Light Painting Presents a New Route for Expression

10/19/22 Pratt School of Engineering

A photography workshop at Duke Engineering showed the community how to combine quirky light sources and long exposures to achieve otherworldly effects

Light painting representing a dancer
Light Painting Presents a New Route for Expression

August Burns vividly remembers the first light painting she ever made, over her parents’ house, on a night with a full moon.

“I drew a big heart over it, with a flashlight, because that’s where my heart is,” said Burns.

Burns was a photographer before she was a light painter. She followed many photo-related accounts on social media, and an algorithm pushed the work of a light painter named Jess Cruger onto one of her feeds. Cruger manages the lab of biomedical engineering faculty member Marc Sommer and Burns is the business manager of the Fitzpatrick Institute for Photonics (FIP). Burns reached out to her colleague and asked if she would consider showing her some light painting techniques.

Augist Burns in front of projector screen demonstrating orb technique

Cruger was happy to share what she knew and Burns was immediately hooked. She started looking for other light painters in the region and was delighted to find a whole thriving community.

Light painting of Duke Chapel with kaleidoscope effect

Last week, she brought that community to Duke Engineering to teach a light painting workshop, sponsored by FIP and Art@DukeEngineering, that was free to the public. Attendees brought their Canons or Nikons if they had them, and their smartphones, preloaded with a light painting app, if they didn’t. When they arrived, each photographer got to choose a light-up party favor, like strobing sunglasses or a blinking hair extension, before heading into the darkened auditorium where the light painters demonstrated a host of artistic techniques.

All the light painters—Jess Cruger, Laura DelPrato, Johnny Dickerson, Jason Page, Jason Rinehart and John Shockey— volunteered their time to teach the group, said Burns.

students look into camera viewfinder as light twirls

Cruger and DelPrato taught a technique called “Inside the Inside,” where strategic use of the camera lens cap creates nested negative figures, haloed in light.

Even Burns learned a little something new: Johnny Dickerson showed the group how to rotate the camera during a long exposure to create a kaleidoscopic effect. 

One of the students in attendance already reached out to Burns to gauge interest in starting a new light painting group at Duke (interested people should email Burns for more information, she said), and feedback about the event was positive across the board

“One of the post-event surveys just said, ‘SO MUCH FUN,’ all in caps,” said Burns. “And it’s fun for the light painters, too, to hear the first gasps as people see the images and realize the beauty that light painters can achieve.”

Light painting of an orange smiley face


See August Burns’s work in the Zero Gallery