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There are many forms of light painting in photography, and all are amazingly creative. As you can see with the photo above, it certainly adds a new dimension to photographs. Of course if the photographer had not done the light painting to this old barn, we would not have been able to see it very well at all in the dark.

The photo above is my favorite way of painting with light, because all you are doing is lighting a subject with your flash, and making it work in a condition that seems natural. And one of my favorite light painting photos is this one:

The photographer put his camera setting for a long exposure (around 10 minutes), went up inside the arch, and with his flash, just lit up the underside of the arch. His image is also on there, but tried not to move much, and only moved his hands to light up the arch around him.

The other type of light painting is more like this:

This did not have to be a super long exposure, just enough to have the someone behind the girl twirl around here a fire source. Notice the boat in the background with a light. That shows as well that it was probably about a 1 second exposure.


  • A camera that you can control long exposures, probably use the “B” setting on some of them (the Arch’s photo was done on the “B” setting)
  • A tripod to hold the camera still enough during this long exposure. Make sure it’s a real sturdy tripod. The one that comes in your kit is questionable (my camera outfit came with a tripod. Ended up throwing it away).
  • An electronic flash for camera. This will allow you to manually take the flash with you. And when you do this, turn your built-in flash off, on your camera. You must be able to control all lighting, and if you are using a flash 50 feet away from you, you don’t need this built-in flash going off.
  • And finally, be ready to try your photo several times. Every time you use the “B” setting, you may need to make adjustments to light that you are using, or exposure, or something. I think that doing this is always a mystery in how well it will turn out, so, be prepared to try this effect several times until you get what you want.
  • A cable release or remote control for your camera. You have a very good chance to bump, or wiggle your camera when you push the button. A remote or cable release is one tool that allows you to push the button remotely. All DSLR camera have this capability.
Photo by On this photo, I am going to guess that two light sources were used to create this photo. One photo was to light up the men in the picture, and then someone used a flashlight of some source, and was underneath their hands, and just wiggled it through their hands for a second or two. Fun for kids to try out.


Now let’s take a look at the best camera settings for light painting:

  • Mode – Shoot in manual mode, which allows you to set your shutter speed and aperture.
  • Image quality – Set your image quality to RAW, which allows you to capture as much information as possible. (This is not a necessity, but it is an important recommendation.)
  • White balance – If you want to balance out your light source, choose either the Incandescent or Tungsten white balance setting. However, sometimes experimenting with other white balance settings can produce some interesting light effects. Daylight white balance is a good starting point if you want to maintain the original colors of your artificial light sources. Auto White Balance is not recommended.
  • ISO – Use a low ISO as 100.
  • F-stop or aperture – Stop down to f/8 or f/10, which allows you to get more depth of field and enables you to use a longer shutter speed.
  • Shutter speed – Set your shutter speed to Bulb mode (your final shutter speed will be determined by the amount of ambient light in the scene).
  • LCD brightness – Lower the brightness of your LCD preview, because the normal setting is too bright at night and will make your image look bright when it’s actually underexposed.
  • Histogram – Use your histogram to check your exposure. If the histogram skews heavily to the left, your image is going to be too dark.
  • Blinkies – Turn on your blinkies (a highlight warning) to help you determine if your highlights are exposed properly. It is perfectly acceptable for your brightest highlights to be slightly clipped if the rest of your image is properly exposed.
  • Image stabilization – Set this to Off. With your camera on a tripod, having image stabilization turned on can actually fool your camera or lens and cause blurring in your image.
  • Long exposure noise reduction – The recommended setting is Off. This can be set to On, but it will cause your exposure time to double (because the camera takes a second black exposure to help remove noise). If your camera is set to a reasonable ISO, the noise level will be low enough in most cases that in-camera noise reduction is unnecessary. Still, it is a good idea to check your noise levels in advance, and some older cameras may require this setting to be On to get acceptable noise levels.
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still life flowers
This vase was backlit with a candle and I painted the flowers with a small penlight.
30 seconds | f/16 | ISO 100.
person with arms raised to the sky
A 30-second exposure at ISO 800. For this image, I increased the ISO to shorten the exposure to 30 seconds, because a longer exposure would cause a noticeable blur on the stars. Light painting was applied from the front of the subject, without letting the light shine directly back at the camera.
1971 VW bus light painting
This vintage 1971 bus was painted using one LED flashlight on the outside, with a second light inside to illuminate the bus interior.


