Light Painting at Night


All photography is really painting with light for without light, conventional photography is impossible. But light painting has come to mean using an artificial source of light to paint a subject into life out of darkness.. Kinda sounds like Dr. Frankenstein, doesn’t it. Well, it’s not as scary as what he was up to and a lot more fun ( unless you’re into scaring peasants and digging up bodies and fooling around with the laws of nature and science!).

To start with you need a dark place. A basement will do if you are doing a still life. A night without moonlight and away from city lights is a must for outdoor images. Cloudy nights can work, even with the full moon if you are not using the stars in your images.


Next you need a light source. How large an area and how far away your subject will dictate the size of your light source. I use flashlights from so small they use Energizer AAAA batteries to a QBeam 2million Candle Power spotlight. For added effect, I use small lasers by Wicked Laser and chemical light sticks. And occasionally I will even use multiple Nikon flashes.

A DSLR works best, but this week and weekend I will be playing with my Panasonic GX7 Mirrorless MFT camera and report back as to the results. Unless you are shooting night sky with stars, you don’t need extremely high ISO. 400 ISO will do (shooting stars, I usually shoot between 2000 and 5000 ISO which works well with my Nikon D4 and D800 but your experience might vary with your camera).


It helps to wear dark, non reflective clothing, so if you happen to be in the scene with a light, chances are less that your image will be recorded.


Light Painting Tips

  1. Use a tripod.
  2. Set camera to manual focus and pick a specific white balance (sunny, cloud, 5000K, it doesn’t matter).
  3. Shoot RAW if you can.
  4. After composing the scene, think about what you want to illuminate with light.
  5. Use your flash light to illuminate a spot to focus on. Some people even tape the focus in place with Gaffers tape so it doesn’t get bumped.
  6. Start with camera settings of 30 seconds, f8 and ISO 400. You can use your image review to adjust any of these, but the time is more consistent than the aperture or ISO. To shoot longer than 30 seconds, you will need a cable release that you can set a longer shutter time.
  7. Use Long Exposure Noise Reduction. The only time not to use this is if you are doing time lapse with multiple exposures for star trails.
  8. To paint with light, use a brush stroke method along your subject and remember that if you go over an area twice, you are adding more light. Subjects further away need longer painting time than subjects close by.
  9. If you are in the image while painting, don’t turn and point the light source at the camera.
  10. Check your results and decide if your need to modify your technique of “brushing” or the amount of light. Bright areas need less light ( less time painting) and darker areas need more light (more time painting). I usually count off in my head so I have an idea how much light I used for each area.


Have fun and play with all different kinds of light and situations.


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