How to do Light Painting Photography with Long Exposure

Long exposure or slow shutter speed allows more light to reach the camera sensor and exposes your image for a longer duration. It helps in sharply capturing the stationary objects in the scene while blurring the moving objects.

Long exposure is used in astrophotography, light painting photography, creative photography, abstract photography, waterfall photography and more.

Light Painting Photography

Light Painting Photography is the art form of using a moving light source (a flashlight, light painting tube, light painting stick, light wand) as a brush to write, draw or paint in a dark scene with long exposure.

Light Painting Photography Kit/Equipment needed

  • Camera that has manual settings; allows long exposure photography (allows to open the shutter for 10, 20, 30 secs or more
  • Tripod and remote shutter release/self-timer mode to avoid camera shake
  • Light Source:

Flashlight/LED torch

Attach the flashlight to a universal connector

Then attach the universal connector to any of the light painting tools like White Fiber Optic, Light Sword or Opaque Light Writer to create different effects.

(Note: A cheaper alternative to the above-mentioned light painting tools include empty plastic bottles; you can simply attach the flashlight to the universal connector, then attach the universal connector to an empty plastic bottle to create Light Painting)

To get an idea of light painting photography kit, you can check this link amazon.com/Light-Painting-Brushes-Starter-White/dp/B07LC35339

Light Painting Photography Settings

Recommended DSLR camera settings for Light Painting Photography include Shutter Speed of 30 secs, Aperture between f/5.6 to f/8, ISO 100 or 200, Manual focus. (Settings may vary depending on the ambient light present at the location)

Composition techniques to try for Light Painting Photography

Use Centred Composition by shooting the light painting over a pool or a lake to show its reflection in water.

Other composition ideas to create eye-catching Light Painting photos include Foreground Composition, Pattern and Texture Composition.

Light Painting Photography Ideas

Light Painting Portraits
Photo by Juan Jose

Photo by Juan Jose – Light Painting Photographer. For more such amazing images, do check his Instagram profile here instagram.com/juanthelightpainter/

Light Painting Portraits

Light Painting Photography
Photo by Juan Jose

Manually set the focus on your model(s) before starting the light painting coz for light painting, you’ll be shooting in dark (lights should be turned off).

Camera Settings: Aperture: f/8, ISO 200, Shutter Speed: between 20 secs to 30 secs or bulb mode.

Equipment: A flashlight which is attached to the universal connector; the universal connector  is then attached to the light painting tools like Light Sword or White Fiber Optic.  

Turn off the lights. Start the exposure. Wear dark clothes so that you aren’t visible in the image, only the model is. If you’re indoors, go towards your model and illuminate her by tracing her body with a light painting tube/sword (preferably from bottom to top) facing the camera with only one pass of light while she stays as still as possible. (If you repeat tracing her body again after a few secs, the light will record her movement causing a blur image). If you’re outdoors and there’s ambient light around, the model will be visible, so – you can skip the above step of illuminating/tracing her with light tube/sword. 

Then, move the light sword in a circular or any other motion from behind or around the model to create a band of light or big circles of light. Instead of a light sword, you can also use a white fiber optic to create a smoky texture.

We bring you ‘Jo & His Camera’ Comic Strips wherein a Magical Camera gives DSLR photography tutorials to Jo, an aspiring photographer

Click on the below Image to see the Comic wherein the Camera explains Jo the concept of Light Painting Portraits with the help of practical examples

Light Painting Portraits

Light Writing: Write a word/message with light

Camera Settings: Aperture: f/5.6, ISO 100, Shutter Speed: 30 secs or bulb mode.

If you want to keep the shutter open for longer periods than 30 sec, go for bulb mode that you can use only in Manual mode. In this mode, as long as you keep the shutter button pressed before taking the shot that much long will be the exposure. You will need a remote shutter release that allows you to lock the shutter button for longer exposures without having to keep the shutter button pressed with your finger for longer periods.

Equipment to write with light include a flashlight which is attached to the universal connector; the universal connector is then attached to a Light Writer.

Also, a colour filter with hood to illuminate the scene.

Turn off the lights. Start the exposure. Go to the spot and start your light writing backwards i.e. from right to left facing the camera. If you want to make it easier, write from left to right facing the camera and then flip it in post-processing. (Wear dark clothes so that you aren’t visible). While writing – physically turn on & off the flashlight (attached to your light writer) between each letter to prevent the light streak to flow from one letter to the other.

Pro tip: Instead of writing in the air, use the ground or a flat surface to write on so that the letters are lined up perfectly. You can use the ground for the bottom of the letter, then bring the height of the letter up to your eye level.  

After you’ve finished writing, remove the light writer from the universal connector and attach a colour filter with hood to it. Now, illuminate the scene using the colour filter with hood. Stop the exposure with the remote shutter release if you were using Bulb mode.

