“Real-time light-art has been a dream of mine since day 1.”
Back in 2007, when I started practicing lightart in front of the camera, it was so striking to see the picture from the live performance immediately after the camera finished its internal processing; But only after the camera finished, not during the performance. I know, in former times, as I worked with film, it was vastly time-consuming and also much harder to remember the camera-settings after the photo was taken. DSLR cameras speed up the time between taking the photo and showing the final result, but it still isn’t REAL-TIME LIGHT-ART! Since 2007, I was searching for the missing link to enter the next level – real-time processing and real-time visibility to create LIGHT-ART in REAL-TIME!
Above pictures are performed live, without post-processing – pure real-time light-art choreography. Made with 720p and 1080p webcams.
“Is it possible to see a photo develop as it is being captured?”
I discussed this question with one of my supporters, CANON. They were right to say that this kind of camera mode is a really really specific request, and not suitable for mass production. Their cameras deliver outstanding performance the photographers; But independently, I expect less than 10% of all users choose their manual-mode (M). And the bulb-mode (B) will be used much less. I was searching for a real-time-mode (R)!! But the times have changed and today the live-view abilities are even more sophisticated. We will see what the manufacturers will bring in the future.
Today, I’ll show you something new from the real-time light-art world: a small piece of software with a potent package of ideas in it. The file-size is less than 1mb, and it runs on a normal computer. All you need is a webcam!
“Real-time light-painting with 21 megapixels? Not yet!”
As you can see in the pictures and videos, the resolution is good, but less than a DSLR produces for still pictures. Normally, for making light-art in still pictures, I use a 21-million 35mm full-frame CMOS sensor from the Canon 5DMK2, as well as the 23mm APS-C size CMOS from the Canon 550D. I prefer CANON cameras for taking long-exposure photos in darkness. Sometimes, in a breadboard-construction, I use the 1080p live-view signal from my CANON-DSLRs for making REAL-TIME LIGHT-ART. It works fine, but that is a topic for another day.
For the kind of REAL-TIME LIGHT-ART I present to you today, I normally use USB 2.0 HD-webcams with either 720p and 1080p resolution. These devices are cheap, and despite the price, they can take high-quality pictures. Today’s webcams have glass-optics, some of them have TESSAR lenses made by Carl Zeiss; no plastics, anymore! And one of the most important features is that they deliver 1:1 real-time signals to the computer, without any limitations from the sensor. That means you’ll get a full 1080p signal to your computer via a common USB interface, available on most computers.
There exist some more powerful interfaces like USB3.0, Thunderbolt, Expresscards and others. But please keep in mind, what computers have to perform while working with the millions of pixels in real-time, especially in real-time light-art. At 30 frames per second, a 1080p signal sends over 62 million pixels per second to the computer! That means for 21 megapixels, your computer would have to work with nearly 10 times more. 634 million pixels each second! It would be nice, but it is not a requirement to work every time with 30 frames per second at the highest possible resolution. You’ll get stunning results even working in lower resolutions in less than 25fps – give it a try. You will be surprised at how well it works.
Aside from the data transport issue with high megapixel images, today’s computers are not yet able to allocate 21-megapixel high resolution in live-view mode via any interface. Not yet! In a separate software project, I work on a USB live-view gateway to use the maximum possible resolution of the live-view from DSLRs (it’s normally 1080p). It’s going well. Of course, at the maximum, it will bring you only the full HD1080p resolution (1920×1080) in realtime to the computer, but this will be delivered via your 35mm full-frame CMOS sensor with the ability to use all your existing interchangeable lenses on your DSLR camera body! I’ve done some examples with my Canon 5DMK2 and a 14mm lens, unfortunately only in 1024 pixel wide-mode (the maximum with the USB2.0 interface). Regardless of the lower resolution… Man, that was so cool! As I told you, I will post more about this in the future. Maybe in the near future, the next level could be a real 2160p live-view via USB3.0. Also, a lot of notebook express-cards and some external HDMI live streaming capture devices are good for that. I ordered some from Japan and will give you information about that when I test it. But now, with the 1080p webcams, you’ll have an easy way to start working immediately with the real-time light-art software.
Light-art requires processing millions of pixels per second, but more importantly, it needs your creativity. If you have a 70″ inch oil-paint canvas, but no idea what to paint on it – your tool is impressive, but useless. What I want to say is that you shouldn’t look only for the best technically solution, you should start to paint. A lot of the pictures shown on this here are made by only 720p resolution. The available quality is good enough to get stunning results.
“How did I make that? No cookbook, I want to inspire you!”
Lightart photographers are often asked how they accomplish their artwork. Some of them won’t tell anyone about their “secrets,” and others will gladly show their methods and styles to the community. You should respect both of them. For me personally, I don’t like cookbooks. It’s a fine line between cookbooks and inspiration. I want to inspire you!
