Painting With Light and Long Exposures

I love experimenting with photography, and trying out interesting new techniques, angles, and styles. One of the things I’ve really enjoyed playing around with over the years is drawing pictures with light using long exposures.

These photographs definitely aren’t hard to do. All you need is a stationary camera (i.e. tripod?), and some mobile source of light, like an LED light or a flashlight. Simply set your camera to an extremely slow shutter speed (enough time for your to paint in), make sure the focus is set to where you will be standing, and paint away!

Here are some basic examples of simple shapes I painted:


These four photographs were all taken at ISO 1600 at shutter speeds between 13 and 15 seconds. In retrospect, I probably should have used a wider aperture setting to blur the background. These were between f/6.3 and f/11.

Another thing I did was use the timer to give myself 10 seconds to get into position in front of the camera. For long exposures, you could actually omit this and still get pretty much identical results, since the second or two you’ll take to get into position won’t amount to much of the exposure.

Writing is interesting, but a little tricky:


Since you can’t see what you’re doing, you’ll have to remember where in the air you drew each letter. It might take a little practice to get right. Also, keep in mind that whatever you draw will appear backwards in the photograph. In these photos, I decided to write backwards, but you can also write normally and then flip the photograph horizontally to correct it.

Once you get bored with simple shapes and writing messages, try experimenting further and coming up with stranger ways to use the combination of light and longer exposures.

Here are a couple shots I took where I made myself appear multiple times in the photo by turning the light on and off while moving to different areas of the frame.


I had to keep in mind where I was at each point to keep from overlapping with prior faces.

A couple more examples of weird experimentation:


Hmmm… Not sure what to say about that one. How about an angel?


Get a little boy or girl to pose for that one and it might look pretty neat. With me it just looks creepy.

Now, onto some more complicated drawings. First, some scribbles and an example of drawing gone wrong:


These are a little better, but strange nonetheless:


Notice how you can make certain lines or areas glow brighter by allowing your light to stay at that point for a little longer. Finally, a very generic drawing:


Hopefully this brief walkthrough of light painting was interesting, informative, and inspiring. Though it’s not really useful for improving your general photography, I’ve found that experimenting and doing random things with my camera has helped me grow a lot more familiar with it and the technical side of photography in general.

If you have any interesting results or examples of light painting, feel free to link to them in a comment! If there’s good ones I might update this post with links.

  • Ilan

    It's gets very wacky towards the end of the post :)
    Great result, I really should try something like this myself.

  • Americanvirus

    If ambitious enough, you can also use this kind of 'light painting' in stop motion photography. I had my friend Adam stand very still while I ran circles around him with a lit sparkler. I did this a dozen times or so and then played the photos in succession on a loop. It looks like he's being encircled by moving sparks and lightning. You can see the result here: . The sparkler moment is at 1:38 (on the Vimeo Player). 4th of July is coming up soon in the states. I'm looking forward to experimenting with this some more.

  • Michael Zhang

    Interesting stuff you did with light in the video!

    I think if you had someone stand still in the middle of the frame while assistants ran around them in a circle with the light visible at each point, it could create a really awesome photo. It could look like a sphere of light (like the AT&T logo maybe). Hmmm…

  • Jonathan Day-Reiner

    Even Picasso got in on the light painting action way back when, check it out.

  • Michael Zhang

    Wow. Thanks for the link Jonathan!

  • Americanvirus

    Yeah! Great Link. Thnx!

  • Spencer Allan Brooks

    Hi, I really enjoy your blog! Keep up the great work. If you'd like, you can check out my blog at
    It will be shutting down in the next few months to a dot-com, but I'd love to hear what you think of it. Anyways, keep doing what you're doing.

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  • montreal florist

    It's great skill. Wow! It becom fantastic photo.

  • montreal florist

    It's great skill. Wow! It becom fantastic photo.

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  • Anna-Lena

    hey! thanks for sharing your experiences… i really like lightwriting myself! it's great!:)
    here are some of my lightpainting fotos:

  • Anna-Lena

    hey! thanks for sharing your experiences… i really like lightwriting myself! it's great!:)
    here are some of my lightpainting fotos:

  • acnfisher

    I had to do something like this for my film photography class a year or two ago. Instead of using flashlights, I set my camera on a tripod near a light switch and just flicked the light on for a few seconds, then had the person move in the dark. Here's a sample image.

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  • John Reling

    Excellent Photography!