Painting with Light

By: Kyle Granat Last Updated: May 28, 2010

I remember seeing my first light painting, and being amazed. It was this light painting by Picasso

The technique goes by many names : Light Painting, Light Graffiti, Light Drawing, or Long Exposure Photography. The basic idea is that if you set your camera to have a very long exposure time, you can selectively choose where there will be light and where there will not be light. By wildly waving a flashlight in front of a camera you can make some interesting designs and with some patience you can make some really beautiful works of art.


You need three things to make your light painting: an appropriate camera, the tripod, a light source, and a low light environment.
The Camera:The camera is the most important part of this equation, as well as the piece that often takes the most time to find and set up. What your looking for is a camera that will let you manually set it's exposure time (often referred to as shutter speed). If you have a film camera (the type with an adjustable lens) you can set the shutter speed easily. High end digital cameras (like Digital SLRS) have a variety of settings for exposure times as well. In the past year more and more consumer digital cameras have been incorporating exposure time into their settings, so check your camera manuals. If you have an older consumer camera, you can still might find exposure settings, or if you have a Canon Camera you can install CHDK and unlock exposure features. 5-10 seconds is a good amount of time for beginning, but you may choose longer exposure times for more detailed pieces.
The Tripod: While you don't need a tripod it's highly recommended. In some environments you can substitute a chair or a wall for a tripod. The main point here is you need something steady to put your camera on, or your light images will come out blurry.
The Light Source: Really this can be anything: a flashlight, a cellphone, a lamp, a glow-stick. You can think of the size of your light as the width of your brush. Experiment with different colors, speeds, and light sources to get different effects.
The Environment: Beginners should start in a pitch black environment so that they have the most control over the light. As you gain experience, try levels with a little more light to make some creative photos. Just don't use to much background light, or you'll end up with a totally white photograph!

So go ahead and try it out! E-mail me if you have questions and submit any photos you make to and I'll post them in the future!