Introduction: Light Painting Photography for Beginners

About: Hi, My name is Josh and run, a website that has useful information about photography, whether it be how to take better photo's or wanting to learn more about different photography tric…
Learning About Your Camera With Light Painting Photography

If you have been reluctant to adjust your camera manually and depend only on automatic camera settings, light painting is a great way to learn how to use your  manual camera settings while having fun.

The camera's owner manual lists all functions and settings of your camera, while explaining the function of each. Because light painting requires experimenting with some of these settings, it is a stress free way of having fun taking long exposure photographs, and they can really turn out uniquely artistic as well.

Step 1: An Entry Level DSLR Camera


A DSLR camera is preferred, but a camera which uses film can be used as well. The only requirement that your camera needs is that it can be set manually. You will also need to check in your camera's owners manual to see if these ranges for shutter speed, aperture, and ISO are offered:

Shutter Speed- between 11 to 30 seconds for a longer exposure
Aperture - between f/8 and f/32
ISO - 100 or 200

When you use a digital camera, you can view pictures immediately to adjust settings as necessary, and the digital camera also offers RAW image formats which are easier to edit.


Step 2: A Tripod Is Important

So why is it so important to use a tripod?  When you use a tripod you eliminate the camera from shaking. It is almost necessary when taking long exposure photo's such as light painting.

The camera needs to be able to focus on the light source and essentially needs to be kept from moving.  It is possible to another stable object like a table as a temporary measure.

Utilizing a tripod will be of benefit for those difficult angles and the unique style of light painting you want to achieve.

Step 3: Light Source

You can be creative when choosing a light source to use for light painting. Flashlights, pen lights, cell phones, colored glow sticks, laser pointers, fire, fireworks, sparklers and LED's are often used.

Anything that illuminates can be used to move in different patterns to be captured in the photograph.

You can effectively use cellophane to wrap around your light source. You are only limited by your own imagination.

I used the LED keyring with a small amount of cellophane wrapped around it.

Step 4: The Guitar

This is the setup I used to light paint this guitar.  As you can see in this photo the importance of a tripod, as the camera angles downwards towards the guitar giving you the freedom of using your chosen light source.

It is also important that the lights are turned off as the camera captures the source of light which is the focal point.

Step 5: Recap

This is the final photo using the instructions supplied here.

1. I setup my tripod and DSLR camera. (My camera is a Pentax K200D)
2. Positioned the guitar where I wanted it.
3. I chose my light source, in this case a LED keyring with cellophane wrapped around it.
4. Set the camera to manual mode: Aperture f/11, exposure 30 seconds and ISO 100.
5. Turned the lights off.
6. Focused the camera on the light source and 30 seconds later this was the finished photo.

No post editing software was used, this is how the camera captured it.

Choose A Dark Environment

For shooting light painting photographs. It can be a dark room, or outside at night. This will depend on the light source that you are using, and the effect that you want to achieve.

Decide On A Focal Point

For the camera (where you will be standing with the source of light in front of the camera), and lock the manual focus.

Set The Manual Timer To Its Highest Setting

So that you will have enough time to go to the focal point with the light source. If you have a shutter release cable, this will be much more convenient then going back and forth to re-set the camera's timer.

Go To The Focal Point

With the light source that you have chosen, move the light in your own artistic way, while the picture is taken. 

View The Picture That You Have Taken

And adjust your camera's settings as necessary to achieve the effect that you desire. The more practice that you get adjusting the settings, the more that you will learn about taking quality long exposure photographs. Practice and experimenting is the key.

Useful Resources

Photography Mysteries Website :
Discover The Magic Of  Light Painting Photography
Light Painting With A DSLR