Creative Light Painting

By Brent Pearson

In my previous article I wrote about taking the first steps into low-light photography and how to overcome the challenges of composition, focus and light metering when you can’t see through the viewfinder.

This article will now introduce you to the art of light painting. Light painting is all about painting with light while the camera is on a long exposure. There are two quite different categories of light painting.

1. Landscape light painting – Where the light sources are hidden but you are illuminating the scene with your lights

2. Creative light painting – Where the lights themselves become the star of the image.

I will touch on both of these forms of light painting during this article.

Landscape Light Painting

This typically involves painting a landscape scene at night with a white light source. In terms of what to use as a light source, you can use anything, but most people start off with a simple torch.

Ideally you want to pick a light source that has the following characteristics;

• Reasonably bright light – so you can light up a broad area when necessary

• Even light – you want to avoid torches with hot-spots as it creates uneven lighting

• Daylight colour temperature – Try to avoid the tungsten (yellow) torches as they really don’t mix well with moonlight.

The technique is to expose your camera on a long exposure (usually 30sec +). Your camera is set to Manual exposure mode, ISO is typically set to 200 and aperture would typically be either f5.6 or f8. You need to disable your autofocus and make sure you focus manually.

Once you trigger your shutter and your camera begins its long exposure, you then start painting the landscape with your torch light. A few things to remember:

• The direction of the light is important, don’t just stand next to the camera and paint the scene with flat lighting, move off to one side and create dramatic shadows over your landscape.

• You can walk in the scene – If you are wearing relatively dark clothes and you keep your body between the torchlight and the camera, then you will be invisible, so you don’t have to stand behind the camera and paint, you can walk around in the scene and highlight specific elements.

Creative Light Painting

This is where you can go to town. There are a whole bunch of funky looking lights you can get. Your imagination is the only limit. By bringing these lights into the scene, you can create some incredibly surreal creations. Here’s a couple of my lighting painting works along with descriptions of how I created them.

Spider On The Track

This shot involved the person on the railway tracks spinning steel wool that was alight (causing the shower of sparks)

The water effect on the ground was created using Blue Electro-luminescent (EL) wire that glows. We wiggled it as we walked down the tunnel.

Blue Silhouette

Lighting an aerosol can causes the blow-torch effect you see on the right. In the tunnel we used EL wire again to create the blue effect around the wall of the tunnel, and then fired a flash unit to create the shadow of the man in the tunnel.

For more information on night photography or light painting, visit my web site at for lots of free tutorial videos and a comprehensive ebook on night photography and light painting.

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