Have you been wondering how to master this technique but you don’t know how to get it right using your DSL or mirrorles? Fear not ! Whether you are a beginner or a professional photographer, we will guide you through the process of painting with light!

Light painting, also known as Physiogram, is one of the coolest and most rewarding photography techniques you can find nowadays. Being able to use the light to represent motion and give our photos a paint-like look.

What is light painting?

It’s one of the coolest photography techniques and it is currently on trend. The process of painting with light was used by Frank Gilbreth and his wife in 1914 for the first time and it has been used by artist such us Pablo Picasso.

The basic principle is to draw with light directly into the photography, making all sorts of lines, shapes or anything that you have in mind. Shooting at very low shutter. One important feature of this type of photo is the drama that you instantly add to the scene. Creating colorful like strikes can always contrast with a moody and dark subject.

Can I do light painting with a DSLR or Mirrorless ?

Absolutely! Basically, any camera will do. This will depend on the camera low light performance. A professional camera will allow you to work on darker environments without introducing too much noise.

The first thing you need to work on light painting is your imagination and a lot of patience. Don’t worry, as it will seem complicated at first, it’s only about practising and getting the parameters right in order to make it work and become a light painting wizard.

Gandalf the Grey, Ready for Light Painting Photography
Gandalf the Grey, Ready for Light Painting Photography

What are the key aspects we need to know?

Before getting hands on camera and start trying to shoot light, we need to understand a series of parameters that will help us achieve amazing results:

  • Lighting: Low light will be our main challenge for light painting photography, although, in order to get the lighting right you might get hands on a flash to light up your subject eventually. We recommend using off-camera flash to light up ur subject. Something like this that comes with remote trigger included. Also, remember to set up the flash in Manual mode so you have control of its power output.
  • Models: Using a model as a main subject, or a dancer will give our photo a human touch, play with make up and outfits to get the vibe right.
  • Long exposure: This is vital in order to capture the trail of light. Exposure is the time that passes since the camera starts taking the photo until it finishes.
  • Photographer: Well, this is pretty obvious isn’t it ? But just to mention we will need a remote trigger to fire the camera if the subject is yourself. Also, place the camera on a sturdy tripod so you don’t get any unwanted motion introduced by the camera itself.
  • Motion: Imagination and practise, trial and error. Do not be shy and move all your body around.

Material: a camera and a few little things

You don’t need much equipment to paint with light. Light Painting with DSLR or Mirrorless will not make you break the bank and once you learn the basics, you could use any camera:

  • DSLR or Mirrorless: That allows you to work on Manual mode (M). This way, you can control all the parameters (ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed) I call this mode: Camera be my B*tch mode. Keep in mind that depending on the specs of your camera you will get better or worse results (especially low light sensitivity and high-ISO performance). A great camera that works wonders in low light is the Sony A7ii.
  • Remote shutter: This is an accessory that any light paint photographer must have. The price is quite cheap. There is one important thing: Make sure your Remote Shutter is compatible with your camera make.
    • Wired, Trigger is connected to the camera through a cable and it is triggered with a button that will trigger the camera.
    • Wireless, Will be connected to the camera via infrared.
    • Wireless intervalometer, allows you to set up the timing intervals in which the camera will take a snap. They usually come with a LED screen.
  • Tripod: To keep the camera stabilised and avoid external motion through long exposure times you’ll need a tripod.
  • Sources of light: These will be the objects that will generate the painting in the air. You can use your phone or fluorescent tubes, sparklers, fireworks. Lights sticks are a fun thing to use due to its color customization capabilities.
  • Color Gels: These will make your light painting pop and will create a contrast between the subject and the darkness of the background. This one is completely optional.

Guide to setup your DSLR or Mirrorless for light painting

Do not be scared about the concepts you are about to read. Anybody with a bit of patience can get this right. Now it’s time to set up our camera for light painting:

  • Manual Mode: You will be able to control all the settings of your camera this way.
  • ISO: Lower your ISO to the lowest possible. Most cameras go to 100 but and some pro cameras have settings down to 50.
  • Aperture: It will depend on the scene we want to get. I would suggest to set it to f/8 and experiment take it from there..
  • White Balance: Gives your photo warm or cool tones. Some styles of photography like portraiture and especially headshots needs white balance to be extremely accurate but for this photography style you can play around with it!.
  • Camera Stabilizer: We will place our camera on a tripod so we avoid any external shakiness. If your tripod is not sturdy enought, you can use a backpack and hang it on the tripod hook underneath the head so it gives the tripod an extra support.
  • Exposure: On manual mode you can control this settings to your will. We recommend using slow shutter speeds. Above 30 seconds exposure.
  • Focus: Again, you will set your focus on manual. Set the focus to the area you will light paint and block the framing this way so you get a sharp light strike
  • File Format: Working with RAW will allow you more information within the file and wider color range to bring the details in post. Bumping up the blacks without introducing too much noise.

Light painting, step by step

  • Choose a location: Think about what you want your image to be: The concept. Bear in mind that the darker the location the more contrast you will achieve with the light painting.
  • Set your camera parameters beforehand: As mentioned before, camera settings are key to achieve the effect and will be easier if you set up these before going to location. As you know, the night is dark and full of terrors.
  • Focus: Don’t forget to focus on the exact point where the light source will be to avoid blurred images and disappointment.
  • Start painting: Direct the light sources towards the camera and start drawing in the air. You’ve learned the technicalities, now it’s time to let your creativity flow.

Light painting inspiration on Instagram

You will find tons of inspiration searching for #lightpainting on Instagram. These are some of the artists and photographers that are killing it on Instagram at the moment, see how different their styles are:

Now you have no excuses to go out there and start creating with light. So, step into the darkness, switch on your camera and light up the world. We would love to see your creations, please share with us on the comments section below.

[Original Article by Cash Converters Spain]