  • Paint from the sides – Don’t just stand behind your camera and wave the light across your image. Painting flat surfaces from the side will allow you to bring out textures.
  • Use lots of different angles – For instance, when painting the ground, hold the beam low and pan the light along the floor. This will keep the ground from appearing flat, and it’ll bring out all the details of the surface. Also, by adding light from many angles, the resulting image will have an interesting three-dimensional effect.
  • Don’t stand between the camera and your light source – If you do this, you will show up as a silhouetted ghost in the final photo!
  • Wear dark, non-reflective clothing and keep moving – Again, you do not want to appear as a ghost in your image!
  • Don’t shine the light source back at the camera – Otherwise, you’ll create a bright spot in the image.
  • Use a flashlight with a red filter when you check your camera to make adjustments. The red light will keep you from ruining your night vision.
  • Different surfaces are going to react to light differently – Wood surfaces may require more light than shiny surfaces such as metal or glass, because rougher surfaces absorb more light than smooth surfaces.
  • Keep your light moving – Move the beam in slow strokes to add lots of light and make faster strokes in areas where less light is needed.
  • Paint in up-and-down or side-to-side strokes, just like you’d work with real paint.
  • You probably won’t get the shot you want on the first try – It may take multiple attempts to get an image that you’re satisfied with. For this reason, try to keep track of how much light you add to each surface. Develop a plan so that you can make adjustments to each exposure until you get the image you’ve visualized.


This is really a fun and creative way to do photos, and could be a niche that not a lot of photographers try. It might be a great way to earn extra money, if you practice at it enough.


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Artemios-Karavas-1024x707.jpg
Photo by Artemios Karavas / The Art of Black and White


beach during golden hour
Photo by Zukiman Mohamad on

Photos taken using a long exposure are probably the most well loved photos today. They seem so “dreamy” as one person said. Almost every good photographer today, has probably tried some long exposures, but, honestly, everyone who wants to be a good creative photographer should try this. In today’s blog, we will go through the steps so you will know how to do this as well.

Let’s go through this series of photos and then describe what it takes for you to accomplish the same thing.
  1. The first thing that came to my mind when I saw the subject of “long Exposure” was what you can do with water to make it even more beautiful, like this photo above. I am going to guess that this photo was taken with about a 2 to 5 second exposure in daylight. There are two ways to do this: A- knowing that you are going to use a long exposure, longer than you should try to hand hold, you MUST HAVE A TRIPOD. Usually when I do a photo like this, I try to determine if I want the water to have some detail to the water, or to really go all the way, and blur it, like above. The first method with your DSLR camera is to do this in “shutter priority” mode (Tv is usually how the camera manufactures will show the setting on the dial). This stands for “Time Value”. This leaves the camera in an automatic mode, but, you get to pick the shutter speed you want. So, pick 5, or 10 seconds to get this photo above, and then the camera will automatically pick the aperture setting for you.

But wait! A 10 second exposure in the middle of the day, what will your camera set at automatically? Probably F96, or F125 might work. There is a limit to the amount of aperture settings on a lens. There is no such thing as F96 or F125 on your lenses, or aperture. So, how do you do this? WITH ND FILTERS.

A Complete Guide on How to Use Neutral Density Filters
You can get your filters in different “Opaque”. Above, you can see #3, #6, #10

These ND FILTERS do not change the color of your image, they only stop a certain amount of light through your lens to the image sensor. Thus forcing your camera to be able to use an aperture that will allow your photo idea to work. You must be able to limit the amount of light to your sensor if you want to use slow shutter speeds. If you are serious about creating this effects, you will want to get that in your camera bag. (Click the words in red, like ND FILTERS, and you will be taken to a link that tells you more about it, plus, you can purchase these filters there).

At night, on a tripod, it is very interesting to get the “automobile lights” to drag across the screen to get this effect

2- This type of photo will require these two things: A TRIPOD again, and good camera that you can regulate your shutter speed. With this type of photo, taking several shots will be advantageous, just to find out what your exposure should be. It might be good to record what each of your shots did for your picture. You might still need some ND FILTERS if you need to get it within a certain range.

Photo by Jingda Chen on Unsplash

Doing a photo of fireworks, I think, is the easiest to do. After sitting there and watching the fireworks, determine where in the sky the fireworks will explode. Once that is established, point your camera to that area while your camera is on the TRIPOD and put your camera setting on the “B”mode. (B stands for “Bulb” and was used in the early camera years, because you literally had to squeeze a rubber “bulb” and hold the squeeze until you want it to turn off). Then click the shutter open until the explosion is done. I have often just chosen F8 or F11 for a good F number.

The words in Red have a special link to get you more information about the item, whether it be a description or if you are ready to make a purchase. Click it.

Enjoy trying this out. This is a fun exercise to try, but, usually you have time to try it again, if you didn’t get it right the first time.

Here are a few more photos taken with a long exposure:

red and black abstract painting
Photo by Alex Montes on
lightning strikes
Photo by Frank Cone on
grey moutain
Photo by Rocky Evans Llona on

51 Different photo subjects. And I have done a blog on nearly every one of these subjects. You will notice that this blog is about “A long Exposure”. that means I have only 7 more to go.

Go back and read one of those subjects that interest you. They will be on this website until August 14th.