With a few tools, it’s easy to create a ‘light-painting’ image
Light painting images have become increasingly popular over the past few years and despite their otherworldly quality, they are easy to make. All you need is a camera with manual controls, a tripod and some sort of light.
Steady as she goes
Light painted images are taken over a long period of time. Exposures can last half a minute or longer, which is why a tripod is required to keep the image nice and stable.
Sharp as a tack
Disable autofocus, since your camera will not have anything to focus on at night. Once in manual focus, shine a light on your subject and adjust your focus until it is sharp. All images you take from then on will be in focus if your subject distance does not change.
The sensors in your camera will not know what to do with total darkness, so you’ll need to set your aperture, shutter speed and ISO manually. Settings will depend on conditions, but the magic ingredient for light painting is an extra long shutter speed. Start at 20-30 seconds and adjust your other settings as required. If your camera does not support manual exposure, try a fireworks programme mode, which should have the same effect.
At exposures of half a minute, anyone moving through the image will become invisible. Light sources, on the other hand, will leave a bright trail of light. Use your torch to achieve different looks. If you want to be visible in your image, make sure to stand very, very still. Every little wobble will show as a diffuse outline.
Night photography with artificial light sources is a balancing act. It might take a little while until ambient and artificial light are in perfect balance. Luckily, you have all night!
I asked my subject to turn her red torch down to its lowest setting while moving it in a figure eight over the next half a minute. On releasing the camera, I moved behind her to add a cloud of circles with my white torch. Since it hadn’t been long since sunset, a little bit of light is still showing in the sky.
The glow on the grass is purely coincidental, but a nice touch that I really enjoy.
- Dennis is a commercial photographer and teaches photography