Spirograph Photography

Notes from a Workshop by Terry Smith on 4th February 2016 for Birr Photography Group.

Torchlight Swirl Patterns

Spirograph example 1

Attach a torch, with the bulb exposed, to a length of string. Ensure the torch will hang directly downwards or you’ll end up with wavy lines if there’s a slight angle on it.

Attach the string to the ceiling;light fittingor suitable high beam, so that the torch ends up hanging about 1 metre above the floor.

Camera Settings:

Shutter speed ….. Bulb Mode

Lens ….. 18mm

Image Stabiliser ….. Off

Manual Exposure

ISO 100


Attach a cable shutter release.

If there’s not a B setting on the top Mode dial of the camera, the Bulb setting is usually found beyond the 30 second shutter speed setting.

Mark the floor, directly below the torch, ready to place the camera.

Hold the camera with the lens facing down towards the ground.Place the back of the camera against the hanging bulb and Auto-focus on the floor. Take care not to move the focus ring andset focus to Manual mode.

Lay the camera on the floor and pointing upwards. UseBlu-Tack or similar to level the camera if needed.

Open the flip screen if possible, or turn on the torch andtake a test shot of the static beam to make sure it is in the middle of the frame.

Turn off the lights.

Pull the torch away from centre and swing sideways very gently, so it arks away from your hand. Start the exposure when the torch has stopped wobbling.

Inspect the result and adjust the aperture setting if the exposure needs altering. Make sure the arc of light is totally within the image. If not, try again without pulling the torch away from the centre as much before releasing it.

Use varying exposure lengths of between 1 to 2 minutes for different patterns, whilst varying the distance and arks.

Expect a ‘hit-rate’ of around 1 in 5 images.

Select your best image and open it in the raw converter.Convert the image to black & white and be rid of colour casts caused by the torch bulb’s colour temperature. Darken the background using the Blacks slider.

Open Photoshop:

Crop the image for a pleasing composition.

For a colourful image as shown above: Duplicate the layer.

Select the Gradient tool and the option ….. Linear Gradient…..from the menu at the top.

Select a colourful gradient from the selection choice and click and drag the mouse across the image.

Change the Blending Mode from Normal to ….. Multiply.

Drag the Gradient again ifthe effect is not to your liking.

Adjust Levels and Curves and Flatten when happy.

Sharpen the image and Save.


For a totally different type of pattern, attach a 2-3 foot long piece of string (fairly loosely) to the ceiling and then attach the torch string to the centre of it.

Spirograph example 2

To create 2 swirl patterns on an image, gently lay a piece of card over the lens during the exposure, stop the torch and swing it again in a different direction. Wait for it to settle and remove the card.

Terry_MG_6980 d

If the centre of the image is ‘blown’, reduce the exposure time value.

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