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Photography: Light Painting

January 12, 2012

A friend reminded me about this technique that I’d read about but never tried. Too often I put off fun experiments with lame excuses, so the other night I just went for it based on my memory of reading an article about it several months ago. My results aren’t fabulous, but you get the idea. Below are instructions on how you can do something similar (and likely much better).


1. Grab a flashlight. I tried it with a keychain version and a large Maglite, because those are the only flashlights I have.

2. Set up your camera with remote on a tripod or shelf of some sort. Or if you’re like me, a bistro chair topped with a concordance, parallel Bible, and a Harry and David box.

3. You can do this trick without a remote if you set your camera to 30-second exposures on a timer and keep your “paintings” in that time slot (pretty easy to do). In fact, it might even work better to not bother with the remote.

4. Your camera’s aperture and ISO settings need to be ones that don’t allow much light in. I put mine on f/16 with 100 ISO.

5. My shutter speed was set to BULB for the remote, but without a remote you can put it on whatever’s slowest (likely 30 seconds).

6. Clear a space and make it very dark. After the obvious steps, like waiting until night time, closing all blinds from outdoor lighting and turning off all lights in my home, I draped a blanket over my TV and electronics so their little lights wouldn’t interfere with my artistic magic.

7. Put your camera on the timer setting. (On my camera it did this automatically on the Remote setting.)

(Not to be confused with painting light, which is Thomas Kinkade’s job.)

So here’s how I did it with my wired remote. I walked over with the flashlight on and flipped the remote into the locked position to keep the shutter open indefinitely. Because of the timer setting, it didn’t open the shutter for a few seconds, so I quickly walked back into place and turned out my flashlight. After I heard the shutter open, I proceeded to turn on my flashlight, aim it at the camera, and draw whatever I wanted. Then I turned out the flashlight when I was done, walked over and switched the remote to close the shutter.

It’s harder than I thought it would be. Apparently I’m not much on air-drawing. I kept moving the flashlight too high, so you can see my pictures are cut off.

Clearly I’m very spiritual. (Well, maybe not so clearly–that says “God,” but all messily and cut off.)


If you write something, it will turn out backwards in the resulting photo, so you can just reverse it in a photo editing program. Or you can try to write backwards, if you’re that talented.

I found the key chain light gave a nice, fine line, but it was almost too fine. Also, I obviously tried writing my name a few times, but it wasn’t turning out all that nicely.

I remembered someone mentioning a way to color the light by putting a cloth over it. The large Maglite was bright enough that it needed to be toned down anyway, so I first used a green washcloth and held it over the light. Later I tried a multi-colored sock, which was a better idea. It stayed on the flashlight better, and created more interesting colors. Notice there’s both purple and green on some of these.

(I started blanking on words to try.)

Also–and I don’t know if this made a difference–I dressed in dark clothing while I did this. I didn’t want to show up in the pictures, and figured the fewer reflective surfaces, the better. My face wasn’t covered, though, and you can’t see any indication of me, so that’s why I don’t know if it mattered.

So…does that make sense? Feel free to ask questions in the comments. 🙂 No guarantee I can be any clearer, though. There are other tutorials out there that do a better job, I’m sure. Google them.

This is a sad-looking heart. Wow.


From → photography tips

  1. Awww man! I just realized we put away the Christmas tree before I could try that other light trick. Grr. I made too many excuses and didn't do it.

    This one seems really complicated (for me), but the results are fun! When you visit next time, maybe we could do it as science with the kids and you can teach that lesson. 😉 It seems like they would like it, although I would be the one in the corner blackness of the photo praying that the words they decide to write are appropriate. (Boys. Sigh.)

    Anyway, cool. Thanks for showing us neat stuff like this.

  2. Very cool! And good job on going for it after putting it off for a long time. I certainly know how that is : )

  3. R – Yeah, I'm pretty sure I made it sound a lot more complicated than it actually is. I managed to do it all in like 20 minutes, so pay no attention to my 35 instructions. But I'd be happy to do that with your kids! Appropriate words! Ha!

    Thanks, Dan. Yeah, I think I need to make a point of doing more little experiments just for fun. I'll try to document them here. I have already done a few things this year!

  4. Yay thanks! 😀

  5. VERY COOL!! I am so trying this soon!

  6. “Not to be confused with painting light, which is Thomas Kinkade's job.”

    This made me snicker!

    That's a really neat technique. I don't have the camera capabilities to do it, but it sure does look fun!

  7. Anonymous permalink

    I like it! Love, Mom

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