Painting with light: what you need, and where and how to do it

Light painting tutorial

Painting With Light: the ultimate night photography tutorial

Image copyright David Clapp

Painting with light is one of the easiest ways to transform your night scenes from ordinary to extraordinary. Although you rely on natural light for most daylight photography, introducing artificial light when shooting night photography allows you to get really creative.

The brilliance of painting with light lies in its simplicity. Light painting doesn’t require masses of kit – all you need is a camera, some torches and a plan of action. If the idea is to paint a geographical subject rather than an urban scene, then it’s best to make a daytime visit first.

Look at the elements you plan to include and decide what you’d like to achieve by imagining how the shot will look at night, and how you could light it.

As when painting with light at dawn and dusk, the subject will look better when side lit, so think about where you will shoot from, how you will position your lights, and whether you will need to take an assistant with you to provide a second pair of hands.

Head for rocks, ruins, standing stones and granite tors, or try shooting coastal subjects such as lighthouses, groins and sea stacks. Try painting with light within the insides of caves, too, or light churches, monuments or old buildings.

Time to experiment
You’ll need to use long shutter speeds to get the exposure right, but you can use this time to your advantage, as it gives you time to paint objects. Try using multiple light sources coming from different directions if you can.

As well as hand torches, you can use a flashgun to light your scene. Blasting subjects with brighter, lighter flash light can have a dramatic effect – or try using a combination of both.

Also consider using head torches with different colour settings, like the red astro setting found on some models.

PAGE 1: What is light painting
PAGE 2: What you’ll need when painting with light
PAGE 3: Painting with light in 5 easy steps


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