Tips & Tricks: A New Twist on Light Painting

Our Tips & Tricks series aims to give beginners, amateurs and professionals alike more ways to approach different aspects of photography and videography. For each installment, we’ve enlisted the expertise of our MPEX staff and have received their feedback on method and equipment.

Light painting seems to be popping up everywhere recently. Digital photography has made light painting much easier to do, considering you can experiment a countless number of times before capturing the image exactly the way you want it. Heck, our March photo contest winner was a light painting image.

The extraordinary amount of light painting being done lends itself to repetition; however, it also pushes some photographers to expand the normal boundaries of light painting. Traditionally, light painting is accomplished by having a stationary camera make a long exposure while a light source, e.g. a glow stick, is moved around the frame, creating a “painterly” effect with the light. Equipped with a Fuji X-E1T.J. recently took a bunch of really excellent light painting images that inverts the traditional formula: the light source remained stationary while the camera was moved around. The results are a spectacular, expressionistic twist on traditional light painting.


To accomplish this effect, T.J. strung orange rope lights along the ceiling and walls and set the shutter speed on his Fuji X-E1 to a 4-second exposure. To eliminate the wall-bounce glare from the lights, T.J. stopped down the aperture to f/22. That way, the light didn’t travel and instead maintained the sharp points of light created by the small individual bulbs in the rope lights. Then, instead of moving the light source around, as is traditionally done in light painting, T.J. moved the camera around while the shutter was open. This camera movement created the lines in the images and softened the background light that can be seen in some of the images.











T.J. also utilized his television set to create a unique effect in a handful of these images. The ghostly faces captured in several of these photos are from the TV, but the f-stop was such a high number (f/22) that the light from the TV didn’t blow out, but instead left faint human impressions. Plus, the way that a TV flickers in terms of projecting its image diffuses the light and the image on the screen.







The coolest thing about these images may even be the potential for experimentation. First, no two images are alike. The camera movement that created these lines allows for a wider range of experimentation and abstraction. The TV also created an interesting layering effect, and speaks to the possibility of layering several lights with camera movement to create distinct effects. Think about adding a real, live subject to the mix and freezing their image with a flash while exposing the image for a longer period of time, and you could create some really unique portraits.

We’d love to see some of your work. Submit some of your experimental light painting photos to Michael and we might feature your work on our blog!

Midwest Photo

4 thoughts on “Tips & Tricks: A New Twist on Light Painting

  1. A few years ago I took slow exposure pictues of a christmas tree outside in the dark while moving camera in different directions. One picture looked like a rocket about 3 seconds int launch. Other experiments with spiral light trails from a rotating light. Lots of fun.

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