A couple of days ago somebody asked me about photos with light as a theme. Of course I quipped that all photography is about light. But then my mind pulled up an image from decades ago. I vaguely remember seeing it in a photography magazine back in the early to mid-1970s. It was either Popular Photography or maybe Petersons Photographic. The image was of a young man in an overstuffed chair with a light bulb where his head should have been. The article detailed how the shot was achieved – in camera. Briefly – a camera loaded with daylight balanced color slide film was mounted on a tripod and a neutral density filter was attached to the lens. I seem to recall that the exposure was on the order of 2 minutes. The subject kept his body as still as possible but continuously rolled his head during the exposure. An un-shaded lamp was behind his head. Rolling his head revealed the lamp bulb while also keeping his head from registering on the film. The end result was a warm, almost golden, image of a rather surreal scene.
So I decided to see if I could quickly and easily make a similar image without resorting to layering multiple images in Photoshop.
I decided to sit at my dining room table so I could have something to rest my arms on. I put a small folding table behind the chair and went hunting for an appropriate lamp. Instead of an incandescent bulb lamp I used a desk lamp with a daylight balanced, four tube, fluorescent bulb. I positioned the lamp so that the head was aimed squarely at the back of my head. I mounted my Nikon D300s on a tripod and framed the image area carefully cropping out extraneous items. This resulted in a focal length of 40mm on mu 18 – 70 mm zoom. With the lamp off I did a test exposure. I set the ISO as low as it would go at 100. I stopped down to f 29 and exposed for 30 seconds. Thirty seconds is the longest shutter speed I could get without having to use a cable release. I turned the lamp on and used the camera self-timer to get enough time to get around the table and into position before the shutter opened. I rolled my head quite rapidly to try to minimize any portion of it being visible in the image. I was quite dizzy when the shutter finally closed. Of course most of my friends would tell you I was dizzy long before trying to take this image |:-)>
Looking at the finished product, clearly, my effort is nowhere near as elegant as the one I remember. That’s not to say the experiment was a total failure. I did get a surreal image with little or no effort. I like the weird multiple lens diaphragm ghosts.
I think there a number of improvements I can easily make. My remote release is not working and it’s time to invest in a better release that will let me do longer exposures. A longer exposure coupled with using a more limber model will help to get rid of the unwanted blur of the shoulders and hands on the table. I will also look around the house and find a better light source. The lamp I used was too bright. Something with an incandescent bulb and maybe a dimmer should work better. I think the better approach would be to experiment with photographing a lit bulb until I find something that will allow me to get an image of the bulb without it being totally washed out, as in this image. Once I get that exposure I can light the front of the subject with something other than a flash if necessary to balance the exposure. Using a flash would freeze the head motion so we don’t want that. I’d say check back here later – but at my current pace it will probably be a month or two!