Beginners Guide to Light Painting

CNC light paiting setup "JCOPRO.NET"Since I’ve written some about light painting experiments that I’ve done, here’s an absolute beginners guide to light painting.  This should be useful if you’d like to try it yourself.

What you will need:

  • Camera capable of long-exposure shots.  I use a Canon T2i DSLR (available from Amazon).  Any DSLR camera should be capable of this, as well as some point-and-shoot models.
  • Light source.  Anything really.  I like these wheel lights (my review) because they automatically turn off when not being accelerated.  Also fire makes for good photos.
  • Tripod (Recommended)
  • Remote Shutter Release (Recommended – here’s what I use off Amazon)

Once you have the necessary tools, you’ll need to set your camera up.  On the Canon T2i, you can set the timing to “M” or “Manual” using the wheel on the right side.  Using the other selection wheel, you can manually set the exposure time of the shot you’re taking, or set it to “bulb” which simply opens the shutter and closes it when you hit the trigger for the second time.  While the shutter is open, your camera will collect all light that goes into it, so if it sees a light in X position as well as Y position it will record this as if it happened at the same time.

backwards "J" light paintingBecause of this, if you set your camera for a long-exposure shot and move a light around in front of it, it will record this moving light as a line or streak on the image.  You’ll need to set the camera somewhere steady in order to do this.  Obviously, a tripod makes things easier.  A remote trigger is great too as you can stand in front of the camera and start the exposure that way.  You also don’t have to touch the camera, which makes things steadier.  The (an) exception would be if you’re going to move the camera and keep the light steady as I did in the picture to the right.

spiral circle bending offAll of my light painting work can be found here.  I’m no photography expert though.  This should get you started, but if you want to get into it more, here’s a few resources I found that should help you do things properly.

  • Camera Settings for light painting (exposure time, aperture, ISO, etc).
  • How to focus your camera in the dark.  Because the autofocus won’t do if for you!
  • How to create a light-painted orb.  I haven’t been able to make a proper one yet, but these seem like good instructions.
  • A list of tools that you can use for light painting.  Certainly not exhaustive.  At least for me, inventing your own tools is part of the fun.
  • How to paint objects with background light.  A subtle difference in that you’re changing the illumination on the subject, not using the illumination as the subject.  Quite different than what I’ve done, but very interesting nonetheless.
  • How to make a multiple-exposure shot with GIMP.  Lets you combine two light paintings or superimpose a light painted photo on another.
  • For some inspiration, and a place to ask questions of people much better than me, check out the lightgraffiti Reddit.

pacman in woods light painting double exposureSo now I have something to refer to when doing various shots.  It’s a bit much to explain every time.  If you have a DSLR or other long-exposure capable camera it’s really simple to get started, so hopefully this will get people to try it!


  1. Light painting with Fireflys LED wheel lights - pingback on September 25, 2012 at 10:14 am
  2. How to use a Green Laser to do Light Paintings - pingback on October 3, 2012 at 9:00 am
  3. Laser Light Graffiti - pingback on May 16, 2013 at 9:22 am
  4. An Illustrated explanation of How Light Graffiti Works - pingback on June 9, 2013 at 8:56 am

Trackbacks and Pingbacks: