What is Light Painting Photography?

Visual artist and photographer Cristias Rosas introduces you to the technique of "painting" with light

There are different methods to achieve unique effects in artistic photography that allow images to go beyond what the camera can capture. These methods allow creators to express their emotions and communicate more subtle messages to their audience. Often, they also produce more striking images.

One of those methods is light painting. Visual artist and photographer Cristias Rosas (@cristias_rosas), who has explored the expression of metaphors through his images in artistic photography, explains what it is and how to apply it to your pictures.

Cristias Rosas

What is light painting?

As the name implies, it is a technique in which light is applied as a paintbrush over a photograph. Different light sources–lamps or flashlights, for example–are used to illuminate scenes and create interesting effects.

How does it work?

To be able to paint a photo with light, you need dim lighting conditions. That will allow the light to stand out in the final result.

Also, the camera has to be capable of taking a long exposure image, opening the shutter for at least a few seconds.

What is Light Painting Photography? 3
Cristias Rosas
What is Light Painting Photography? 4
Cristias Rosas

How do I do it?

You must remember that this is an experimental technique. To achieve the results you want, you will need to do many tests.

Therefore, you will have to arm yourself with patience and do several practices. Analyze what works well and what does not. You must also have the basic technical knowledge to make the necessary adjustments to your photos.

What is Light Painting Photography? 6
Cristias Rosas
What is Light Painting Photography? 7
Cristias Rosas


Choose a location with dim light: plan for your shoot to take place at night or just when the sun is setting. Keep in mind that depending on the amount of light there is, your exposure time will change.

Have different lenses to hand, so you can experiment with different framings. Usually, you will work with the minimum aperture your camera and lens allow and the lowest ISO setting. Play around with the various options, but the goal is to capture the least amount of light possible.

The use of a tripod is recommended as each image will take between 10 and 15 seconds to capture, ideally. That is the time you'll have to paint with light.

What is Light Painting Photography? 9
Cristias Rosas
What is Light Painting Photography? 10
Cristias Rosas

How do I create a light painting effect?

When you press the shutter button, you or your model will take the flashlight in their hands and begin to "paint" in the air with it. Depending on the power of the light source, it will take more or fewer seconds. If the power is high, two seconds will be enough.

After you have moved the flashlight or lamp, get out of the scene, and let the camera finish the exposure sequence. This will create a transparency effect.

And again, this is an experimental process. You will have to do many tests and trials until you find the effect you want. Remember that you can also make adjustments to the image in post production.

What is Light Painting Photography? 12
Cristias Rosas
What is Light Painting Photography? 13
Cristias Rosas

Cristias recommends watching this video, where you can see different ways to create light painting photography:

If you want to learn more about Cristias, sign up for his Domestika course, Experimental Photographic Self-Portrait Outdoors, and discover different ways to create evocative images.

English version by @angeljimenez.

You may also like:

- Dos & Don’ts For Freelance Photographers.
- The Story Behind “Accidentally Wes Anderson”.
- Photography Tutorial: Creating a Set for a Self-Portrait Shoot.


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