5 Li,Aaron, light painting research

Equipment needed:

  • A camera; must have a manually adjustable shutter speed. DSLR’s work the best in this case.
  • A light source; top choices here are: LED’s, Flashlights, Glow sticks, Flashes, etc. You can even use an IPAD to paint with light.
  • You can get great fire looking effects using an El Wire as shown here:
  • A good tripod or surface; basically anything will do here, as long as you don’t cause any vibration to the camera.
  • Dark area; go outside at night, or just turn off all the lights in your room.


Step 1: Set the camera on Manual mode.
Step 2: Set the ISO of the camera low, I recommend 100 to 400.
Step 3: Set the shutter speed for  10, to 30 seconds.  (Not 1/10th or 1/30th, you may need to check the camera because some cameras will display a “4” rather than a “1/4” which may be misleading.)long exposure. If you have a remote shutter handy, or an assistant, set the camera to BULB.

Step 4: Set the aperture. This number will vary but if the scene is pretty dimly lit I would suggest starting with f/8. I wouldn’t use anything too low but it’s going to depend mainly on the strength of your light source. Higher the light output, higher your aperture.
Step 5: Set the focus on your subject using the camera’s AF (auto focus). Then once you have locked that in switch the lens to MF (Manual Focus). This step is important to do with light because the camera will try to find focus in the dark and you may be sitting there while it continuously searches.
Step 6: Setup the camera on a stable platform.
Step 7: Turn off the lights if it is not dark already and hit the shutter.
Step 8: Create your light painting by waving, twirling, throwing, or moving your light source. You can also move the camera or zoom in or out on the lens.
Step 9: View results and repeat.


  • If your light source is under exposed, open up (lower) your aperture.
  • If your background or environment is too bright; lower the ISO, or shorten the shutter speed.
  • Your shutter speed controls your ambient light.
  • Try steel wool to light paint, just be careful with this one.
  • Read 8 light painting photography tips.

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