Light painting and wool spinning with Photo5 winners

We chat with one of the winners of Canon's Photo5 competition about their photography and pick up plenty of techniques for light painting.

Lexy Savvides
1 of 6 Steve Humpleby

Each year, Canon holds its Photo5 competition to encourage creativity in Australia's photographic community.

Entrants receive a small cardboard box with five different briefs. This year's winners had to come up with some novel ways of interpreting each element in their box, including flour, googly eyes, a stencil, jelly crystals and an open brief of reflections.

The winners have now been announced, taking home a range of prizes for their efforts. See the winning photos in the gallery below, and read on for our interview with portfolio winner Steve Humpleby as he explains the inspiration behind his winning photos.

CNET Australia: How did you first get into photography?

Steve Humpleby: In 2007, I started work for a company that sold large-format printers. As it was an Eastern States-based company, with my outlet being in Western Australia, it was hard to get reasonable training on the products. Through this, I decided to buy a camera and train myself in the process from capture to print. It wasn't long before the photography bug bit and I was reasonably consumed with photography.

(Credit: Steve Humpleby)

What equipment did you start off with, and what are you shooting on now?

I started by purchasing a Canon A640 that I soon outgrew. In January 2008, I bought a second hand Canon EOS 350D with kit lenses, a phenomenal little camera for very long exposures. As I was always on a tight budget, I managed to pick up a second-hand Canon EOS 5D classic in September 2009, and so started my love affair with full-frame cameras. I remember only having a Canon 50mm f/1.8 for a few months as it was the only lens I had that would fit. Eventually, I picked up a few "interesting" second-hand lenses for the camera.

In late 2011, I was fortunate to have been selected for a "shootout" type competition for the Olympus Anything But Ordinary competition and eventually won that, so I then had a nice little Pen E-PL3 Micro Four Thirds camera with twin lens kit. I still use it for happy snaps, but the full frames rule the night. After selling a couple of those images, in December 2011, I made the jump into the Canon EOS 5D Mark II with the 24-105 f/4 lens, the first new SLR and lens I ever owned. I am now lucky enough that my hobby almost pays for itself (almost) and just recently picked up a new Canon EOS 6D, perfect for my night and long-exposure photography.

My next aim is to get some really nice Canon glass to complete the package. In the meantime, a Tamron wide angle and manual 14mm Rokinon will have to do. I do own a few eBay filters but am not a big user. I tend to lose them more than I get to use them. I don't even use a UV filter — probably not the sharpest tool in the shed!

Your portfolio images for Photo5 were all very clearly based around playing with light. What is it that draws you to light painting and long exposures?

When I first started, I spent a lot of time at home. I was a single father of a severely handicapped child as well as working full time, and there are only so many things you can photograph in such a limited environment, namely the backyard. Light painting let me extend the opportunities and subjects around me and allowed me the freedom to experiment with different techniques.

As my time eventually freed up after my child reached adulthood and moved into a share house, the interest still prevailed and grew. After winning the Olympus competition in 2011, many people I know in Perth (and some I didn't) asked me to run workshops, so there was another excuse to get out and do more light painting.

(Credit: Steve Humpleby)

How did you put together each component of your "Making Cookies" image?

This year for Photo5, I decided to consciously take a photo for each brief using a long exposure and some type of fire as part of the image. I was reasonably happy with the outcomes but totally blown away to have made the top 50 in every brief as well as the portfolio, as I had never even made any of the finals in the previous years I had participated.

The Cookie shot was a blast and my favourite shot from this year. My partner, her daughter and I were laughing so hard while I was doing this. Most years I have tried to do some type of fun self-portrait, and this year was obviously no exception.

So how did I do it? Firstly, after getting the idea in my head, I put on one of my "photography" onesies — don't all photographers own them?

I set up the camera on a tripod at the angle I needed and placed the props around the outdoor setting table. Taking a couple of exposure test shots with settings at ISO 100, f/11, 24-105 f/4 at 35mm and Bulb for the shutter, 580 EXII flash zoomed at 105mm and on half power. I hung a black bed sheet from the patio as my backdrop. I asked my partner's daughter to be my voice-activated light stand and hold the flash to the left of the camera. I was rapt to only need three shots to get the flour flying a nice amount for the shot, as we were going one, two, three — flash. The first shot had the flour still on the utensils and the second totally obscured my face. I would then jump up and write cookies with a sparkler after each shot. I was originally a little disappointed with my writing, but I think the very ordinary writing adds to the photo somewhat.

(Credit: Steve Humpleby)

What are some tips and techniques you can share with beginner photographers who want to start out with wool spinning and light painting?

First thing is I would suggest getting a few items to make it that much easier:

  • A camera that will shoot "Bulb" and a cable shutter release (a camera with a 15 to 30 second timer will work, though)

  • The camera must also have manual focus, where you focus and lock the focus as required

  • A sturdy tripod is very important (but I have been known to use a rolled-up towel)

  • For the light, there is no limit to what you can use: torches, sparklers (still my favourite and a hit with the kids), battery-operated Christmas lights and of course steel wool

  • Please be careful with these. It is very dangerous, and I have the scars to prove it ... I also never spin steel wool where there may be a fire hazard. I usually go to the beach or river for that work.

Does post-processing play a big part in your photography, or do you like to create everything in-camera?

I do like to get it right in-camera, and after much practice, you can learn what settings most of the lights work well at. Then by changing the exposure time, you can include or eliminate ambient light sources. I suppose I would crop and adjust levels slightly, but that would be the case with most photographers.

I have been known to do the odd composite image, though. I chased a storm last weekend, as I have never combined lightening and light painting. Every time I did any light painting I'd miss the lightening and vice versa. So after looking through the images from the night, I eventually combined two images to create what I had imagined in my head. I generally state the fact that it is a composite when I do, though.

See more of Steve's work on his Flickr page.

Winner: Portfolio brief

2 of 6 Denise McKenzie

Winner: Flour/Contrast brief

"This photo is striking and mysterious with the clash of red, white and black its strength. Compositionally well captured and a good use of the theme with strong sense of beauty and light." — Photo5 judge Stephen DuPont

3 of 6 Kylie Garner

Winner: Jelly/light brief

"A stand-out-from-the-crowd shot that moves away from a contrived black room and artificial light. Fundamental photography techniques have been applied to give jelly the focus and its intrigue when lit via natural light. Love the short depth of field to control where we look. Good post with colours dropped back in the background and highlight red on the jelly." — judge Eugene Tan.

4 of 6 Josh Bakkum

Winner: Reflection/open brief

"As far as reflections go this has it all. The image shows a lot of imagination, creativity and technique all combined to make this stunning picture. I especially like the combination of remote and time exposure. All in all a great picture." — judge Mark Horsburgh.

5 of 6 Sally Patterson

"A rather simplistic yet brilliant photograph! Really well shot and framed and finished. A whole new way to say 'cartoon eyes'." — judge Graham Monro.

6 of 6 Janis Unkovich

Winner: Shadows/stencil

"The photographer has taken the brief and created an idea that goes further than the actual stencil. It's a nice concept and well executed." — judge Jonas Peterson.

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