The Art of Light Painting: An In-depth Guide

Check out these photos I did with Sin City Boudoir in Las Vegas. We used long exposure and neon handheld lights to create the light paint effect. Michael took the photos while I did the lights. We did this while listening to music from the band Rush. The videos will be released soon. Continue reading the article below.

Hello there, I’m Lance Hardy, and I’ve spent years exploring the fascinating realm of light painting photography. Today, I’m thrilled to share my knowledge and personal experiences with you, so you too can create stunning images that blend photography and art.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction to Light Painting
  2. Understanding Light Painting
  3. The Magic of Long Exposures
  4. Getting Equipped
  5. Best Camera Settings for Light Painting
  6. Setting Up Your Camera: Step-by-Step
  7. Light Painting: Different Techniques
  8. Essential Light Painting Tips
  9. The Role of Post-Processing
  10. Famous Light Painters
  11. Unleash Your Creativity with Light Painting
  12. Conclusion

Introduction to Light Painting

Light painting, sometimes referred to as light drawing or light graffiti, is a captivating photography method that entails skillfully manipulating light to produce striking visual effects. The concept is straightforward; we employ a source of light, such as a flashlight, glow stick or even a smartphone and carefully move it around while the camera captures the image with an open shutter. The outcome is a captivating fusion of photography and artistic expression in which the light serves as our brush and the dimly lit surroundings become our canvas.

Understanding Light Painting

Light painting is not a new concept. In fact, it dates back to the dawn of civilization when people would pick up burning sticks and sketch patterns against the night sky. Fast forward to today, and light painting has evolved to become a popular and expressive form of photography. From surreal light trails to mesmerizing displays of color, the possibilities with light painting are virtually endless.

The Magic of Long Exposures

At the heart of light painting is the concept of long exposure photography. This technique involves leaving the camera’s shutter open for an extended period, allowing more light to hit the sensor. It’s this prolonged exposure that enables us to “paint” with light, capturing its motion in a blur while keeping stationary objects sharp.

Getting Equipped

To start your journey into light painting, you’ll need some basic equipment. It’s important to have a camera that allows manual control so you can adjust settings like shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Make sure to use a sturdy tripod to keep your camera steady during long exposures. When it comes to light sources, there are plenty of options for creativity. Flashlights, glow sticks, LED lights and even string lights can all be used as tools for light painting. Additionally, having a remote shutter release and stopwatch can be helpful for controlling your camera without causing any movement and timing your light movements accurately.

Best Camera Settings for Light Painting

When it comes to light painting, there are no set-in-stone rules for camera settings as it largely depends on the effect you’re aiming for. However, here are some basic settings to get you started:

  • Mode: Manual or bulb
  • Shutter speed: At least 30 seconds
  • Aperture (F-stop): Between 8 and 10
  • ISO: 100

Remember, these are just starting points. Feel free to experiment and adjust your settings based on the lighting conditions and the type of image you want to create.

Setting Up Your Camera: Step-by-Step

Here’s a simple guide to set up your camera for light painting:

  1. Determine base exposures: This involves figuring out how long you need to expose the ambient light. A general rule of thumb is to set your ISO to six stops higher than what you’ll be using for the actual light painting, determine the exposure in seconds, then check the exposure in minutes at ISO 100.
  2. Focus the image: Manual focus is your friend in light painting. If you’re working in low light conditions, you can use a flashlight to illuminate the scene and focus your camera.
  3. Begin the exposure: Once you’ve determined your base exposures and focused your image, it’s time to start painting with light. If you’re aiming for an exposure time longer than 30 seconds, use the bulb mode.

Light Painting: Different Techniques

There are several different techniques you can explore with light painting. Here are some to get you started:

  • On-camera light source: This involves stepping within the frame of the image and painting with a light source.
  • Off-camera light source: Here, you shine a light from outside the frame onto your subject.
  • Kinetic light painting: This technique involves moving the camera, not the light source. It’s great for creating abstract and surreal effects.
  • Projection light painting: In this method, images or patterns are projected onto a surface or subject, creating interesting contrasts and visual effects.

Essential Light Painting Tips

To help you on your light painting journey, here are some tips based on my personal experience:

  1. Wear dark clothing: If you plan to be in the frame while painting with light, wear dark, non-reflective clothing to ensure you don’t show up in the image.
  2. Experiment with different angles and movement speeds: Different angles can bring out textures and add dimension to your image, while varying speeds can affect the brightness and shading of your light painting.
  3. Use a red filter for testing: A red filter on your testing lights can help maintain your night vision during setup.
  4. Try different surfaces: Reflective surfaces like metal, glass, and mirrors can create surprising effects in light painting, while rougher surfaces like wood or cloth can absorb or filter light in interesting ways.

The Role of Post-Processing

Post-processing plays a significant role in light painting photography. You can correct noise, adjust exposure, enhance colors, and much more. Remember, shooting in RAW format will give you more control over the image during post-processing.

Famous Light Painters

There are many talented light painters out there who can serve as inspiration. Some of my favorites include Jan Leonardo, the genius behind LAPP-PRO, who beautifully combines light, performance art, and photography; Hannu Huhtamo, known for his surreal light structures; and Michael Bosanko, whose whimsical light paintings transport you to otherworldly scenes.

Unleash Your Creativity with Light Painting

The true magic of light painting lies in its power to unlock your imagination. There are no strict guidelines or boundaries—just endless opportunities waiting to be explored. So, grab your camera, seek out the perfect light source and let your artistic expression flow. Embrace experimentation, embrace errors and above all, embrace the joy of it all. Remember that every light painting is a one of a kind creation, just like the artist who brings it to life. Let your inner light radiate and craft something truly unique to you.


Light painting is an incredible combination of photography and art, where you use light as your brush and the world as your canvas. It might feel a little overwhelming in the beginning, but with some practice and a touch of creativity, you’ll soon be able to create breathtaking light paintings that are truly mesmerizing. So why wait? Get your camera, find the perfect lighting and let the magic unfold. Enjoy exploring the world of light painting!

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is based on my personal experiences and should be used as a guideline. Always remember to prioritize safety when using any light sources, especially fire, and to respect local laws and regulations.