the beginner’s guide to light painting

Light painting is a creative form of imaging that can create some incredible photographs. Light painting photography has been growing in popularity in recent years, allowing photographers of all abilities to create striking and beautiful content. Sometimes used at weddings and other events, it can add a little something extra when capturing a special moment.

Light painting is something all photographers can learn with a bit of practice. We’ve teamed up with the photography experts at Ted’s Cameras to put together an easy guide to show you how to do light painting for yourself.

What is light painting?

Light painting involves using handheld light sources, including flashlights, lanterns, etc., to create patterns, flashes and even spell out words using light, creating images that are unique to photography.

While it sounds like a complicated and advanced technique, it is actually possible to do light painting with just a few basic tools and a little bit of technical know-how. What’s great about light painting is that you can do it anywhere – and even practice in your home – and it is free to do, provided you have the right equipment with you.

What do I need for light painting?

To be able to try light painting for yourself, you’ll need the following light painting equipment:

  • A camera capable of long exposure (either through a ‘bulb’ mode or long exposure of up to 30 seconds). DSLR and mirrorless cameras are typically used, but some other cameras, including smartphones with the right features, could also be used.
  • Tripod – it’s essential to ensure your camera is still as possible during the long exposure to prevent a blurred image.
  • Remote control – to be able to control the camera shutter without needing to be behind the camera.
  • A light source to do your light painting. It could be a flashlight, a candle, a laser, glowsticks and even a smartphone light.

the beginner’s guide to light painting

Setting the right light painting camera settings

Having the right camera settings will make all the difference when it comes to successful light painting. Your shutter will need to be open long enough to allow you to move your light source around. You will need to understand how the exposure triangle works to help you produce the best images.

As mentioned above, make sure you put your camera on a tripod to minimise blur and keep things sharp, while using a remote will mean you don’t have to touch the camera while you’re getting your shot.

The basic settings for light painting include:

  • Shutter speed: 10-30 seconds.
  • ISO: This should be set as low as possible so your images won’t be overexposed when shooting at long exposures.
  • Aperture: As above, shooting at a smaller aperture will help you limit the amount of light entering your camera’s sensor, so you can keep the shutter open for a long time. Setting the aperture for f11 or smaller will also provide a greater depth of field in your images, meaning more details will be in focus.

the beginner’s guide to light painting

Light painting techniques

There are different types of light painting techniques that you can try to experience their different effects. Some of the most common types of light painting include:

Painting with the light source in front of the camera

This allows you to walk around inside the frame with your light source, creating cool light painting techniques like patterns, flashes, and so on.

Painting from outside the frame

This means the light source is not seen by the camera and not visible in the frame. Using this technique allows you to add splashes of colour and highlights into your frame in a more subtle way.

Tips for creating the best light painting images

To help you create the best images, we’ve rounded up some of the best light painting tips:

Use manual focus to help you get the sharpest image

Autofocus won’t work in the dark, so you’ll need to use manual focus. If you’re not sure how to use manual focus, you can try focusing your camera with autofocus with the lights on first, then turn the lights off when you’re ready to do your light painting.

Use objects and props

Using objects and props will not only help you focus your camera, but it can give you composition ideas or inspiration for your light painting too. Tracing the objects (such as a person) can create an interesting effect.

the beginner’s guide to light painting

Vary your speed

Try holding your light source for different lengths of time. The longer you keep a light source still, the brighter the light will be in that part of the frame. This means you can move quickly and slowly to create interesting contrasts and effects.

Use different coloured light source

Create cool effects using different colours to bring life to your images. 

Remember the basics

Light painting can be a fun way to create interesting and unique images, but you need to remember to get your basics right. Composition (use a viewfinder for the best result), focus and lighting are still important – especially if you want to capture the light around subjects.

If you’re interested in trying light painting yourself, make sure you’ve got all the right light painting equipment to get you started. You can browse cameras, tripods, remotes and more at Ted’s Cameras and benefit from free shipping on all Australian orders over $100. Check out Ted’s Cameras’ blog for more photography how-tos and tips.