Light Painting: Complete Guide To Painting With Light

Photographers and plants have something in common: they both need light as a means of subsistence. The plants to photosynthesize, and you to be able to capture those incredible scenes with your camera.

And for incredible photos, those made with the Lightpainting photographic technique… are an excellent example of them. With a camera, some lights and a bit of imagination, these incredible photographs are obtained without any editing. No Photoshop!

Surely these types of photographs have caught your attention, perhaps you have even wondered how they do it? In today’s article you will learn everything you need to start paint with light yourself and dazzle everyone. And if you want to delve into the subject of lighting and photography, don’t miss the mega guide that we have published for you with all the information you need to know.

What is “Light Painting” photography?

Light Painting photography, or Lightpainting written all together, (pronounced «layt Peintin») or “painting with light” is one of the most curious and striking types of photography today, despite being a technique that has been used for quite some time.

It consists of drawing with light directly on the photograph, lines, shapes or whatever you can think of, using the air as a frame and shooting at exaggeratedly slow shutter speeds.

The light traces are captured by the camera sensor and are “drawn” directly in the final photograph. To give you an idea of ​​the possibilities offered by this technique, here are some amazing photographs:

Example of Lightpainting Photography

Many photographers already master this technique, not only professionals but even amateurs and amateurs. So if you want to see more photos of this style, just search any photo network like Flickr or 500px to find thousands of examples.

How do I get a Light Painting photograph?

Painting with light is relatively simple and does not require very expensive equipment, much less. You just need a lot of practice. Once you master this technique, the possibilities become endless.

Painting an idea!

The general idea of ​​this type of photography is nothing more and nothing less than, as the name implies, painting with light directly on the scene. For this you can use lights, flashlights, flashes or any other element that comes to mind, in order to draw the lines or illuminate the objects that you want to be exposed in the final photograph.

As you will have seen in the example photographs at the beginning of the article, despite being a simple technique, it requires some practice before you can really master it. And since it is a type of photography that integrates several techniques, I recommend that, if you have not already read them, take a look at the following articles that will help you master it from the first moment:

  • Long exposures: Being a type of photography where long exposures are used, if you are not very familiar with them, I recommend that you read the following article: Long exposure photography.
  • Lightning: If what you want, in addition to getting some lines, shapes or drawings, is to work on the entire scene, you probably also need a flash, so I recommend that you read these tricks for a better use of flash.
  • Movement: As this technique gives a lot of dynamism to the photographs, I also recommend that you take a look at the article on how to capture and transmit movement, since it will be useful as a complement to this technique.

Later in the article I will give you a step by step so you can start experimenting yourself.

The equipment needed to paint with light

As I mentioned before, a very advanced camera is not required. With any camera that has manual controls and allows you to lower the exposure time to at least 10 seconds you will be able to do it. It is an effect that you can perfectly achieve using homemade elements.

To be able to carry out this technique you will need at least:

  1. A camera with manual controls.
  2. a tripod If you don’t have one and are thinking of buying one, in this guide we help you with the search for the best tripod.
  3. A relatively dark environment, although this can vary as you become more proficient in the technique.
  4. Flashlights, lights, flares, fireworks or any other element that serves as a light source. Creativity is your ally and so is the Internet 🙂 There are thousands of ideas and alternatives out there.

With these elements you will already be able to find the technique, but… if you want to take this effect one step further you will also need:

  1. One or more collaborators, a remote shutter release, or set the camera to shutter release mode to give yourself time to “draw” the scene.
  2. One or several flashes.
  3. Camera with Bulb mode, that is, it can expose the scene for more than 30 seconds.
  4. A good place or landscape that allows you to give a spectacular frame to your photograph.
Accessories for light painting photography

Types of Lightpainting Effects

Here I leave you some of the most common effects that you will find in the vast majority of lightpainting photographs. You can try making them yourself for practice as you develop your own.

1) Ribbons or streamers: This effect consists of drawing bows in front of the camera by means of a tube or cold cathode light or lamp. It is important that, so that the tapes are not cut or thinned, you keep the light always shining towards the camera.

