Little Kulala

Light Painting with Olympus in the Namib Desert

Photography

Tenneil Zondagh

1/21/2020

"I paint with light to create new worlds in the darkness. "

Hannu Huhtamo is a visual artist from Helsinki, Finland, where he has been working on light art and long-exposure photography since 2008. With different kinds of light sources he creates new worlds out of the darkness, and paints the unseen into visual spectacles. Hannu’s light art photography consists of amazing symmetrical light flowers, fauna, and luminous sculptures, which he incorporates into various locations using elements of his environment and ambient lighting. Unusual and forgotten places on the city outskirts become a surreal backdrop for his art.

Using equipment supplied by Olympus, Hannu recently visited some of our properties in Namibia to try out this fascinating technique in the photogenic desert, as well as share some tips with our staff and guests who were in camp at the time.

This art is created using a photographic technique called ”light painting” or ”light drawing”, which is based on long exposure times that vary from a few seconds to a few hours. “While the shutter is open you are able to draw in the air by moving different kinds of light sources in front of the camera”, says Hannu. Light painting requires a dark environment, and with almost no light pollution on the Kulala Wildlife Reserve and at Serra Cafema, these two areas made the perfect backdrop for this striking art form.

"Darkness is the canvas and light is my brush. "

From the photogenic Kulala Wilderness Reserve to the extraordinary dunes along the Kunene River, Hannu was able to produce some amazing shots while combating the many elements of this desert environment.



In Helskinki, Hannu is part of the Valopaja Light Art Collective that organises workshops and interactive live light painting performances in which the audience has the opportunity to be a part of the show by creating light art of their own. He shared his knowledge with the lucky guests in camp, giving them a light painting tool and advising everyone how to use it.

We are delighted to be able to share this with you here.

Live Composite mode and how to use it in long exposure photography

It’s an awesome feature that you can use at night time or in a darkened environment. The basic idea behind the Live Composite is that the camera combines several separate pictures into a single photo in real time. It lets you choose the base exposure of a single image and then keeps stacking the separate exposures until you stop it by pressing the shutter release button. It prevents overexposed images and lets you see how the light trails appear on the screen, right before your eyes. And remember that long exposure times require a tripod to keep the camera steady during the exposure.

These instructions are made for the Olympus OMD E-M1 MK II camera, but it will work on other models as well if they have the Live Composite feature.

Light painting in Live Composite mode

- Choose a wide angle lens if you want to include more surroundings in the picture (example 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO or 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO).

- Go to Manual mode by dialling the mode dial to “M”.

- Roll the rear dial to the left until you see the "Live Composite" option and choose it.

- Set the aperture to f/6.3 or smaller (bigger number). You might need to change it depending on how bright the surroundings or your light painting tool are. Always try to avoid overexposed (and underexposed) images.

- Set the base exposure for one single image by pressing the Menu button. Set it somewhere between 1-15 seconds, or maybe more depending on how much you want to expose the surroundings (max value is 60 seconds). For example, if you choose 1 second, then the camera takes multiple 1 second exposures until you stop it. Max total exposure time is 3 hours, so you have plenty of time to paint with light if you want to!

- Press the shutter release button once to get the camera ready, then once more to open the shutter and to start the live composite shooting.

- Do your light painting action (e.g. light up some details with a flashlight, like trees, plants or a person, or draw something in the air).

- Press shutter release button to stop live composite shooting.

Capture star trails with Live Composite

- Set your aperture as wide as your lens can go (smallest f-number).

- Set your ISO to somewhere between 1000 - 1600 (max value when using live composite).

- Go to “Menu” and choose "A4” -> “MF assist” -> “Magnify”.

- Set your camera on a tripod, facing towards the night sky.

- Find the brightest star from the sky with your bare eyes.

- Find that same star from the live view screen of your camera.

- Set your lens to manual focus. Focus on the star by adjusting the focus ring so that the star becomes as small as possible on the screen .

- Go to Live Composite mode.

- Set the base exposure for one single image by pressing the “Menu” button. Set it somewhere between 1-10 seconds, or maybe more depending on how much you want to expose the surroundings (max value is 60 seconds). For example, if you choose 1 second, then the camera takes multiple 1 second exposures until you stop it.

The longer the trails you want, the longer the exposure time should be. The picture above took 30 minutes total exposure time (in 5 sec. intervals), lens at 12 mm, f/2.8 and ISO 1600.

- Press the shutter release button once to get the camera ready, then once more to open the shutter and to starting the live composite shooting.

- When the image is ready, just press the shutter release button to stop the live composite shooting. The final image appears on the screen.

And if you want to capture just the stars without the trails, keep the total exposure time under 30 seconds. After that the trails appear. The wider angle lens you have, the longer exposure time you’ll get -> stars get more visible and clearer.


At Serra Cafema, the challenge was the cloudy sky and the abundant dust, sand and wind in the air. After a long exposure, “the pictures turned brown, but after a bit of jiggling, I was able to expose enough to get the stunning scenery in the background”.



Images by Hannu Huhtamo

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