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 DSLR camera or even a Lomo camera, this could easily be your new favorite hobby! The crazy part is, LAPP is created with only one picture. There aren’t any Photoshop skills needed; by simply grabbing a flashlight you will create spectacular works of art.

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’re going to paint. It can be real tricky to get the lighting correct the first couple tries, but it will become easier after your first successful photo painting!

Planning. 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, I 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, try different outside scenes with surrounding light.

Aperture. With such extremely long shutter speeds, you’ll 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, lower is always better. The same goes with light painting photography. Experiment by taking a couple sample shots and try lowering the ISO as much as you can.

Shutter Speed. For the first couple LAPP shots, try shutter speeds of a couple seconds and 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.

light painting shapes

photo by Andrew Rivett

There are a couple more tips that will help tremendously.

Always keep the light dead straight toward 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 to step in front of it. If you do end up stepping in front of your light it will make a silhouette of yourself!

Spell everything backward, as if you were writing in a mirror; that’s the trickiest part.

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.

Like This Article?

Don't Miss The Next One!

Join over 100,000 photographers of all experience levels who receive our free photography tips and articles to stay current:

5 responses to “Light Painting How To”

  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?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

New! Want more photography tips? We now offer a free newsletter for photographers:

No, my photos are the best, close this forever