Light Painting How To

Lapp or Light Art Performance Photography is a style in which you literally paint your pictures with light. If you own a digital SLR camera or even a Lomo camera, this could easily be you’re new favorite hobby! The crazy part is, Lapp is created with only one picture. There isn’t any photoshop skills needed, by simply grabbing a flashlight you will create spectacular works of art:

light painting

“Light Painting!” captured by Priscilla Reichard (Click Image to See More From Priscilla Reichard)

Tools you will need:

  • DSLR camera (or any camera with shutter speeds slower than 5 seconds)
  • Tripod
  • Shutter release cable (or the camera’s self timer can be used)
  • Flashlights of any color

Now here’s how to create simple photo paintings. Start by getting all the camera settings correct for the scene you are going to paint. It could be real tricky to get the lighting correct the first couple tries, but will become easier after your first successful photo painting!

First start planning on what you want to create whether it be a light globe, a sentence or name and so on. Having the shutter open for extended periods of time means you will have to pay close attention on how much light you are feeding the sensor. Big objects like globes spanning from head to toe will produce huge amounts of light even if you are able to finish the picture in under 60 seconds. For beginners we recommend starting with a completely dark room (even small lights like computers, or your phone charging light will end up ruining your photo) Once you learned all the variables with of painting with the light, then try different outside scenes with surrounding light.

Setting the Aperture¬†– with such extremely long shutter speeds, means you will need to dial up the aperture setting very high, you want the least amount of light hitting the sensor to counter the long shutter. Usually any aperture above f/8 will work. I know it feels weird using such a high aperture in the middle of a dark room but don’t forget you can always post edit the image to increase or decrease exposure.

ISO – as iso settings go for all circumstances the lower is always the better, same goes with light painting photography. Experiment by taking a couple sample shots and try lowering the iso as much as you could.

Shutter speed– For the first couple LAPP shots try shutter speeds of a couple seconds and try just scribbling with your flashlight. Then you can quickly adjust the ISO, and Aperture according to what you plan to paint. Once the photos are looking better and you want more time to draw your photograph move to the bulb setting on your DSLR.

how to do light painting

“Blue Steel” captured by Sonja Yearsley (Click Image to See More From Sonja Yearsley)

There are a couple more tips that will help tremendously

Always keep the light dead strait towards the lens, if you curve your hand and point it sideways (trying to add depth) the camera wont pick it up.

Make sure to have the light in front of you and not step in front of it, if you do end up stepping in front of your light it will make a silhouette of yourself!

ALWAYS spell everything backwards like if you were writing in a mirror, that’s the trickiest part is learning to write every letter backwards.

That’s about all it takes to create mind blowing Lapp paintings that will expand you’re creativity, and your portfolio!

About the Author:
James Bern wrote for the former Lomo Photography Everything, a photo blog dedicated to film photography and lomography.

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  1. Sig says:

    As this is a ok beginners guide, please allow me to adjust a few things you mentioned. I am a light painter so I assure I am not going to pass bum advice.

    1. do NOT write backwards. You will always end up with results that you did not want. Just write like you normally do, then on your computer flip the image. Let modern technology work for you.

    2. Setting the f/ at 8 or above is by no means true. If I’m painting a landscape I will shoot at 3 or even 2.8 this allows me to get in and out of the frame quick with my light then allow the camera to soak in the ambient light from the sky so that it turns a beautiful blue with star motion. Shooting at 8 and above will require extremely longer shutter times to gain the same effect and the longer your shutter is open the more your CMOS is working. After a while that sencor will get hot and introduce higher levels of Noise into your image just like shooting with a higher ISO.

    But good beginner write up. I would love to see more people doing this. Feel free to hit me up if there is anything I can do.

  2. Darrell says:

    Your comment amount always having to write the words backwords is not accurate. Just write normally and flip the image. Makes it much easier.

  3. Nik Catalina says:

    Good article on Light Painting… I believe however, that with post production software a word or sentence written in the normal left to right reading vector can be reversed using a “flip horizontally / vertically ” tool ? This would eliminate the need to struggle with learning to write backwards which can be useful in many other situations… but if the word or name is Bob, Wow or the like… it may not matter LOL

  4. Andrew says:

    It’s “your” not “you’re”….

    Diction people – we gave you a language, kindly use it…..

  5. Alfred E. Neumann says:

    So I should write backwards then, right?

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