Create A Physiogram
Digital Photographer|Issue 205

It’s amazing what you can do with a torch and a piece of string in a darkened room!

Difficulty level: Intermediate

Time taken: One hour

Before we know it, the long, hot days of summer we’ve all enjoyed this year will be over and autumn will be upon us – dark evenings, dodgy weather and that familiar question all photographers ask themselves when it’s pouring with rain outside: “Okay, so what do I do now?”

Well, here’s one technique that will definitely help you while away a wet day and produce some amazing images at the same time – creating physiograms. Never heard of it? Don’t worry, most photographers haven’t. But once you try it, you’ll be hooked.

The idea behind this technique is that you suspend a small torch (you can buy them from £1 shops) on the end of a length of string in a darkened room directly over your camera. Set the torch spinning, then use a long exposure to record the patterns traced in the darkness by the torch bulb. The results are infinitely variable and you can make the patterns as simple or as complex as you like. The images are also much easier to create than they look, so what’s not to like?

Right

Painting with light This is the kind of result you can expect by spinning the torch several different ways and placing colour filters on your lens during a single exposure © Lee Frost

Shooting steps

1 Attach your string Tie a small pen torch to a length of string, then attach the other end to a light fitting on the ceiling in a room in your house so you can suspend the torch above ground. The length of the string isn’t crucial, but start with approx 1m and see how you get on.

2 Sort the torch As we’re using a manual-focus lens we have to adjust the aperture on the lens itself. I went with f4 for the best balance of depth of field versus lens blur. I’m using the Sweet 50 Lensbaby lens and will position it at the angle you see in the image.

3 Camera setup Mount your camera on a tripod approximately 1m beneath the torch. Set the shutter speed to Bulb (b) so you can leave the shutter open for as long as necessary, stop the lens down to an aperture of f11 or f16 so you have depth of field, and attach a remote release.

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