Light Painting

A new lighting technique that I’ve discovered has really captured my imagination.  In the few days since capturing the image below, I’ve really started to contemplate how I can use this light painting technique more often and how I can incorporate it into my portrait sessions.  I’ve come up with a great idea and I can’t wait to show it you! But first, I’d like to share the technical aspect of how light painting is done.

20 SS, F 2.8, ISO 100

You need to have a camera capable of shooting on manual.  What that means is that YOU choose how the exposure is made and how the light information is recorded.  You don’t let the camera evaluate the scene and “try” to make the best decision for you!  (For the record, I shoot on manual 100% of the time.  I don’t even use shutter or aperture priority… ever!  I’m always in full-on manual.)  In case you haven’t mastered the manual mode yet, here’s a simulator to help you learn.

You’ll need four things for light painting:  (1) a scene, (2) a camera capable of manual settings, (3) a tripod, and (4) a flashlight!  I also use a shutter remote, but this technique can be achieved without one.

Light Painting

I want to record as much ambient light as possible, so I keep my shutter open for the longest time possible.  An extended shutter speed also allows you to walk around in the scene without being recorded.  Unless you remain absolutely still for a few seconds, you won’t be recorded.  It’s almost magic!  As you walk around in the scene, you use the flashlight to “paint” the portions you want lit up in the final frame.  I usually start with a 30-second exposure, F2.8 and ISO 100.

Set your scene and focus your camera.  Actuate the shutter by either using the remote or very carefully pressing the shutter button.  Try not to cause any camera shake.  Camera shake will cause blur on the image.  Once your shutter opens, start painting the scene.  Light any aspect of the image you will want highlighted.  Be careful not to point the flashlight directly into your lens as this will cause a streaking effect.   After viewing the results, I make adjustments to my exposure.

25 SS, F 8.0, ISO 160

I closed my aperture a bit in this image (above) to capture more detail in the sky.  It was layered in rich colors.

In post production, I usually only do a few things.  I always start by bringing up the blacks and the clarity.  I always add a slight contrast and tweak the tone curve.  I may also add a little vibrance and saturation.  All other adjustments are usually based on the individual picture.

Light painting is interesting to me because it causes an image to have a very dramatic and serious look.  It appears that many sources of light were used to create the light painted images. However, it’s just one bright, constant and moving source of light.  It’s a very inexpensive  and creative way to bring your photos to life and add a different dimension to your art.

For fun, I’m adding this light painting picture (below) that I captured myself in before I started moving.  Now, I try to wait until the shutter opens before I actually enter the frame.

30 SS, F 2.8, ISO 200

P. S.  If you point the flashlight directly at the camera while the shutter is open, this is how you record streaks of light.  You can use the streaks to write words or draw patterns. Right now, this has no interest to me because it seems trendy and in my opinion, will be short-lived.


san antonio senior portrait photographers ata-girl photography since 2010I am a San Antonio-based wedding and senior photographer who started Ata-Girl Photography Co., LLC in 2010. As one of the up-and-coming San Antonio wedding photographers, I am also available to shoot in Austin, Houston and Dallas and the surrounding areas. I am also available for destination weddings worldwide. Ata-Girl Photography Co. offers an amazing wedding photography service that you won’t soon forget.  As a professional photographer, my sole purpose is to provide you the absolute best photography experience.

I am a professional photographer who enjoys documenting the important milestones and captivating moments in people’s lives. I firmly believe that the unique set of circumstances I have faced in life has prepared me to take a personal and genuine interest in my photography clients. When I’m not photographing a wedding, family or high school senior, I enjoy watching my daughter play softball, hiking, cycling, reading, and listening to Elvis!

The post, Light Painting, first appeared on Ata-Girl Photography Co’s website and blog. Please feel free to comment here, or share this post with your friends via Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. Please email me if you have any questions about this article or want to share a neat idea for a future blog post with me.