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Getting Started on Pendulum Photography

Part 1 of 2

It's easy to start creating pendulum patterns.

I know I was a little apprehensive when I shot my very first pendulum image. That's normal when you try something new. The important thing to trust the pendulum and to approach it playfully. It's all a matter of trial and error and learning from your results as you go along.

Keep the shutter open

First you need a camera whose shutter can be kept open.

That means those simple auto focus and auto exposure cameras are out. A manual camera is best here, one with a 'B' or a 'T' setting which allows the shutter to be kept open using a cable release.

Both an SLR or rangefinder camera will work here. A wider angle lens, say 28 or 35mm is best, although this is not critical so long as it can focus at close range.

Any old flashlight or torch

Next you need a flashlight, almost any flashlight will do.

For best results blacken or remove the mirrored reflector around the bulb. To the other end of the flashlight tie the end of a relatively thin string that's four or five feet long. Secure the other end of the string to the ceiling. Let the flashlight dangle. The flashlight is now a pendulum.

Make sure the line is securely attached at both the flashlight and ceiling ends - it's never happened to me but it will be awful if the flashlight slipped and fell on the camera.

A Simple Set Up for Creating Pendulum Patterns
A Simple Set Up for Creating Pendulum Patterns

Darken the room

You must be able to darken the room you are in.

One way to do that is to work at night when turning off the lights throws the room into relative darkness. You don't need total darkness, just as long as the room is reasonably dark, especially the ceiling where the camera will be pointing (otherwise the background to the pendulum pattern will take on color and not be totally black.)


The camera is placed on the floor directly beneath and pointing up to the flashlight. But before you start to take pictures the camera needs to be focussed on the bulb of the flashlight.

This is important, otherwise the image will be out of focus and blurry.

As the camera is on the floor it's difficult to look through the viewfinder to focus. The solution here is to hold the camera at the same height of the bulb of the flashlight and to focus on the floor directly below. This will set the camera to the correct ballpark focus. It's an indirect way of focussing the camera, but it's the easiest way unless you have an advanced SLR camera whose prism head can be taken off, such as the Nikon F3 which I use.

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