Loop lightpainting example

2) Silhouettes: this effect consists of drawing silhouettes in the air with light while the camera captures the entire sequence. To be able to do it you will need a flashlight or any rather punctual light source, that is, one that does not emit too much light and leaves fine lines. You can draw silhouettes, outline objects, people or whatever you can think of.

Perfectly traced tripod, with the light

3) Spheres or Orbs: To achieve this spectacular effect you will have to get a couple of extra elements such as: a rope or the handle of a paint roller without the roller. This effect consists of tying the flashlight to the rope or to the paint roller, in order to make it always rotate in the same orbit. To do this you can stick your hand to your navel and just turn your wrist, so that the circumference is perfect and constant. As you make it turn, you must rotate, but with due care to keep the axis of rotation in the center, that is, you must rotate, but trying to keep your hand always in the same place or at the same height , in order to achieve a perfect circumference. There are many videos on YouTube on how to do it, in case you found the explanation confusing.

Sphere of light, along with its reflection in the water

4) Rain of lights: The way to make this effect is very similar to the way to make the spheres that I just told you about, with the difference that instead of tying a lantern to the rope or roller, you must tie steel wool. Yes, you read that right, those steel wool sponges you have in the kitchen. The magic begins when you light them on fire, as they are very flammable and if you spin them very fast, they start to launch a shower of sparks that produce a spectacular effect. (Do not do it at home, do not do it if you are not an adult or do not have adults around you, and do not do it near flammable elements. Please).

rain of lights

Light Painting Photography… Step by Step

Now yes, thousands of characters after announcing it, the time has come to get down to work, or almost. Here is a guide so you can start having fun with this incredible technique:

  1. The first thing you should do is define where you are going to take your photos. Remember that the darker the landscape or place, the more impressive the effect will be.
  2. Mount the camera on the tripod.
  3. Set the ISO sensitivity to the lowest value your camera allows. ISO 100 would not be bad.
  4. Set the aperture of the diaphragm to f/8 and open or close it as the photo comes out too dark or too light and the spectacular effect is lost. I recommend that you start from the f/8 value but you really have to experiment and modify it depending on the result you get.
  5. Put the focus on manual, because if it is on automatic, the camera can, at the moment of shooting, focus somewhere other than the one you initially wanted. In low light conditions teams have a harder time focusing.
  6. You can configure the white balance (white balance… what is that?) according to the tone you want your photograph to have, although you can do this later from the computer using a photo editing program such as Photoshop, Lightroom or the provided by the manufacturer that comes on your camera’s CD.
  7. Remember that in order to modify the exposure times, you must use the manual mode, or the speed priority mode or «S» or «Tv» (although with speed priority you will no longer be able to control the diaphragm, so the manual mode « M» is the ideal). Make sure to use very slow speeds, between 10 to 30 seconds or more as you think necessary. To determine the necessary exposure time you can measure the light of the elements that you will use in the scene, or else measure it by trial and error. Remember that the smaller the aperture of the diaphragm and the lower the ISO sensitivity, the longer the exposure time must be to compensate for the reduction in light. For master Manual Mode, The best thing is to use this guide that we have prepared for you.
  8. Focus where you are going to paint with the light. You can place a stationary object, or a subject (a collaborating friend) to use only for metering, and once you have the focus fixed and locked, you move it away. You will have to place the light there.
  9. To take the photo avoid touching the camera so that it is as stable as possible, use the delay modes or a remote trigger if you have one.
  10. Get ready to draw with light as the camera exposes the photo. Make sure the lighting elements are pointed towards the camera for best results.
Characters… with Lightpainting

This technique requires you to be very clear about what the final product should be since it does not yet exist, since you have not yet drawn it. Push your creativity and knowledge to the limit to achieve amazingly illuminated photos.

To close the article, I am going to allow myself the audacity to ask you to practice what you have read. Don’t be fooled, if you’ve read this far, you LOVE Lightpainting, you want to produce photos similar to the ones illustrated in this article. What are you waiting for? Do it!

As always, thanks for your attention. If you enjoyed this article, I would love for you to leave a vote or recommendation below on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ 🙂 Thank you in advance!