Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Light Painting With The Nokia Lumia 1020

I wanted to know if light painting was practical using the Nokia Lumia 1020. I knew it was possible because the Lumia 1020 is capable of four second exposures, but possible and practical are two different things.

If you are not sure what light painting is, during long exposures one adds lights to the image to give different effects. There are no rules, just whatever one wants or imagines. It is usually somewhat abstract.
Painted Tree - Stallion Springs, California
The vision I had for light painting with the Lumia 1020 was a tree trunk with a green light swirled around it. So last night I grabbed my Lumia 1020 and set out to turn that vision into a photograph.

The first issue was a tripod. Anytime there is a long exposure the camera must be secured in place. Cell phones aren't designed to attach to traditional tripods. One can purchase a tripod meant for cell phones, but being cheap I decided to just find something around the house. What I settled on was a small picture easel.

I manually set the the ISO to 100 and the white balance to incandescent (the light bulb). I could have used any white balance, I just thought that this one would give the results that I wanted. Because it was a very dark night and I live out in the country, the camera automatically picked four seconds for the exposure. I lit the tree with a flashlight and touched the screen over the tree to let the camera auto-focus on it.

The camera has a two, five or 10 second self-timer. I found that five seconds worked well for my needs. Unfortunately, the self-timer must be selected for each exposure, which was a bit of a hassle.

The only light source for this shoot was a flashlight, which has a clear LED bulb on one side and a green LED bulb on the other (like a safety wand). My vision was to circle the tree trunk several times (moving either up or down) with the green light.

I encountered two problems with this. First, the green light was not sufficiently illuminating the tree. Second, the four second exposure was not long enough to circle the tree enough times with the light to create the effect that I wanted.

Back to the drawing board. What I decided on instead was to wave the light in front of the tree in an arching pattern, allowing me to cover more space. I hoped that this would make it look like the light was circling the tree even though it wasn't (unfortunately, it was not effective at this). Again, the tree was not being sufficiently illuminated.

Finally, I used the clear light to briefly illuminate the tree (for about one second) and then used the green light to quickly arch around the trunk (for about two and a half seconds). This took a few tries and some quick actions.

I made a total of six exposures before I was satisfied with the results (Painted Tree above). I was not able to achieve the original vision because the camera is not capable of exposures longer than four seconds. Overall, I did find that light painting with the Nokia Lumia 1020 is practical, just not in every situation. Sometimes you'll want a camera that is capable of longer exposures.

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