light painting

LIGHT PAINTING: An emerging genre of photography

Written by krushitha Reddy

What is Light Painting?

Light painting is also called light graffiti or light drawing. It is a long-exposure photographic technique where you can record moving light while the camera shutter is left open. Light brush, glow stick, flashlight etc. can be used as moving light sources. Light painting was first used by Étienne-Jules Marey and Georges Demency in 1889 to trace human motion known as “Pathological Walk Form in Front”.

Light painting is the most emerging trend now, because of the increasing availability of DSLRs’ and smartphones with advanced features like adjustments of light, exposure and portable light sources like LEDs. Advancement in technology has also made it easier to share pictures and techniques of light painting on different websites. 

What makes light painting special?

In general, a painter uses 2D space as canvas and draws/paints using different color brushes. But, in light painting, 3D space (darkness) is the canvas and different light sources are used to create spectacular visual images using a camera. These kinds of pictures are often mistaken to be photoshopped images. The most challenging part of this art is that you can not see what you’re doing until you finish creating the image. Therefore, you need to visualize the image you are about to create to a certain extent. Also, you need to have control on your light sources so that the light goes in the right direction to create your exact visualized image.

General tools used for light painting

Firstly, you can use a smartphone or a camera which allows manual settings to create a light painting image. Secondly, a tripod and a remote shutter release are recommended. Tripod helps the camera to stand still to avoid obtaining blurry pictures and a remote shutter release button is used to open and close the shutter so as to capture an image in the desired exposure time. Furthermore, a wide range of portable/movable light sources from simple flashlights, glowsticks, toy lights, string lights to various custom built tools can be used to paint light in the dark. 

It is very important to focus your image before you start light painting. This could be quite difficult in the dark, where manual focus setting can help. Finally, make required camera settings, begin your exposure and start painting.


The basic principle behind this trick photography is that, when there is less light in the surrounding, your camera takes more time to capture an image. So when you are shooting in the dark, the camera’s shutter speed is longer to capture a shot.

Now, coming to light-painting photography, to move your source of light, you can either move your source of light (this can be your phone or tablet), or you can move your camera. The first trick photography is fun and you can create all sorts of images from your imagination.

The second one gives an abstract effect to your image and lets you give it a blur. Light-painting photography is simple and is all about the long shutter speed. You can use a timer to trigger the shutter. The best part is that you can have fun while doing this sort of photography.

Different types of light painting works

Light trails

Captured on honor 9 lite using the inbuilt light painting software.

Camera used: Nikon d3100

Settings: bulb mode, f/9, 10 secs, ISO- 100

Miniature light painting using paper cuts as subject

Nikon d3100

Lens: 18-55mm

Settings: bulb mode, f/8, 56.1 sec, ISO-100

Tools used: fiber optics brush attached to a flashlight, paper cut of a couple.

Camera: Nikon d3100

Lens: 18-55mm

Settings: bulb mode, f/8, 81.9 sec, ISO-100

Tools: Electroluminescent wire or EL Wire, toy keychain light, paper cuts.

Camera settings: bulb mode, f/8, 90.8 sec, ISO-100

Tool used for the background: Ipad screen, wonder woman paper cut.

Light writing  

Camera settings: f/6.3, 162sec, ISO 100

Tools used: keychain light, flash light.

Camera rotation 


Tools used: keychain lights, string lights

Camera: Nikon d3100

Lens: 18-55mm

Settings: bulb mode, f/6.3, 161.7 sec, ISO-100

Tools: keychain light, EL wire, pencil holder, flashlight with colour cellophane sheet.

Here the camera was rotated 360 deg( facing the light set up) by stopping at various points. 

Abstract light painting

Settings: bulb mode, f/9, 61 sec, ISO-100

Tools: plastic bottles wrapped with colour cellophane sheets, flashlight.

Location swapping 

Settings: bulb mode, f/11, ISO-100, 138sec

Tools: joker stencil, flash light, color cellophane sheets.

 Portrait light painting

Tool: LED batten wrapped with colour cellophane sheet.

*The above images are not manipulated/photoshopped, they were just cropped, brightness & colour adjustments were made.

All the above pictures are captured by Meghana Reddy. Here is the link of her instagram ID “PAINT THE DARK”

Do check out her profile for many such eye-candy light painting works and also for a few tutorials and behind the scenes work of her amazing light painting images. 

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