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Teaching a compact camera to take freezelight pictures

Compact cameras

So, you want to draw with light, and are a lucky owner of those cameras that have no manual control over f-stop, shutter speed or ISO, or these functions are strictly limited, e.g. exposure time directly depends on the f-stop or vice versa.

Lucky freezelighters

Our advice is quite simple. These cameras have so called predictive shooting modes, usually marked with various symbols: Portrait, Macro, Landscape, e.t.c. You’ll need to find the “Night Scene” mode. It may me called differently “Night Scene”, “Night”, “Night Shooting” or variations thereof. Just don’t choose the “Night Portrait” mode. It presupposes the use of a built-in flash, something you absolutely don’t want.

Shoting Modes

With the “Night Scene” mode set, attach the camera to a tripod or place it on a stable surface. This must be done to avoid camera shake. Frame your shot, set zoom position as needed, decide where you drawing will be placed. Then cover the lens with the palm of your hand, so that no light falls on the lens. Half-press the release button, just as you do when focusing the camera in an auto-focus mode. This is when the camera surveys the scene in front of it. The light meter will figure that it’s pitch dark out there and will set the lowest f-stop, as well as fully open the aperture to get the maximum available light. Take your hand off the lens and press the release button all the way down. Start your drawing.

An example of a simple light drawing shot with the Canon PowerShot S90

Now for the bad news. Even the despite the trick mentioned above, the camera will not let you draw to your heart’s content. For your drawing it’ll give anywhere from 4 to 15 seconds, depending on it’s make, model and how old it is. Therefore, so as not to waste the precious seconds, we recommend working together, with a minimum of one partner. One of you opens and closes the lens and presses the release button, the other paints.

Example of simple drawing with light

We’ll share an encouraging story. We get deluged with emails containing the results of various freezelight experiments. Once, there was the usual collection of little houses, little flowers and little birdies in our mail, sent to us by an eight-year old girl, and we didn’t give it much thought. A little later, by accident, we opened these files in an application that shows the camera settings the pictures were shot with. All these works were done with a 2 second exposure, because the camera did not allow for more. And so we did an experiment and tried to repeat these simple drawings in the same amount of time. We couldn’t do it ;), so apparently much depends on how quick you are with your hands and, of course, on your experience.

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