Laser Lace

How could I resist creating images by zapping things with a high power laser? I decided to take my experiments with light in a new direction.

One of my projects is to illuminate a transparent object and photograph it along with the patterns of light it casts behind it. This creates a portrait of two forms of the object – form from reflected light and form from scattered light. I first discussed this, long with some photographic and scientific precedents in the posting “The Dance of Light“, although one of my favorite images was shown in a previous posting, and is shown again below.

Martini Glass
Wings and loops

Lately I’ve been wondering what would happen if I illuminated transparent objects with a laser beam? I could aim it at just one feature, or scan the beam over whatever parts of the object I desired. Here is one attempt:

Broken Glass with Laser
Broken Glass with Laser

I love the filamentary and gauze-like patterns. The image is no longer static, but has mystical motion.

Most of my recent work had been in the studio and my goal has been to provide extreme focus on one particular and simple subject. I consider the previous two images in the post to be “simple”: there is only the object creating the pattern and the pattern. I rigorously eliminate any hint of a background or of a context. The subjects exist as platonic ideals in their own universe, or so it seems.

However, this immediately poses the question: what if these objects were allowed to interact with the environment? What conversations would be created?

To answer this question, I built a little table that would attach to a tripod on which various transparent objects could be placed. I mounted my camera on a second tripod, grabbed my battery-powered laser and a box of glassware and headed out in the dead of night.

This is definitely still a work-in-progress, but here are two of my favorite images so far:


Safety Note

To create these outdoor images, I needed to use a laser that was significantly more powerful than a laser pointer. If the beam from this laser were to enter someone’s eye, even after reflecting off another object, it could cause immediate and permanent damage to that person’s sight. Accordingly, I chose locations for this work where no people were present. I remained vigilant of my surroundings so I could make sure the laser was off if people wandered into the area. I also chose sites were I could be reasonably sure that the laser beam would be contained. There is essentially no distance at which powerful lasers are eye safe. It was also necessary to protect my own eyes from stray, reflected beams. For this I ordered a pair of laser safety glasses of an appropriate optical density at the wavelength of the laser, from Thor Labs, an optics and optomechanical supply  company with whom I have worked for many years.


Here are some of the other images I have created:

Finally, here I am trying to create one of these images:

The author with his laser
The author with his laser
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