Light Writing with iPhone/android phone

If you don’t have a camera, you can capture your light writing using your iPhone/android phone and Slow Shutter Cam app. Though the quality will differ when compared to a light writing captured through a DSLR or any other camera.

Equipment to write with light include a flashlight which is attached to the universal connector; the universal connector is then attached to a Light Writer.

Download and use the Slow Shutter Cam app on your phone to capture the light writing. Place your phone on a tripod to avoid shake.

Settings to be used in Slow Shutter Cam app:

Capture mode: low light

Noise reduction: high

Shutter Speed: 30 secs; bulb mode if you want to keep the shutter open for a longer period

Set the ISO to anywhere between 30-35

Aperture is fixed which is f/2

Turn off the lights. Start the exposure. Go to the spot and start your light writing. Since the live preview in the app is reversed, it’s easier for you to write; you can write from left to right facing the camera. (Wear dark clothes so that you aren’t visible). While writing – physically turn on & off the flashlight (attached to your light writer) between each letter to prevent the light streak to flow from one letter to the other.

After you’ve finished writing, save the image.

Light Painting Photography
Photo by Kev Jay

Light Painting Orb

Camera Settings: Aperture: f/8, ISO 100, Shutter Speed: use Bulb mode along with a remote shutter release

Equipment to draw with light include a flashlight which is attached to the universal connector; the universal connector is then attached to the light painting tool. Here, either you can use one light painting tool or more which include a Plexiglass Rectangle and different coloured light swords to add texture and colour. The universal connector will allow you to quickly interchange these different light painting tools (Plexiglass Rectangle, Light Swords) while you capture the light painting in a single shot.

Light Painting Orb
Photo by Kev Jay

Photo by Kev Jay – Light Painting Photographer. For more such amazing images, do check his Instagram profile here instagram.com/kevjayphotos/

Turn off the lights. Start the exposure. Go to the spot with the Plexiglass Rectangle Light Painting Tool. (Wear dark clothes so that you aren’t visible). Then move the Plexiglass Rectangle up and down and turn the flashlight on and off (attached to it) while you turn your body in 360-degree direction. Try to keep your movements slow and hit the same high & low points. Each of these light trails will be recorded that’ll create an orb.

To paint some ambient light around the orb you’ve created, you can remove the Plexiglass Rectangle from the universal connector and attach a coloured light sword to it. Paint some ambient light by moving the light sword randomly around the spot. (You don’t have to switch on & off the flashlight this time).

After you’ve finished painting, stop the exposure with the remote shutter release since you are using Bulb mode here.

Click on the below Image to see the Comic wherein the Camera explains Jo the concept of Light Painting an Orb with the help of practical examples

light painting orb

Creating a Light Man/Woman

light painting photography
Photo by ASA PHOTOGRAPHY

Photo by ASA PHOTOGRAPHY. For more such amazing images, do check their Instagram profile here instagram.com/carlos.asanuma/

Camera Settings: Aperture: f/5.6, ISO 100, Shutter Speed: use Bulb mode along with a remote shutter release

Equipment to draw with light include a flashlight which is attached to the universal connector; the universal connector is then attached to a Light Writer. The Light Writer will be used for tracing the body to create a Light Man.

Also, a colour filter with hood, if you want to illuminate the scene.

Pick a position that will allow you to keep still. You can either choose to sit or stand. Sitting on a sofa/chair/bench will make it comfortable to trace your body with light. Turn off the lights. Start the exposure. Face the camera and start tracing your body with the Light Writer. Trace your body closely. Wear dark clothes so that you aren’t visible. The camera will record the movement of the light. This way, only the light trail of your body will show up in the image.

Begin by tracing your right leg (move the light writer horizontally) from the foot and make your way to the top till the knee, then trace your left leg from the knee to the foot.

Remember to turn off the flashlight (attached to your light writer) each time when you finish tracing a body part. Now, turn on the flashlight to trace your thighs. Similarly, after thighs – trace your stomach, chest, your arms, your neck and finally your head. Make sure to trace your entire body with the light writer.

After you’ve finished tracing your entire body, if you want to illuminate the scene – remove the light writer from the universal connector and attach a colour filter with hood to it. Now, illuminate the scene using the colour filter with hood. Stop the exposure with the remote shutter release since you were using Bulb mode here.

Click on the below Image to see the Comic wherein the Camera explains Jo the concept of creating a Light Man with the help of practical examples

light painting photography

When you do photography: Remember the 5E’s – Explore, Experiment, Experience, Enjoy & Express to develop your own style as a photographer.

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Have any tips or experience to share on light painting photography? We’d love to know about it, do share them in the comment box below.

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