How To Do Light Painting: The Basics

Posted on Posted in How to

This is a simple guide to the basics of light painting. The basic principle of light painting photography is, with a long exposure the camera will pick up any light that is pointing at the sensor when open. In darkness you can literally paint with the light source creating visually stunning imagery.

Equipment needed:

  • DSLR
  • Tripod
  • Remote control shutter release
  • LED light/Torch/Fairy lights – Anything you want to use that is a light source, ideally with a easy on off button

For the shoot you need a dark space either a dark studio or a blacked out room or even at night outside.




  1. Setting up:

As you are going to shoot in darkness it is best to set up properly with the lights on or in the daytime. Making sure you know where everything is so you don’t trip up when shooting.

You will also need to sort out the camera whilst you can see. First you need to set up the tripod, making sure the height is correct for you to comfortable move around and still be in shot. Checking the composition in the light is important so you have a rough idea where you can ‘paint’ and remain in shot.

The focus also needs to be set whilst the lights are on, the camera needs to be set to manual focus and alter it so that the background is in focus. The camera cannot auto focus in the dark so this way it makes sure the camera is always in focus.

The camera shutter speed must be set on bulb, this allows you to use the remote to lock the shutter open giving you lots of time to create your light painting shot. The aperture needs to be small, with a large F – number. I had my camera set to 100 ISO which seemed to work.

2. Test shots290815-Light painting-7501

To make sure you have the right settings and enough room to light paint it’s good to do a lot of practice test shots to review your set up. It is also good to keep reviewing your shots to make your shoot is successful.

290815-Light painting-7543To light paint you need to draw your design backwards, this is easier for patterns but a lot harder for words. Don’t be disheartened if you have to retry the same word over and over again. It took me lots of attempts to light paint the word laugh. It was also hard to fit it in the frame. to solve this problem you simply turn the lights back on adjust the composition and try again. The basic element of light painting is simply trial and error.


3. Have fun and experiment!

Light painting is fun, experiment with it. Don’t just write words and hearts, although it is tempting, I did it for ages on this shoot.

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Once you have finished the shoot you should have lots of images to play around with. The bonus with light painting it is easy to edit, you can combine pictures and create complex imagery that are very detailed.

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I had fun experimenting with light painting again and I hope this inspires you to try it out. Soon I will do another light painting post about the more exciting possibilities you can achieve. Until then have fun light painting. Comment below if you have any questions.



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