Light Painting Photography for Beginners

So you’re wanting to start in light painting. That’s awesome! This activity can be anything you want it to be. Whether it’s just goofing off with friends in the garage or attempting to be the next Van Gogh of light painting art, everyone has to start somewhere!

In this blog, we will cover all the basics. What is light painting photography? How do I get started? What settings should my camera be on? All the way to out-of-the-box ideas to get your creative juices flowing! Keep reading, and in no time, you’ll be a light painting pro!

What is light painting photography?

Light painting photography goes by many names, such as LED light painting, light drawing, and light art performance photography, and all mean relatively the same thing.

@ike_lights on Instagram

By definition, light painting is a form of photography in which a camera takes a long exposure shot of a moving light source, most often highlighting a subject or space. This can include a light source pointed straight at the camera to “draw” something, rather than just the larger, more unpredictable strokes of “painting”.

What to Use: Light Painting Photography Tools

Though light painting with difference sources may seem advanced when you look at the marvelous images that have been created, light painting is actually quite simple to pull off! All you need are three things: a light source, a tripod, and a camera.

Light Sources

A light source for light painting is just classified as what you are painting with. This is where your creativity and whimsical ideas can come into play! Do you have a story for your image? If so, which light prop would work best for this? Here is a list of some of the best lights for painting at night or simply in the darkness.

An LED Space Whip is great for a light frenzy! Chaotic, but calm. Scattered, but contained! Have a model work with the prop, or hide in the shadows and let the whip do its work! Choose between 3 different fiber heads to create wildly different trails!

Light Painting Photogrpahy
Space Whip Remix Trails via @whipitgoodbae on Instagram

Levitation Wands are perfect for precise lines and circles (when spun)! Trails with this light prop look like no other- sometimes even seeming straight out of a fairytale!

Hypno Wand Trails via @lightasafeather_flow on Instagram

LED Gloves are also great for light painting. Get black gloves to blend your hands into the dark background, or opt for white gloves that add that pop of originality! This form of light painting is incredibly freeing!

LED Gel Glove Trails via GloFX Employee, Taylor!

LED Orbits are an awesome way to achieve symmetry! An orbit is a type of flow toy that moves in circular patterns. The user stretches and contracts the attached strings to create Mandala-like patterns. The circling and spinning creates out-of-this-world effects, such as the image you see below!

Ion Orbit Trails via @samanthaskates on Instagram

Conversely, if you are looking for DIY light painting tools, flashlights, glow sticks, and laser pointers can work just as well!

Camera

For every photo taken, you need a camera. And in this case, the only camera requirement for light painting is long exposure capabilities.

Most heavy-duty cameras with interchangeable lenses have long exposure. Digital point-and-shoot cameras can be iffy- so make sure you can slow down your shutter speed if you’re wanting to use one of these!

Many people also ask if you can use your smart phone for your camera. And the answer is- most of the time, the only factor being whether or not your phone brand offers a “long exposure app” for you to download.

iPhone, Android, and Google phones all have long exposure apps available. Visit your app store today to see if long exposure is available for you!

Tripod or Stand 

You’ll also want a tripod or stand to make sure your camera does not move. For long exposure light painting, a fixed mount is very important. Even the slightest movement could make the image turn out blurry and dull.

If you don’t have access to a tripod, a sturdy box will do. Or a book shelf. Or a table! You can turn just about any household furniture piece into a stable stand if you need to!

How to do light painting

If you have a functioning camera with long exposure available, or a smart phone camera (and the correct app), painting with light can be a breeze! Here are some easy steps to follow for your first light painting adventure.

Light-Painting-Photography-6
Model Avina (@avinaspell on Instagram) with GloFX’s Senior Graphic Artist, Johnny.

Long Exposure Light Painting

  1. Set up your camera on a your tripod or stand. Make sure the camera does not move when taking your picture! Movement will cause blurriness.
  2. Though there are many camera settings you can be on while taking long exposure images, there are a few tricks specifically for light painting. Make sure your ISO is not set above 500. If it is, this will likely cause overexposure, and the image will lose quality. Also, making sure your shutter is open for at least 10 to 15 seconds will ensure that your trails are bright and contrasting with a dark background.
  3. Have your light source (i.e. a friend with an LED Cosmic Cable) be prepped and ready to start painting. Also, have your subject (i.e. another friend or a particular backdrop) prepared to stay still for 10 to 15 seconds.
  4. Click to take the picture, and have the light source start moving! With a still and illuminated subject, you can capture images like this!
GloFX Creative Team, Johnny & Sophia, Experimenting with Cosmic Cable Trails!

Light Painting Photography Ideas

Think you’re about ready to hit the ground running? Good! Here are some creative ideas to start you out!

Flashlight Drawing

Drawing with light can be anything you want it to be! With tools like flashlights, it is easy to get crisp lines in the air. Give your pictures a haunted feel anywhere you go! Paint imaginary light graffiti on the sides of empty buildings, or simply write your name in the sky.

Night Photography Light Painting 

Though you can always take light painting images in a dark room in the middle of the day, there are some fantastical ways to use the outdoors and the night sky to your advantage!

Silhouette your model in a shroud of light, and let their background complete the scene!

@stewedman on Instagram

Use the Space Whip Remix against the stars, and create mesmerizing patterns! Location can elevate any light painting piece!

@twhydra wielding the Space Whip Remix on Instagram

Paint the night with a door to a different dimension! We can only wonder where this portal leads to!

@slystyles_art on Instagram

Indoor Light Painting

But maybe it’s raining or crowded outside. Perhaps you live in a not-so-safe area. No worries! There are plenty ideas for light painting inside!

If you use two colored light sources from different directions, you can create an illusion of depth! Photos like this can turn out absolutely unreal!

@gratyfixation on Instagram

Spin your light source (or sources!) to create dream-like spirals. You can paint these light Slinkies in the comfort of your own home any time you please!

GloFX In-House Light Painting Photography

Grab a pair of Pixel Pro Glasses to send your head spinning. The possibilities are endless! Aliens, demons, ghosts, cyber punks- the choice is yours!

Via Instagram Photographer @andrew_odonnell_photography

Final Thoughts

With your newfound knowledges of light painting photography, do you think you have what it takes to make art with light? That’s a trick question- of course you do! If you want to partake in this activity, you simply have to do it. It doesn’t matter if you’re good or bad, as long as you’re having FUN painting trails!

So with this knowledge, go forth! The world of light painting is at your finger tips and as expansive as your imagination! Grab you some light, and get to light painting today!

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Author: Jaclyn Tipton

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