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How To: Light painting

Updated: Feb 17, 2021

I've fallen in love with light painting since learning about it in my Modern Portraits class. By using a long exposure, a light source and an extra pair of hands, you can create amazing and magical photography. In this guide, I explain how to get started with light painting with and without the use of strobes.

What You'll Need:

1) A tripod 2) A light source, flashlight, cellphone, be creative! 3) An extra pair of hands 4) Model or Strobes optional. We will get into using strobes later.

Light Painting W ithout Strobes

Light painting can be done without the use of studio strobes or flashes. First, you will need to set up your camera on a tripod. Next, you will need to work in a space that is completely pitch black. To make the light painting work, you will need to extend the shutter speed to capture the moving lights. Set your ISO to 100 and aperture to f/8 as a starting point. Start with your shutter speed set to 4 seconds. If you want to have a model in the shot, have someone stand in the photograph and get your focus on the model. If you have the lights on, great. Get your focus and then set your camera to manual focus. If not, use your cellphone camera light and point it to your subject to get focus and then turn your camera on manual focus. Make sure the space is dark and then press your shutter while your assistant using a light source to paint in the background. Move the light source in all sorts of directions to get interesting effects. You may need to extend your shutter to open up longer depending on the effect that you want. Keep in mind, that when using a human subject, they will be a bit blurry since they will not be able to sit still for too long. You can try this technique with objects too.

Light Painting With Strobes

To get a model in focus while having an amazing light painting effect, you use strobes. Set your camera as you normally would when using strobes. Place your camera on the tripod. If you are using studio strobes, make sure you turn off the modelling lights so that the space is completely dark. You will repeat the same steps as above to get your focus on the subject with a cellphone light and then turning the camera on manual focus. Set your ISO to 100 and f/8 to start. Normally, when shooting with strobes we keep our shutter at 1/125 for sync speed. But for light painting, this is where we extend our shutter. Again, you will need to experiment with the shutter duration to see what works with the effect you are going with. The above pumpkin image was shot at [seconds?]. It's often helpful to communicate with your assistant to know how to move the light source around.


  1. Set your camera up on a tripod.

  2. Set your ISO to 100 and f-stop to f/8.

  3. Start with a slow shutter speed of 8 seconds

  4. Have your model or object in a pitch-black space.

  5. Get your focus on your model or object using a cellphone camera light.

  6. Change your camera to manual focus.

  7. Press the shutter and start light painting with your light source.

  8. Play with shutter speed duration to get your desired result.

Have you tried light painting in any other ways? Comment below. Tag your light painting with #funwithlightpainting.


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