How to do Light Painting Photography Art with Endless Possibilities

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Wikipedia defines light painting as “A photographic technique in which exposures are made by moving a hand-held light source while taking a long exposure photograph, either to illuminate a subject or to shine a point of light directly at the camera.” In essence, with a basic DSLR, a tripod, and a light source of some kind, you have endless possibilities to create unique images. This technique is a way to unleash your imagination and inner artist – this article will show you how to do it.

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When I realized this artistry had endless possibilities and creativity, I was in. Who wouldn’t be, right? Light painting always amazes me as to how you can create beautiful photos by simply capturing light. I started doing light painting for fun, but then it became a very therapeutic regime for me. If I was having a tough or bad day I would grab my gear, wait for it to get dark, and start painting.

Some basics before you begin:

  • You don’t need any fancy equipment.
  • Wear dark clothes if you don’t want to be seen in the image.
  • Typical camera settings for long exposure light painting are: Manual Mode, aperture f/3.5-5.6, exposure 10-30 seconds, ISO 100-125, lens 18-55mm.
  • Bring a friend. While you can do light painting solo (and I often do), it’s a lot more fun with a buddy.

Beginner DIY light painting tools you can make

I bought all of my supplies from the dollar store, ebay, or home depot. In my kit, I currently have:

  • Basic DSLR + wireless remote (optional) + tripod
  • Flashlights (all different sizes)
  • Mini keychain flashlights
  • Glow sticks
  • LED battery operated fairy lights (variety of colors)
  • Hoola-hoops (regular and small)
  • Sparklers (variety of sizes) + a lighter
  • Steel wool kit (wire whisk, dog leash, gloves, lighter, steel wool grade #000)
  • A variety of light sabres and flashing rave toys

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The first two tools that I ever made were a light stick and a light hoola-hoop. They both serve me well. For the light stick you need a piece of wood (any size you want, mine is 57×2″), tape, and one string of battery operated fairy lights.

Lay out your lights next to your piece of wood and tape them on. Viola! A home-made light stick. If you use white lights, you can tint your photo with your basic windows photo gallery editor. I have two, one with white lights and one with multi-colored lights.

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Here are some of my top photos using just a light stick.

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For the second tool I made, the light hoola hoop you need: a hoop, one string of battery operated fairy lights (approximately eight feet long or less, depending on how big your hoop is) and some tape or zip ties. Tape or zip tie your lights around your hoola-hoop. Bam!

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Advanced light painting tools (The Pixelstick)

For those of you who have had experience with light painting, you might be asking, what’s next? Well, that’s where the Pixel Stick from Bitbanger Labs comes in. I recently purchased one on sale from Photojojo.com (thank you Boxing Day sales!).

Each one of pixelstick’s 200 LEDs acts like a pixel on a screen, displaying your image one vertical line at a time as you walk. These vertical lines, when captured by a long exposure, combine to recreate your image in mid-air leaving pixelstick (and the person using it) invisible. – according to Bitbanger Labs.

Let’s just say, it’s the ultimate light painting artist’s tool. It takes a bit of practice to get used to, but once you have, you can create some pretty incredible photos. Here are a few of my favorite pictures that I was able to do with the pixelstick.

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Ideas for light painting from abstract to using your city as inspiration

You can pretty much light paint anywhere however, please be respectful of your environment. Never damage, negatively impact, or harm a location in pursuit of light painting.

Having the right background or location can give your picture the right ambience, and add some dimension and feel to your photo. My preference is to use a black background most times so I usually find an empty dark field, but sometimes it’s nice to incorporate your surroundings.

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As you can see in this photo, I used a local anchor to center my picture around.

Inspiring light painting artists

When I was getting into the light painting community, I came across some great resources and artists that you may not know about.

So now that you know about light painting photography why not go out there and create some unique images yourself? Up for the challenge?

See more light painting articles here on dPS:

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Jennifer Dowd is an aspiring photographer based on Vancouver Island out of Victoria, BC. She is passionate about photography and find that each moment in life is unique, and tries to show those moments through her photos.Photography is more than a passion, it's an obsession. You can check out more of her photos at Jennifer D Photography, or on the Light Painting World Alliance site.

  • Lighting is a important factor of all type of photography. Your concept is also perfect and i get much knowledge to the post. Thanks for sharing.

  • Dan Merkel

    Anyone know how the “dome” shaped effects were created like the ones in front of the fountain?

  • Jennifer Dowd

    Hi Dan – yes. Using battery operated fairy lights taped to a bike while. You insert a handle/stick into the center of the bike wheel and make is rotate my pushing it one way or another, and set your long exposure. Creates these cool dome shaped effect.

  • Jennifer Dowd

    Thanks a bunch Salim!

  • Mum24

    These are 1x bike wheel lights around it a knitting needle in the hub and then rolled…

  • Jennifer Dowd

    Awesome!!!

  • mike walling

    Hi Jennifer, Using a propeller to anchor your picture. I like the irony.

  • Elena

    Thanks so much for this!! I have being waiting for a DIY light painting brushes for a long time and I think your post has given me the courage to try it out!

  • Jennifer Dowd

    Hi Mike – thanks. I thought it was funny too!

  • Jennifer Dowd

    Hi Elena,

    Your so sweet! I I say go for it! Post results here! Would love to see.

  • Elena

    I most certainly will!

  • Isbjorn

    Hi ! Thank you for the great read 🙂

    I have been enjoying some light painting in the Serengeti and i have to say the people are loving it ! It is something to not disregard when travelling: a tripod ! There are many small, light ones that can do a great deal and seeing the people’s faces after a nice session is absolutely priceless 🙂

    Cheers!

    Isbjorn
    Kusini, Serengeti
    Tanzania

    Facebook: okaroo photography

  • Arpit Singh Chouhan

    Light Painting Photography is my all time favorite timepass..!! Have a look at some of my shots… Reviews and Suggestions most welcome.. 🙂

  • Jennifer Dowd

    Hi Isbjorn,

    Thanks for your nice comments. the picture you posed is amazing! I love that you captured the reflection in the sunglasses. Makes it look super cool! Love it!

  • Jennifer Dowd

    Very cool Arpit! Light painting is truly so much fun! These are great! I would recommend (if you haven’t already) to try and incorporate some background aspects like city skyline or something for your next project with light painting. It’s neat to see light pieces in city centers and things like that. I’m working on doing that myself. Thanks for commenting.

  • Arpit Singh Chouhan

    Surely will incorporate some backgrounds 🙂 thanks for taking out time Jennifer 🙂

  • Dixon Roque

    Great article! Always great to explore different techniques. Here is a photo I took with a local “light saber” group on recent photo walk.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/69d69eebf01c5511037c39855287ce29cf4f446e16b33c2e92cb60df7ab59f3f.jpg

  • Jennifer Dowd

    Very cool!

  • This was done with an LED hula hoop, a tripod, and an intervolometer set to take a long exposure. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9a638028e044520a1bf0a4580bf3485454fb7fc0365431bd65c54ac33b3c0e95.jpg

  • Jennifer Dowd

    Really cool! Thanks for sharing.

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