Light painting photography

Light painting is a photographic technique where light is “painted” or “drawn” into the photograph using a hand held light source during a long exposure. Painting with light is a popular photographic activity mostly because it is fairly easy to achieve great results, requires little specialist equipment and you can get some really interesting results.

To get started you will need:

  • A camera with manual or bulb exposure control - to achieve the long shutter speeds necessary.
  • A sturdy tripod or sit your camera on a sturdy surface - the exposure will be measured in seconds so handholding is ruled out
  • A light source - this can be a wireless flash, torch, led tubes, anything that emits a bright light, the more variations in size and colour the better
  • Other useful items - a cable release, extra batteries
  • A dark place or scene - can be indoors or out

Paiting with light simple shot

Start with a simple shot to ensure the exposure settings and shutter length are correct


How to setup:

  • Decide on your shoot location and place your camera on the tripod or a sturdy surface
  • Switch your camera to manual mode and set your ISO to 100, a small aperture, such as f/11 or higher f number and shutter speed to between 10-30 seconds
  • Fix your white balance depending on your light source, try “incandescent” or “tungsten”
  • Your camera won’t focus in the dark so pre-focus on the area you wish to shoot, switching your lens to manual focus
  • If using a shutter release attach that now, alternatively use the 2 or 10 second timer to prevent camera shake when pressing the shutter

Light paiting group shot

Experiment with multiple people and light sources to bring variety and creativity to your light painted photographs


Ready to shoot:

  • Be conscious of where your light is pointing, shining the light onto yourself or others will result in ghostly figures in the final image
  • Always review the shots on the back of the camera, adjust aperture or shutter speed to correct the exposure and effect
  • Remember, the closer the light is to the subject the smaller the spread and more intense the light. For smooth even light stand further back and paint the light onto the subject with slow even sweeping motion
  • If using a bright torch avoid shining it directly at the lens as this may cause flare, low powered coloured LEDs are fine and are great for painting lines
  • Let your friends know where the frame ends, there is no point painting light outside the frame, use markers on the floor so people know where to paint

Light paiting portrait

Make sure everyone knows what’s in the frame to get a good composition


It really is as simple as that, so keep experimenting:

  • Try out different subjects and locations as possible
  • Take turns to come up with more and more creative designs
  • Paint onto objects; trees, bushes and man made objects can produce really interesting night images with the addition of light painting

You’ll soon have a set of striking photos. So, upload them to the Canon Gallery, where we can all enjoy them.