On DSLR Cameras, most of the tasks in creating a real light-art performance can’t be recorded or saved as separate steps. There is no REAL-TIME mode (R) that could show the originating picture (but I’m sure, the time is right, and there will soon be such a mode). The obstacle for this is, that this kind of light-art can only be made by using bulb-exposures. You need the time axis to get all the elements into one single picture, step by step painted to the sensor. Until the camera has finished the picture, you can´t see anything. After you’re done light-painting, you can close the shutter and the camera start to process the picture (creating and saving the raw or jpeg-file). Only after all that, you can see your picture – you know that exactly.
“The REAL-TIME LIGHT-ART revolution has begun!”
Camera mode (R)!
Creating light-art should be working like working with a brush on a canvas. You should see exactly what you paint, as you paint it. How magnificent would it be to have a “start/stop” and “undo/redo” controls in the picture-creation process? And what about a highly sensitive preview button that shows your position in the composition?
A feature to record a movie of the whole light-art performance would be great to show the process! For long, live performances you could use a fading-feature. That means to set a time for visible lights before they fade back into darkness – so you can dance the whole night long with the light in your hand on stage – live on the screen.
What about a light-limiter? That could limit all the light you bring in to a defined level. So you can decide how intensive your light source will be in the picture. A color-shifter enables you to change a single light source into every colour!
Controlling your software without staying at the computer (you are on your performance-stage), you should be able to have something like a remote-control. A bluetooth device like a game-controller or a mini-keyboard works great for this. All that is no rocket-science. Are you curious about it? I’m convinced, many of you have thought about what I have written above. Now, I can show you a small piece of software which is able to give you all the features – directly out of my test-laboratory.
These pictures are painted live in START-STOP-MODE. No post-processing – pure light-art, choreography in REAL-TIME
There are some very special and hardware-intensive solutions to build up a real-time setup for showing that effect into a video (without any choreographic interaction with the picture as described above). Some hardware experienced professionals use 2 or 4k HD-Camcorders, HDMI CaptureCards and powerful PCs or Macs for this. The result looks really good, but it is very expensive to get that result. And furthermore, it is only a recorded movie or a watchable live signal, no interaction with the software during the performance.
Unfortunately the owners normally made a secret about their “magic-machines”. I can really understand that, because they’ve spent a lot of time and money into their “magic-machines”. And the most of them have to earn money with this on live performances. But mostly, the movies you can see from originating lightart were done by post-processing work on the PC or Mac, in the studio, with professional video-software. These fine looking pieces are often times a complete synthetic, but well rendered, 3D animation. They also look great, but they are mouse-made, not hand-painted.
Static solutions and software processing kills spontaneous moments, opportunities for creativity. In my opinion, the time is right for a well-equipped mobile solution, affordable to everyone.
One, Two, Three:
1. open the program,
2. pick up your webcam
3. start your performance!
There are artists all around the world who are excited about real-time light-art. Some seek light-art training, and others are just having fun. Regardless of goals, every light-painter needs a smart and affordable method for making real-time light-art.
Such a system is not only attractive for beginners or semi-professionals, but also for experienced photographers and performance artists. Professionals might use such a setup for training, or monitoring what they do. Today, nobody has a real-time monitor to watch a photo develop as it is being created. With this system, performance artists could beam their performances directly to big screens or projectors!
“Light Paint Live, by Posit Labs – an incredible program!”
In autumn of 2011, I began working with the genius software developer, Josh Beckwith (from California/USA). At this point, he had built a basic real-time light-art program, called Light Paint Live (AKA LPL). Back then, it was version 0.8 and it had only two buttons; start and stop. I immediately sent him my ideas about the future of LPL, and we began an intensive exchange of ideas. Josh is the developer, and I am the idea-generator and light-artist.
The goal was to develop a piece of software that would be an invaluable tool for all light-painters and light-artists, from beginners to professionals. It should be available to all light-art interested photographers on all computers, PC, MAC, Android and iOS (soon).
In the early days of the project, Josh integrated my ideas into a desktop version. In less than six months, we developed more than 20 releases of Light Paint Live, implementing more of my wicked light-art ideas with each release. The result is a real brilliant piece of forward-looking light-art software, available to everyone.
Currently, the filesize of LPL: Heavy (the desktop version) is less than 1 megabyte! Today we are nowhere near the end of implementing new ideas. I am sure, LPL will be a fundamental part of the tools used by light-painters and light-artists. Josh is a programming genius with the ability to surmise what light-painters need; and I was an idea-generator, testing all the different versions as the light-artist. Working with Josh is such a rich experience.
In the near future, we will give you a lot of additional details and ideas for working with LPL (demos and hardware setups). However, Light Paint Live doesn’t need any complicated explanations. It’s practically self-explanatory!
With LightPaintLive Instant, you can use a web-browser version of LPL. It’s free, and has basic functions for light-painting. There is also a free version available for Android devices with basic functions. For little money, you can buy a full featured desktop version (PC + MAC) called LPL Heavy or buy additional features for the Android version on GOOGLE-Play.
The MakingOf Gallery
These pictures were made with full-frame DSLR-Cameras during the live performance