HOW TO: Light Painting

Capturing light trails at night from different light sources is relatively simple and can produce really interesting effects. I have used sparklers, flashlights and even set up my camera and tripod near a busy road to record vehicle headlights and taillights.

It’s very easy to do, and only your imagination is the limit to what you can produce. Due to the long exposures needed for this technique, you will need to set your camera up on a tripod, or you could use a sturdy object that won’t move such as a rock, a chair or even a fence post.

Since we had monsoon like rains yesterday afternoon and last night, shooting outside in the dark was out of the question. So I moved inside and chose the darkest room in the house. Our bedroom closet.

For this exercise, I used a small flashlight to create the light trails. I keep it in my camera bag for viewing things like camera controls and settings in the dark. It has a blue light rather than red, and is actually easier on the eyes at night or in dark situations,

After setting the shutter speed and aperture, I placed the camera on a dresser that is inside our closet. I then turned off the closet light, pressed the shutter and got into position, or what I thought was a good position. I then began to wave the flashlight around in front of the camera. It took several tries to position myself in a good spot to capture the light from the flashlight.

I experimented with different arm and hand movements to create various patterns of light. After trying several combinations of camera settings, I realized waving a small flashlight three feet from the front of a lens was too close. Too many hot spots. So I tried moving the flashlight in a way without pointing it straight at the lens.

If I was outside, and it wasn’t pouring rain, I could have been much farther away from the camera and been more creative twirling and moving the flashlight. Even though I was in a closet, the concept still worked.

Using manual mode, aperture in the range of f8 – f16 produced the best results. Shutter speeds varied between five and ten seconds This image was taken with an exposure of six seconds and an aperture of f11. And I used the self timer set for a two second delay to trip the shutter.

Playing around with long exposure times, different apertures, and sources of light is a lot of fun and can yield really neat looking images.

  1. August 27, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    That blue light is very beautiful. Thank you for all the tips of how to try to achieve something as lovely. 🙂

    • August 28, 2012 at 8:25 am

      I like the blue also…it’s neon like in appearance. More light painting tips coming soon!!!

  2. August 27, 2012 at 4:47 pm


    • August 28, 2012 at 8:26 am

      Oh this is way way fun to do! You never know what the outcome will be and if it doesn’t work…”do over!” I’ve got some other ideas in store too!

  3. August 27, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    oh this is great fun! I am always looking at the festivals and kid’s stores for a new toy to experiment with.

    • August 28, 2012 at 8:30 am

      Boy it sure is ! The possibilities are endless. You can do it with a dark background or under street lights or in front of buildings or….

  4. August 27, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    Ironically, this is on my summer to do list and I’m running out of time! 🙂

    • August 28, 2012 at 8:32 am

      Hurry Angela Hurry! It’s a blast and so easy. You could use different colored lights in multiple exposures, you could….

  5. August 27, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    Amazing shot… Fascinated me. Thank you dear David, love, nia

    • August 28, 2012 at 8:35 am

      You should try this Nia…it’s very easy to do and so much fun! Placing the camera on a tripod next to a busy road or above a busy road on a hillside or something and taking 10 -15 second exposures is great fun and you get really fun streaks of light!

  6. August 27, 2012 at 10:56 pm

    That does make a pretty image. I’ve never tried that… yet!

    • August 28, 2012 at 8:47 am

      I bet you’re gonna give it a go! It’s fun, easy, and once you get started it’s hard to stop!

  7. Jo Woolf
    August 28, 2012 at 3:19 am

    That’s very effective! Verity used to do this quite a lot, while at University. She used to move the camera around too, with interesting results!

    • August 28, 2012 at 9:00 am

      The possibilities are endless…stationary camera and moving lights or stationary lights and moving camera. It’s so much fun to play and now that we are in the digital age the results are seen right away…and the best part is, there is no film processing costs!

  8. Nandini
    August 28, 2012 at 11:26 am

    Wow, David! Stunning pattern. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing the information. It really sounds fun. Great photo. 😀

    • August 29, 2012 at 10:03 am

      Thanks Nandini, it is a lot of fun and you can do most anything with patterns and colors of light…just let the imagination run wild!

  9. August 28, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    Very cool technique! I have not tried this before, but I just might have to someday.

    • August 29, 2012 at 10:05 am

      It’s tons’o’fun and super easy! I’ve been experimenting with different colored flashlights, light sticks, and spotlights…stay tuned!

  10. September 3, 2012 at 11:07 am

    Very creative and the result is fantastic! You must have a big closed 🙂 I imagine something like Carrie Bradshaw had in the last Sex &the City movie: D

    • September 3, 2012 at 1:07 pm

      Thanks Kristina…there are more light paintings in the works…these will be much more elaborate…easy to do though…stay tuned! The closet is a walk-in so it was kinda roomy…enough so I could move my arm around.

  11. September 20, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    Reblogged this on My 2012 Photo Challenge and commented:
    I am grateful to David for this post. I’ve always wanted to know how to do this sort of photography. Now I know enough to give it a go. Anyone else up for the challenge? I’d be interested to see your results.

    • September 21, 2012 at 12:40 pm

      Hey Kate, thanks for re-blogging this one…but the best is yet to come! I’ve been experimenting with various light sources and patterns. Stay tuned!

  12. September 25, 2012 at 10:24 pm

    Fun ideas for sure. Thanks for sharing.

  13. September 26, 2012 at 11:15 am

    You betcha! I’ve been gathering more light sources so in the near future (after some practice) there will be more photos.

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