How to Light Paint in Photography




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Video tutorial on how to do light painting with photography. Now I realize this is something a little different than compared to what I normally do. I’ve had quite a few people in the past asking me how I produced this photo of a friend’s BMW with the E30 written above the roof over on my Redline Werks Facebook page. This is a great way to get creative with your photos and experimenting with night photography.

Tools/Supplies Needed:

  • camera
  • flashlight
  • tripod

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Step 1:

For this I have a small LED flashlight which has a switch that can be used momentary or as on/off. The momentary switch allows me to control the light easier to finer detail and I can keep my movements steadier. This will depend on personal preference, you can even use the light on your phone if you wish.

This needs to be done at night or when it is getting darker, for this I am using a parking lot as an example.

I do have a mild zoom on my camera due to the camera body and lens setup.

Next the camera is set in manual mode and the camera flash is off.

You can setup the white balance if you wish or use an automatic setting.

Step 2:

You may have to play around with the settings on your camera to get the right shutter speed, aperture, and iso. For ISO, mine is set at automatic but has the max limit set at 400 which can be done through the settings. A low iso is intended for higher light situations and will maintain a clear image. A higher iso on the other hand is great for low light situations, keeping a fast shutter speed, but will create a grainy image.

Aperture is the opening of the lens which effects how much light is let in. A lower aperture setting will increase depth of field and allows in more light which can allow you to increase shutter speed. A higher aperture allows more objects in the frame to come in focus, but decreases the lightness of the image, therefore you will need a higher shutter speed.

Shutter speed controls the amount of light in the image and this is the most important aspect for light painting.

Step 3:

So for setup, I want a longer shutter speed which allows me to paint a design with my flashlight.

As an example, I’ll just make a wavy design. Shutter speed is set at 4 seconds, aperture also known as f stop set at 10, iso is at 400 max, and there is also a 5 second timer so when the shutter button is pressed, the photo will be taken after 5 seconds. In those 5 seconds, your hand will be away from the camera so there will be no vibrations causing a distorted image.

The timer can also be used and extended if you are working by yourself so you have enough time to get into position. For this I have an assistant. A wireless controller can also be used if you have that option.

If you find the flash light is too bright, use older batteries which have a depleted voltage or wrap a tissue over the lens of the flash light.

When writing text, this takes some coordination and planning. The word will need to be written backwards, you’ll need to remember where you start and finish with letters and try not to go over the same area twice as this can create lighter segments. Think of it as a marker on paper. Going over an area multiple times will increase the ink in that particular area, either making the line wider or darkening the color. The longer the words, the more time you’ll need, therefore shutter time needs to be increase and the aperture will need to be adjusted accordingly.

Step 4:

Next using the car’s lights for painting. For this I have maxed out the shutter speed for 15 seconds, aperture is set to 16, and iso remains at 400. For vehicle lights, they maybe brighter than your flashlight or illuminate the image more depending on the style, so the aperture will need to be adjusted accordingly. 15 seconds on the shutter speed gives up plenty of time to move the car and will allow us to adjust the ghosting of the body of the car too.

So considering the car will be it’s in current position for only a couple seconds, there will be a light outline. As it drives, the lights will streak across the image and once it comes to a stop, if it sits longer at where it stops, the outline of the car will become more prominent.

Same setting again, but this time the car is moving outside of the frame. Therefore there will only be light streaks and once stopped, that will be the only imprint of the body.

And there happened to be a vehicle passing by, so I hit the shutter button quickly to capture the light streaks on the road.

I used the same method as a background for this image when I was shooting my friend’s BMW E30 too. This was when a bus passed by.

Step 5:

If you don’t have a flashlight, you can also use the screen of your phone. With a flashlight you may even need coloured overlays such as tissue paper. Instead I found a screen coloured app on my iPhone, turned up the screen brightness and waved it around in the air for some examples.

Once you’re done shooting, if you wish, the images can be altered in image editing software like photoshop. This will help adjust the colours, highlights, mid tones, and shadows, overlay multiple images for different effects, etc.

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    7 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Very well done I appreciate your commitment


    Reply 2 years ago

    Thank you so much for the support :)


    2 years ago

    Question... Why on your image of the moving care in the parking lot is the car not blurred?

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    There will be a very light outline of the car, but it doesn't take long enough from point A to B for it to make that significant of an impact on the image.


    2 years ago

    Thanks for sharing. Looks like a fun activity with camera. Might give this a try the next time my kids are running around the yard with their glow sticks.

    1 reply