Tips For Taking Dazzling Light Painting Photos

Image: sssampo via deviantart

Ever wondered how to shoot that magnificent photo of someone drawing with sparkers? Or perhaps illuminate a scene in the darkness of night?

Also known as “light drawing,” lighting painting is a photography technique using a light source, either outside or inside the camera’s field of view, to create exposures. Light painting involves literally painting the light onto the subject (off camera), while light drawing literally draws an image onto the photograph (on camera).

This is such a fun technique, because there are so many ways you can experiment with light! I have compiled a few of my favorite styles, along with tips to capture those kinds of images — although the options are endless!

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Camera (that can be set to manual)
  • Tripod
  • Light source (sparklers, flashlight, etc)
  • Optional: a remote for your camera’s shutter to help with the camera shake

Before you get started: 

To do any form of light painting, you’ll want to be in a dark location and have your camera on a tripod. Set your camera to ‘manual’ mode, with your shutter speed at 1/30 or or lower, depending on what you’re shooting. You should experiment with your aperture and ISO, but I recommend starting around f/8.0 and a low ISO.

Before starting the light painting, make sure what you want in focus is in focus! If you don’t have a person in the image you can focus on, try setting down a flashlight pointing towards the camera in the spot you want to emphasize — manually focus your camera to that point and remove the flashlight.

 

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Photo by Darren Pearson

This example is a very common form of light drawing, but requires your shutter to be open longer. Try 10-15 seconds!

This also requires you to be in the background of the image, pointing a light source toward the camera. As soon as your shutter opens, you may turn your light source on and begin painting whatever image suits your fancy! Check out more tips on capturing this image here!

Note: You’ll have to mentally remember where you drew all your lines to ensure your image comes out properly.

 

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Same concept and a crowd favorite! This is a very popular form of light painting often found at weddings.

The same technique is used as the previous image, although this is typically done with sparklers.

 

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Photo by Michael Zhang

This is a very interesting technique that I recently came across! The concept is similar, but requires a few more tools.

This photographer used steel wool (which can be found at Home Depot), a whisk, a lighter and a rope. He placed the steel wool inside the whisk, and tied a rope to one end. Before opening the shutter, he lit the steel wool on fire and began swinging the whisk around from the opposite end of the rope, which emitted sparks. Cue shutter!

 

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Photo by Cesar Vega

This technique involves illuminating parts of the scene with a couple light sources outside and inside the field of view.

First, the photographer set up multiple lights hidden in the shot — both in and behind the truck to create dimension. Furthermore, another light source was needed to capture the rusty body of the truck and the trees in the background.

To do this, you must stand behind the camera with a light source (flashlight) in hand. When the shutter opens, use your light source to paint what needs more exposure (in this case, the truck and the trees). Move the flashlight around the subject, just like you were painting it with a paint brush.

I hope you’ve found these tips useful! And don’t fret, nobody gets it right the first time! Practice makes perfect.

Have you tried experimenting with light painting before? Share your experiences in the comments! 

Featured Image: sssampo via deviantart

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Hello! I'm Natalie Rhea, a professional photographer/videographer based out of Austin, TX. I make a living telling other people's stories! Follow my work at natalierhea.com as I tell you stories about the world I see.

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