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How to Make Pyramids in the Sky Using Just Your Camera

This is a guest article by Jason Page. He emailed to show me this new technique of how he makes pyramids in the sky, so I asked him to write up a tutorial to share with you so you can give it a try as well. I think the results are stunning and without too much extra gear (something to tilt your camera and an app) you can do this too! You can see a review and test I did of the Light Painting Brushes he uses and created here as well. – Darlene

Hi everyone my name is Jason Page and I am a light painter. In this tutorial, I am going to share my latest series of images called Pyramids in the Sky, and show you how I created them, so you can give it a try.

Pyramids in the Sky was created using only ambient light in the sunset and dusk sky along with some camera movement. With the right tools and a little practice, these images become pretty easy to create. Best of all, they are super fun because it’s almost always a surprise to see the back of your camera after the shutter closes.

The process used to create Pyramids in the Sky is effectively a form of light painting photography called kinetic light painting, camera painting or camera rotation photography. This simply means that the movement of the camera during a long exposure is what creates the color and design within the final image. If you are not familiar with this form of photography here is a link to a very in-depth tutorial on the subject: Camera Rotation Light Painting Tutorial. 

GEAR

To get started here is what you will need:

  • You need a camera capable of doing long exposures (one that has Bulb or Manual Mode).
  • Lens (a wide angle if you have one).
  • A cable release or remote shutter release/trigger.
  • Front lens cap.
  • A sturdy tripod.
  • A hot shoe cell phone holder to use a level app.
  • A device that will allow your camera to rotate 360 degrees. Now you might me thinking, what the hell are you talking about a device to rotate my camera 360°, surprisingly there are more options than you might think. I am lucky to have a custom made CRT (Camera Rotation Tool) but a few off the shelf options that will allow you to rotate your camera 360° are a tripod gimbal head or a panoramic indexing rotator mounted to an L-Bracket.
My setup with custom rotation device.

LOCATION

The location is a pretty important part of this technique. I think it’s best to find a spot that has a little elevation and looks out over a flat horizon that is free of city lights. The best location for me was a lookout tower at a local state park. Looking out over the park there were minimal lights in the distance and a nice clean horizon line.

Creating pyramids in the sky
The location I used for creating the pyramids in the sky.

TIME TO SHOOT

To create these types of images its best to shoot right before sunrise or right at sunset, that is when you are going to get the best colors. I am not a morning person so I shot all of my images at sunset and just after.

SETUP

One you find the right location you want to get your camera rotation rig set up on top of a sturdy tripod and point your camera toward the sun. I try to get the horizon line dead center in the viewfinder.

SETTINGS

I shot all the images you see in the series in BULB mode with a cable shutter release attached to trigger the shutter. The settings are going to depend on the ambient light you have available at your specific location. The settings I used were ISO 100 shooting between f/8-22 and my exposure times varied from 18-75 seconds with the average being around 40-seconds. If you are shooting at sunset as the sky gets darker and the light falls off you will need to open up a little bit or leave the exposure running longer. Experimenting and finding your formula that creates the best images is part of the fun.

CREATING A PYRAMID

To create this type of image you are going to use your lens cap to manually control what the camera sees. During the exposure, you physically take the lens cap on and off at specific angles. Each time you remove the lens cap you are allowing the camera to see and record the sunset for a set amount of time, you will the process a few times and collectively this process will create a Pyramid in the Sky.

Make sure your camera is securely fastened onto your Camera Rotation Device (DOUBLE CHECK). Now you need to make sure your camera is level. Attach your phone to the top of your camera via the hot shoe mount. Make sure you have an app like iHandy Level (for iPhones or Android) or something similar on your phone, open up the app and make sure you level out your camera.

Pyramids in the sky
Level your camera using the phone app.

Next, you want to do a test exposure to make sure you have your settings right and you know how long you will need to remove the lens cap for before you put it back on. So let’s say you are shooting at ISO 100, f/22, you need to expose your sensor for 16-seconds total to get a proper exposure. Each time you remove the lens cap you will need to keep it off for about 2 seconds. Once you have the exposure time nailed down you can move on.

Now you can rotate your camera to your first rotation setting. Let’s say you want to do a total of eight rotations, starting at the zero mark on your digital level you can rotate your camera counterclockwise to say 45°, at this point with the lens cap still on your camera you start the exposure. Manually remove the lens cap for 2-seconds and put it right back on while the exposure is still running.

Start the exposure at 45 degrees. Remove the lens cap and replace it after a couple seconds.

Now you rotate your camera clockwise 15° to the 30° mark, take the lens cap off for 2-seconds and return it. Then repeat this process rotating your camera and stopping every 15°until you have removed and replaced the lens cap a total of eight times.

Take the cap off again at 30 degrees.
Remove it once more at 15 degrees, and keep going until you have done it eight times.

Now you can stop the exposure, look at the back of your camera and be amazed at the results!

Back of the camera amazement.
Voila!

EXPERIMENT

Experimenting and having fun with your camera is what this is all about. I hope this gives you some inspiration to try something a little different to see what you can come up with. You can use this technique anywhere, and depending on the scene you might not create pyramids but you will create something extraordinary!

Here is a video showing some of the behind the scenes of how I created these images and the pyramids as they appeared on the back of my camera.

The Facebook Kinetic Photography Group is a great place to find more inspiration and get any questions answered that you might have, or you can post them below in the comments section here.

Author's bio

Jason Page is a light painter. He creates images in almost total darkness. He works in a 3-dimensional space and paints with light just as a traditional painter would with oils or acrylics, except his medium IS light. To capture his light painting work he uses a photographic technique know as long exposure photography – he opens the shutter for an extended period of time and uses various light sources to create color and designs within the frame.

There is no photo editing used to create anything see in his images! All of his light painted images are created in real time and captured to the camera in one single photographic frame. His personal website is Jason Page, he also the founder of Light Painting Photography a website for the promotion and progression of light painting photography. See more of his work or connect with him on Facebook or Instagram.

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