Physiograms – how to make them by Evan Sharboneau

This is called a physiogram. How do you create them? Simply tie a string to the end of a flashlight or LED, then attach the other end of the string to the ceiling. A string that is about .5-2 meters is fine.


Once your light is dangling from the ceiling, put your camera on the floor facing upward, right underneath the light. Put your camera on manual focus. Turn the room lights off and the Maglight on, give the Maglight a little push, then take your long exposure. I usually stick to 30 seconds.


Sometimes if you are using a wide aperture, the light can spill onto the background. If this happens, you can fix it in Photoshop software by selecting Image > Adjustments > Selective Color and then turning down the blacks so the background is totally black. I would recommend using the lowest ISO possible and then try F8 to F16. More physiogram examples can be found here.


You can also make “compound” physiograms (shown left). This is where you have the string attached to the ceiling in a Y shape, with the light source at the bottom end of the Y.

The Y string will create different patterns that are not just “spirals” like you see above. Try experimenting with different lengths of string on each end (i.e. make the lower half longer, the upper half shorter, etc.) You can also have three or more strings all attaching to the middle string where the light hangs from. Each variation will make a different pattern.


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Photos by Greg Scales and Matt Small