No, These Are Not Photos Of Ghosts or UFOs

When Denis Smith found himself faced with a dark depression in his life, he found motivation and purpose through his newly found photography hobby. After moving to South Australia, Denis picked up a camera and began to explore the serendipitous world of night photography. After playing around with long exposures he realized he could bring his own creativity to his images in the form of light painting. Denis's images are really interesting because he mixes strong technical long exposure landscapes with his unique "ball of light" light painting technique. Skip to 5:20 on this video to see how he came up with the idea and check out many examples of his work over at Ball of Light.

Ball Of Light from Sam Collins on Vimeo.

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I am not sure who came first, but I think this guy has perfected the look:

Yep, Jeff Newsom is the king of this. A pretty stellar wedding/ portrait photographer too.

@Andrew, I'm not sure what "look" you are talking about. I see Denis' work to be quite different to other light painters. Take the sphere out of the shot and you still have a perfectly composed and interesting photo - not to mention detail, clarity and colour!

Love the images but the biggest surprise to me was the long exposures at night that look like day. I'm going to have to try that.

Patrick Hall's picture

My thought was that you could make some sort of spinning and rotating machine that would easily make these...setting a record of 20 balls wouldn't be that tough at that point and it would look pretty cool

@Patrick Hall Admin, After he took the picture with the 6 orbs he said the solo record was broken. I agree that 20 orbs would look pretty cool though. Wouldn't it be easier to recruit 20 people instead of having to build 20 machines though?

Patrick Hall's picture

@Jay, I think you'd only need like 3 or 4 machines and just move them. Something like an oscillating fan would probably work. I don't know 20 friends who could get this technique down well enough to pull it off :)

@Patrick Hall Admin,

He seems to pride him self for not using anything mechanical. This is from his flicker
"(The only adjustments to this image are minor brightness and saturation tweaks. NO PIXELS ARE ADDED OR REMOVED. It is taken in a SINGLE EXPOSURE, with no use of "mechanical devices"."

Thank god you put the Skip to 5.20 bit.
I am sure I would get very bored of doing this after the 4th or 5 time. I am also sure he is not the first person to do this kind of picture and the way he acts in the video you would think he has invented the wheel. I think someone should tell him that he is not finding the balls of light but in fact he is creating them.... maybe all the stress went to his head.

@Brent Cunningham, I really didn't get that feeling at all. He seems passionate about the photographs he enjoys making, but not egocentric in any way.

@Beach, agreed

@Brent Cunningham, I think considering that Denis picked up the camera less than 2 years ago and is totally self taught, plus not to mention how he turned his life around, he certainly deserves any kudos that comes his way.

It is clear that he gets great enjoyment from his photography... it is purely inspirational! I commend him for his honesty and sincerity.

@Brent Cunningham, I didn't get that feeling AT ALL from watching the documentary. In fact, what I got was a man who was going through a tough time in his life, getting stuck on the same path that a lot of us have gotten stuck on. But he was able to find something that inspired him and got him out of that rut and was willing to share his story with us. I appreciate him for that.

Whether this has been done before or not, I really enjoy his work.

Here's another really cool use of light painting.. they took an led bar that lit up in response to wifi signal strength it detected. By then using a long exposure and walking with the bar through the scene, it creates a "digital landscape". Pretty cool stuff..

Those abstract light balls are amazing - that's definitely something I need to try using string and swinging an LED light around in a dark area, long exposure. I just actually reviewed an ebook on my blog that a buddy of mine recently released: He covers all sorts of trick photography and trick lighting techniques that you can do with a very limited budget.

At first i thought this was going to be another April's fools prank video! Thankfully this wasn't the case. This is the kind of content i'd love to see more of! very long, well-produced video. Loved every second of it.
The only thing that bothered me was that he thinks Australia is more diverse than New Zealand... holy cow, he can't be serious! NZ is the most diverse country i know!

Since the video he's done another 'world record' number of spins, no machines involved...

Don't think it's really the point of this whole thing (the pictures with one or two are best imo) , but it's pretty cool nonetheless

Patrick Hall's picture

yeah I'm really not a fan of this many orbs. My idea was to make a really great landscape image with balls all throughout the scene. You'd def have to either have a bunch of assistants located far away or do multiple exposures and edit them all together. The problem with trying to do them all in one take with 1 person is the scene starts getting way too bright for my taste.

The fairly well-known German group Light Art Performance Photography (LAPP: ) has also done abstract light painting which includes the use of balls. See in particular their stuff from 2008 to 2009, although they seem to have phased out balls in their more recent work in favour of more complex stuff.

@icie, from time to time you just have to phase out the balls

Since the video he's done another 'world record' picture....there are maybe 50 in that one (it's on his flickr).

I don't think it's really the point (some of the pics with just one or two are amazing imo), but it's pretty cool nonetheless

This guy does something similiar but with roman candles instead. Pretty spectacular stuff.

There's also a link in the post about how to do them yourself.

What a way to think outside the box! Amazing stuff!

jeff zannella's picture

Great post! I've been fascinated with light painting and have tried my hand at it a few times. I have to say Denis' work has a really nice organic look/feel to it that I haven't seen in other productions and I'd love to see him expand to other locations. These shots definitely evoke a real emotion or sense of something bigger, definitely artistic and not just "cool"

@JZ, totally agree, there is a big difference between light graffiti (cool) and light painting (art)!

james darden's picture

I'm curios as what settings he used on the displayed sunset shot. In the video he said he shoots under a full moon but that shot (as well as some others) isn't under a full moon. Did he do an HDR exposure so as to no blow out the highlights? Or if he exposed for the ambient light, must have raced to the spot to spin the light.


I think you will find that is a long exposure moon rise rather than a sunset, the shadows of the railings coming the "wrong" way are probably the last rays of daylight

Remy Musser's picture

@jamesd3rd, You forgot ND filters

james darden's picture

I wouldn't have considered that.

I think what makes him so different is that his photos would be beautiful without the orbs in them.

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