Light Painting Photography

A quick guide to this fascinating genre of photography

Light Painting Photography

A quick guide to this fascinating genre of photography

Light painting is a captivating genre of photography that allows artists to create stunning visual effects using long exposures and moving light sources. This technique opens up a world of creative possibilities, enabling photographers to "paint" with light and produce unique, ethereal images.

Getting Started with Light Painting

To begin your light painting journey, you'll need a few essential items:

  • A camera capable of long exposures (typically a DSLR or mirrorless camera)

  • A sturdy tripod

  • Various light sources (flashlights, LED lights, glow sticks, etc.)

  • A dark environment

  • Remote shutter release or timer (optional but helpful)

Camera Settings

For successful light painting, use the following camera settings as a starting point:

  • Manual mode

  • Bulb setting or long shutter speed (15-30 seconds or longer)

  • Low ISO (100-400)

  • Aperture between f/8 and f/11

  • Manual focus

Techniques and Ideas

Light painting offers endless creative possibilities. Here are some popular techniques to try:

  1. Light Drawing: Use a small light source to "draw" shapes, words, or patterns in the air.

  2. Illuminating Objects: Selectively light specific areas or objects in a scene during a long exposure.

  3. Physiograms: Create circular patterns by swinging a light source attached to a string.

  4. Steel Wool Spinning: For more advanced photographers, spinning burning steel wool creates dramatic sparks (exercise extreme caution).

  5. Light Stencils: Use stencils and a light source to project shapes onto surfaces.

Tips for Success

  1. Plan your shot: Visualize the final image and plan your movements accordingly[1].

  2. Wear dark clothing: This helps you remain invisible in the final image[3].

  3. Keep moving: To avoid appearing as a ghost in the photo, don't stay in one spot for too long[3].

  4. Experiment: Try different light sources, colors, and movements to create unique effects[4].

  5. Review and adjust: Check your results frequently and make necessary adjustments to your technique or camera settings[3].

To get started with light painting photography, you'll need the following essential equipment:

  1. Camera: A DSLR or mirrorless camera capable of manual mode and long exposures is crucial

  2. Tripod: A sturdy tripod is necessary to keep your camera stable during long exposures

  3. Light sources: Various light-emitting tools are used for painting with light. Some popular options include:

    • Flashlights: Basic models like the Coast G26 or more advanced ones like the Nitecore SRT7 with adjustable brightness and color options

    • LED light pads: Useful for illuminating objects or creating backgrounds

    • Specialized light painting tools: Products like Light Painting Brushes, which offer attachments for creating different effects

  4. Colored gels: These help add color to your light sources. Adhesive-backed gels are particularly useful

  5. Light modifiers: Tools like fiber optic brushes, plexiglass blades, or light swords can create unique effects

  6. Remote shutter release: This allows you to trigger the camera without touching it, reducing camera shake

  7. Dark clothing: Wear black to minimize your visibility in the final image

  8. Headlamp: A headlamp like the COAST HL27 is essential for safely navigating in dark environments

  9. Gaffers tape and black wrap (cinefoil): These help block unwanted light or secure equipment

  10. Here is an excellent resource for light painting gear guide -

Remember, while having good equipment is helpful, creativity and practice are key to producing compelling light painting photographs. Start with the basics and expand your toolkit as you develop your skills and style.

Safety Considerations

When light painting, especially in dark environments, prioritize safety:

  • Use a headlamp when moving around to avoid tripping hazards[1].

  • Have a friend assist you, particularly when working in unfamiliar locations.

  • Be aware of your surroundings and any potential dangers.


While light painting can produce amazing straight-out-of-camera results, post-processing can enhance your images further. Consider adjusting contrast, colors, and even combining multiple exposures for more complex scenes[3].

Light painting is a fantastic way to unleash your creativity and push the boundaries of traditional photography. With practice and experimentation, you'll develop your unique style and create captivating images that stand out from the crowd. Remember, the key to success in light painting is patience, practice, and a willingness to embrace happy accidents along the way.

So grab your camera, find a dark spot, and start painting with light. You'll be amazed at the magical images you can create!