How to Create Light Paintings

Bike Light Painting

Using light to create luminous lines in photography is not necessarily a new concept. For as long as there have been film cameras, people have been able to capture streaks of light using long exposures and slow shutter speeds. As digital photography has evolved, light painting has become increasingly popular, with artists using the medium to create stunning images and animation. Light painting has turned into a full blown art form that is evolving just as quickly as the technology being used to create it.

There are those who consider themselves to be light painting artists, but you certainly don’t have to be one to create photographs with similar effects. Light painting is a fun and fairly easy activity that can be done by just you or with a big group of friends. We recommend having a group with you, that way you can create more complicated designs in one picture. After trying our hand at it, we at 1000Bulbs.com have compiled a list of basic materials and steps you’ll need to take to begin creating your own light paintings!

The Essential Items

  • Darkness. Whether you’re indoors or outdoors, make sure you’re in a dark enough space that your lighting painting will show up.
  • A digital SLR camera that has Manual or Bulb settings
  • A sturdy tripod. This will keep your camera completely still. If you don’t have a tripod, you can try using any flat, steady surface, such as a table, to keep your camera from moving.
  • A light source. This can include anything from a flashlight, LED tape light, light sticks, sparklers, etc.

If you are going to be light painting outdoors, make sure you have all of the necessary equipment to protect your camera from the elements.

Camera Settings

Before you begin, make sure you are using the right camera settings. For the best results, use a digital SLR camera. These cameras have manual settings that allow you to control the shutter speed. The slower the shutter speed, the longer you have to draw your light painting.

For the light painting picture below, we used Manual or “M” setting, and put the shutter speed at F22, the highest F-stop. This keeps the shutter open for 22 seconds. If your camera has a Bulb or “B” setting, this will work even better. At the Bulb setting, you can keep the shutter open for as long as you like so that you’re not restricted by time. You will also want to turn your camera down to the lowest ISO level possible. This will minimize any noise, or visual distortion, in your picture.

Test Shots

The best way to know if your camera is capturing the light painting you want is trial and error. Take a few test shots at a regular shutter speed without the light source to make sure you have the correct exposure. When you’re happy with the exposure, change your shutter speed settings to the desired position.

Get Started

Now, you can begin light painting! Once you’re positioned in front of the camera with your light source and ready to go, have a friend press the shutter release button for you. You can do this yourself, but having someone do it for you is much easier than stepping in and out of the frame each time.

Once the shutter release is pressed, begin moving your light source. To get certain spots brighter than others continually move your light source over that one spot as if you were coloring with a large crayon. Using all of the steps above, an LED flashlight, and an LED tape light suit (DIY tutorial here), we created the image below.

Light Painting from an LED Light Suit

Light Painting from an LED Light Suit

Are you planning on creating any light paintings of your own? Tell us about it in the comments below, or drop us a line on TwitterFacebook, or Google Plus!


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Courtney Silva

Courtney is a Copywriter at 1000Bulbs.com. Check back often for more lighting facts, tips, and updates!