Introduction: Light Painting: From Start to Finish

About: Just a college student, interested in almost all DIY ideas. I especially love arts, technology and traveling.

Hello everybody! This tutorial is supposed to help you get started with light painting and plus give you some helpful hints that would make your life easier.

In this Instructable we would look at what is light painting, camera settings, types of flashlights and other light sources, how to take the photograph, tips and tricks to achieve some effects and final editing in Adobe Photoshop. I hope you will like it!

I first tried out this type of photography in 2009, after seeing some examples on the web. Now I think that this is a good way to produce some interesting effects, and it is very fun!

Step 1: What Is Light Painting

Light painting - making photos with the long exposure while creating some ornaments with light sources. This means creating interesting photographs without any digital software.

What you will need to create a light painting photograph:

  • camera
  • light source

For the light source literally any would work. For the start I prefer using a small flashlight that has an easy switch on/off to prevent you from getting funny scribbles when you try to turn it off.

As for the camera, a perfect choice would be a DSLR - you would be able to control the settings. In non-DSLR it depends on the specific camera. I had used Lumix camera before, and had to use "Star mode" (it gives you a lot of background and limited time periods - 30, 60, 90 second intervals - but definitely something to play with ).

Step 2: Camera Settings

As I had stated before, DSLR camera is the best for light painting since it gives the best opportunities and choices. Therefore, first we will talk about camera that have a wide range of settings.

Note: for the best results you need to have a tripod or static surface (table, chair, sofa...).

For light painting you need to know how to control three settings: ISO, shutter speed and aperture.

ISO: 100

The easiest setting to control. It should be about a 100. Higher ISO could give you grainy pictures. You can still try to experiment with it, but I found out 100 to be the best.

Shutter speed: 3-20 seconds (depends on your idea) or manual

Shutter speed is a time that is needed to take a picture. Usually it is just a click you hear. For light painting, however, it would be the time needed to "draw" a picture. To estimate it, try to draw a smily face in the air - this takes 3-5 seconds. Logically, complex drawings would take more time. Keep in mind that longer time means more light will get into the frame and that means lighter picture.

Some camera allow you control shutter speed manually - it would be open while you hold a shutter. This is perfect if you work in a team.

Aperture: depends

Aperture lets you control the amount of light in the picture. Higher number means less light, lower number means more light. It is common to say "close" or "open" the aperture. If you work in a dark room you can open it (small number) so that all the light is there; if you work somewhere with "parasitic" light - for example on the street and don't want it to be there - close the aperture and minimize the light.

With enough practice you will feel the camera and your drawing. Experiment with all of this settings!

The cover picture was taken with this parameters:

ISO: 100

Shutter speed: 15 sec

Aperture: f/13.

NOT DSLR - pick the setting with long shutter speed. Most of the cameras would have something like a "star" mode. Another trick would be: pick a night mode, put a camera on shooting position, cover the lens with your hand (camera would think it is very very dark and would give you from 5 to 15 seconds to draw).

iPhone - there're some applications out there that let you make a slow shutter.

Step 3: It's All About Light Sources

The light source can give you some unique results.

A flashlight is a king here. You can alter it different ways, attach something to it - just play. The cover photo was taken with a small flashlight, but I attached a transparent plastic cup to it. (I made a hole in the bottom and stuck it in). While creating picture you can rotate a flashlight, that would give you some smooth lines.

Mini LED flashlight. Technically its is also a flashlight, but it would give you very thin lines.

LED sticks and strings. Can give you ver cool effects, like an equally spaced lines.

Anything that emits light.

Step 4: Tips on Light Sources

  • For a flashlight you can change a light color by using different transparent plastics. It can be as easy as notebook covers. Of cause ideal would be professional film colored plastics, but again - experiment with things!
  • Batteries - the best pictures would be with partly dead batteries. The flashlight would be too bright with new batteries and too dim with old.
  • Angle. With different angles the path would look different. So angle lets you basically draw. With practice you would be able to make lines thinner by rotating the flashlight; brighter by approaching the camera.

Step 5: Taking a Picture

Now it is time to bring it all together!

1. Set your camera to the settings you need. I would say I am re-creating a cover picture. I did it in the backyard, with some light from the neighbor's houses (imagine what they thought about me jumping around with a flashlight...). So I set it to ISO 100, shutter speed 15 sec (after practicing for a while), and aperture f/13 to get rid go some unnecessary light.

2. Put your camera on the tripod/static surface.

Make sure you know the borders of the shot: where is the maximum left/right/up/down. I asked other people to look at the camera while I extend hands in every direction.

3. Have somebody press a shutter for you (you can do it alone too, it's just harder).

4. Draw!

5. Check the result.

6. Repeat steps 3-5!

7. Have fun.

Step 6: Tricks for the Cover Picture and Other

It took me some time to find the best way to make the cover photo. Here are some ideas:

For cover photo

  • To light up the book I did the following:

Set a flashbulb vertically about 20 cm (7 in) above the book. Put your hand in front of the flashlight so you won't have it appear on the screen

  • Put a plastic cup on the flashlight to make lines appear fat and bright. To draw the center I removed the cup.
  • Imagine a lightbulb while drawing. It is very hard at first to make good shapes. You can use some things around you as a measure.

For this photo

  • The plastic cup allowed we to make eyes. I turned it on and turned the flashlight back off.
  • When writing text you need to draw a mirrored image in the opposite way. It takes time to het used to it.


  • To incorporate a person into the photo use a flash

Step 7: Post Production

If you did the original picture correctly you would not need to do a lot of post production.

Some simple steps would be to play with Image>Adjustments>Levels/Curves. For most of my pictures I did not need to do anything at all.

Step 8: You Have Your Amazing Pictures Ready!

Now you can show it to your friends and foes!

If you enjoyed this Intractable please vote! And comment with your own light painting pictures! :D

-And remember, you are only limited by your imagination

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