Light Painting

I bought a Digital SLR camera (Nikon D80) shortly after my first child was born as I realised that this most beautiful of subjects had to be captured in every conceivable pose possible.  However, for two years I wasn’t quite sure how to use the camera.  Not much of a manual-reader, I pottered along happily with the pictures I was taking on the auto-modes.  One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to finally learn how to use it and so I have been going to an evening class to learn.  I love it and look forward to it every week — I can’t wait to get the home-work so I can go out and play.

A couple of weeks ago my tutor taught us how to do light-painting. I came home and tested it on the family and now it is one of the kid’s favourite games — and makes for some really interesting family portraits.  It may seem complicated to do written down but once you’ve done it it’s really easy and only takes a few minutes to set up.  So let me see if I can give you a simple how-to guide ….

What you need:

  • A Digital SLR – doesn’t matter what make or model as long as you can pop it into manual mode.
  • Some torches or LED lights (those little ones you get on key-rings are perfect) or any really great flashing kid’s toys (we have a couple of really nasty light sabres /flashing tiaras picked up on bonfire night and at the Panto, which are just the ticket).
  • A handheld flash-gun is good for capturing faces but not necessary.

Setting the scene:

  • If you are doing this with children it is good to have a clear area for them to jump around within – we did it on our bed so they knew to stay on the bed for the picture.
  • You need to be able to make the room as dark as possible (a real perfectionist would also have a dark background wall but I didn’t).
  • It looks good if the people doing the painting are wearing dark clothing (but as you can see my kids were in their PJs so it works if they are not).

Setting your camera up:

  • With the lights on, set your camera up somewhere stable (use a tripod if you have one).  I balanced mine on the changing table on a pile of books.  You want to be able to set your camera up so it has your designated area in frame.
  • Using the auto-focus function, focus on something static in the frame (I focused on our head-board).  As soon as the lens has focused switch your focus to ‘manual’ leaving the camera where it is (this is so the camera doesn’t try to autofocus in the dark and therefore lose focus).
  • Next put your camera into the Manual mode (usually this is called M on the camera).
  • Now you want to set the ‘aperture’ to a high number (this is the number which is displayed with an F in front of it) – F22 is a good one to start with.
  • Now you want to set the time your shutter is open.  I think Anywhere between 15 and 25 seconds will get some great effects.
  • OK you’re all set up.

Light Painting:

  • First get the kids on the bed (or wherever) with their torches or other lights on.
  • Turn the lights off.
  • Press the button on your camera to start the picture taking.
  • Get all the ‘painters’ to dance around and draw with their light-source facing the camera.
  • If you have a flash-gun, flash it at the ‘painters’ faces as they dance about – you can flash a person more then once which will give the effect of there being more then one of that person.  Careful not to stand in front of them or in the frame as you do this (as I did!) as you can look like a bit of a sinister shadow.
  • When the picture ‘clicks’ after your chosen shutter time (15″ or so) then you can turn the lights back up and check out your picture.

Have fun!

NB: If like me you have a snazzy camera but not sure how to get the best out of it then this site is a really good starting point for some helpful tips.  To have a look at a guy who is a lot better at light-painting than me, see Michael Bosanko’s site.

Mo. x


Comments (9)

June 5, 2010

This is SO cool, we’re SO going to try this!!!!!!!

June 5, 2010

also very interesting that Great Joel did in such technique


June 5, 2010

Oh he is good that Joel – it is really really tricky to draw something and for it to actually look like what you intended it to be – I am very impressed. We (as you can see) were not nearly as clever – we just whizzed those lights round like sparklers!

June 5, 2010

Thi sounds fab – we’re going to try it!

June 6, 2010

Where are you doing your course? I would love to do one in London. I have the same camera… and just know I could be taking much better snaps.

June 8, 2010

Hi Brooke

Please see my reply to Chantal who asked the same question – good luck in finding a good course – I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Mo. x

June 7, 2010

This is very cool! who knew you could even do this?!?!

Chantal Jacobs
June 8, 2010

I have an SLR that I have had for ages and would love to go to classes to learn how to use it, where are you going to yours?

June 8, 2010

Hi Chantal

I’m doing my course in creative photography at the North Kingston college as that is quite close to me in South London which is really reasonable in price and I have a great tutor. However I have heard that http://londonphotographycourses.co.uk/ are good for a one-day workshop / course. Also an absolutely brilliant resource for all-sorts of courses in your local area is: http://www.hotcourses.com – but I warn you … you may end up doing more then just photography … I quite fancy giving book-binding a go!

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