Light Painting Tips

Hi everyone!

Recently I tried out light painting and a few people have asked for some more details about it. I am by no means an expert, but thought I would share what I do know:

Things you will need:

  1. A camera that can be used in full manual mode. This could be a DSLR or an advanced compact camera. Manual mode allows you to control the light coming in, auto modes cannot cope with light painting.
  2. A remote shutter release will be very handy. This will allow you to avoid touching the camera to start the shot. I don’t have one, so definitely not necessary!
  3. A tripod. As you are leaving the shutter open longer than normal, this will ensure you do not get camera shake from wind, breathing etc.
  4. Light sources. Hand held is best. Be as creative as you can, check out $2 stores, gadget stores, online and find some cool lighting. Suggestions: Glow Sticks, Torches, LED lights, Bike Lights, Sparklers, Light Sabers. Colour changing lights are awesome (and rare) as they mean your painting will be different colours without too much work from you changing light sources!
  5. Dark clothing. This makes it easier for you to be hidden in your images.
  6. It needs to be dark, so you will need to be doing this after sunset. For safety, and fun I suggest going with someone, or even a group. Allows you to focus on your camera whilst someone else uses the light and vice versa. Plus you can share ideas!

Location:

This is important. It also depends on what type of Light Painting you wish to do:

  1. If you wish to have some background come through low lit areas will work.
  2. If you do not want any background light coming through, you will need to go somewhere very dark. The further from the city the better.

Shutter Speed:

  1. This will be the main setting you will work with on your camera.
  2. Set shutter speeds: Most cameras will allow up to a 30 second shutter, some longer. The problem with the set shutter times is if you muck up, you still have to wait the full time before trying again. You can also misjudge and miss part of the painting. The good thing about set times, is you can leave your camera and do the painting yourself.
  3. BULB mode: This allows you to keep your shutter open for as long as you need. Basically when you hit the shoot button, you then need to hold it and the shutter will remain open. Once you have finished painting, you can let go and the shutter will close. Some remote shutters don’t need to be held, some do. The problem with this if you need someone else to do the painting or release the shutter for you.

How to:

  1. Setup your camera on your tripod and point to where you will be taking the photo. Keep in mind how much space and the position you are going to paint in.
  2. Set your Aperture. A higher number aperture is better as this ensures you get the painting in focus. I shot most of my images at f11.0. Some people went much higher.
  3. Set your ISO. Similar to the Aperture, as the shutter will be open for a long time, a low ISO is needed. I shot at 100 ISO for all my Light Painting.
  4. Set your zoom. I didn’t really zoom as more space was better for what I was doing. You can always crop later, if you miss part of the painting, you have to start again!
  5. Set your shutter (refer above)
  6. Set a timer if you will be doing the painting, this allows time for you to get it setup before the shutter opens.
  7. Now paint!

Painting with light:

  1. This is where you get creative. The person moving the light source should keep moving as well. If they stay in the one spot too long they will display as a ‘ghost’. If they keep moving and keep the light off them, they won’t appear.
  2. Move the light slowly. Too fast and the camera won’t pick it up.
  3. Do not cover the light whilst you are painting. Easy to forget the side that is pointing to the camera.
  4. Cover the light source output with your hand when you aren’t drawing something. For example, to paint ‘AN’ cover the light when you finish the A and take off when you are at the spot you will start painting the N. Otherwise you will get a trail.
  5. Be fun and be creative!

Summary:

I mainly focused on drawing images and words in the air. There are other types of Light Painting that can be just as fun! I am yet to try these, but will share when I do!

All I can suggest is give it a go, it is a lot of fun and there really is no end to your creativity.

Hope this helps. If you have any questions, please let me know and I will try to help 🙂

Bye for now, Andrew

P.S: Check out my light painting here