start. Keep the ISO low. If it’s too dark, increase ISO or aperture value and vice versa if it’s too light.
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