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Light Tagging - A New Photography Technique

written by: •edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 9/19/2008

A new photography technique using time-lapse photography is rapidly becoming mainstream. Learn about this low-cost method dubbed "light-tagging" here.

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    Time-lapse photography used to be for blooming flowers, clouds rolling through the sky, and skyscapes. Not any more - artists are increasingly using "light tagging" to bring an explosion of color and a new way of looking at urban cityscapes.

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    The Use of Light
    Set in the busy nightlife of today's cities, light tagging happens in the night. Setting an exposure of ten-to-thirty seconds, artists use glow sticks, flashlights, reflectors, and even fireworks to "draw" on the final photo. The bright lights show up remarkably vividly, while the moving artist becomes a faint blur, if he shows up at all. Through the use of light, all kinds of shapes and designs can be made. What makes it even more exciting is that different colors, filters, blinking lights, and different types of light bulbs show up differently, allowing for all kinds of experimentation and variety.

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    Using the Urban Landscape
    Being able to, in effect, doodle on photos opens up a new level of expression. Many light-tagging photos utilize the surrounding nightscape in some way, allowing interaction between the light and people, buildings, or other objects in the environment. Because the very act of light-tagging is freeform and spontaneous, a humorous and playful side is seen in many pictures. Many times this has also resulted in a humorous commentary on various aspects of urban life.

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    The Method

    You will need:

    • a camera, preferably with a tripod
    • a collection of flashlights
    • batteries, in case any of your lights run out of power
    • darkness

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    Different types of lights result in different types of lines.

    • Xenon: gives a warm, gold light
    • LED: gives a very precise, thin line
    • Cold cathode: makes a thick line

    Feel free to experiment with other types of lights.

    1. Put your camera in a stationary position. A tripod will give you best results.
    2. Set the exposure time to 10-30 seconds.
    3. Prevent overexposure by setting the ISO to 100, and close your aperture as much as possible.
    4. If there's still too much light, try using a neutral density filter. Otherwise, wait until it's darker or try somewhere else.
    5. Have your flashlights turned on and ready to go. You have less than half a minute, so make the most of your time.
    6. Start the time-lapse photo and do your tagging, remembering to stay in front of the camera and to keep moving.
    7. If you want a person to show up, they have to remain in the same position the entire time.

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    Mainstream Exposure

    Chances are, you've seen some commercials on TV that use light tagging. Commercial use of this technique is becoming more and more prolific. Here are several examples:
    Sprint has been the biggest adopter, releasing several commercials for their phones using light-tagging.

    The Place, a Pan-European and new American restaurant and bar, has also made a commercial:

    It's not simply happening in the US, either. The BEKO-ALL STAR brand in Istanbul also utilizes light-tagging:

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    Images