Light painting is not difficult to learn, doesn’t require much experience and is a lot of fun! The idea behind this technique is really simple: while shooting a long exposure photo, move a source of light around, this gets recorded onto the sensor of the camera, and ‘Hey Presto’, you have an abstract drawing or ‘light painting’.
Light painting: the action!
There are no rules about what to do whilst the shutter is open, it’s just about creativity. It’s possible to write, to draw, or just to create an abstract picture.
Impressive results can be obtained by integrating this light painting technique in a real environment with objects and people. It’s better to plan in advance what to draw, and generally requires repeated attempts to understand how long the exposure should be, how fast the speed of movement needs to be and how much freedom is needed to move around and yet stay within the frame.
Whilst moving the light, the thickness of the “brush” can be changed by moving the light source more quickly. Slowing down for thick strokes and speeding up to sharpen the line. Repeating the movement along the same path will also brighten the strokes.
Whilst light painting, it’s important to keep moving, otherwise becoming a ghost like apparition in the resulting photo is quite likely.
To get started, a camera which can take photos in manual mode is required, along with a tripod, a light source and a dark location. To create the luminous trails: a flashlight (torch), led, fire, poi balls, Christmas lights or anything that emits light basically. The colour of the source will influence the final result. A blue led, an incandescent warm lightbulb, or a candle will each produce a different effect.
Settings for a long exposure photo
The camera settings are relatively straight forward. First of all, take a long exposure picture. This can be accomplished in 2 ways, firstly by setting the camera in manual mode (M) or Shutter priority (Tv or S) and choosing the exposure time in advance (for example 30s) or even better, using Bulb mode (B). Secondly, to use a remote control, pressing the button a first time to begin, then to draw by moving the source of light, and then close the shutter when finished by pressing the button a second time.
Focusing in low light
Automatic focusing in low light could turn out to be very difficult if not impossible. But if shooting indoors, it’s ok to leave the light on before starting the shot. If outside, to help focus, use a torch to illuminate the scene or ask an assistent to hold a mobile phone. However, the best results are generally found when manually focusing. It’s often the case that several attempts at a light painting photograph need to be made. Some of the photos published in this article required more than 10 attempts before obtaining an acceptable result.