Let’s get experimental with our portraits. Today, I’ll be walking through how to capture long exposure light painting portraits using a $20 DIY light ring.

Video: How to Create Light Painting Portraits With a DIY Light Ring

I always like to have fun with portraits and it’s important to remember that you don’t always need expensive gear or locations. I made this $20 DIY light ring with materials you can find at any arts & crafts store. Then, step by step, we’ll build our way up to our final light painting portraits.

All you’ll need for these portraits are any camera & lens as well as a smartphone. I’ll be using my trusty Canon EOS R5 with the RF 28-70mm f/2L lens.

Our model today is my good friend, Sabrina, so be sure to give her a follow on Instagram here.

Related Reading: Light Paint with ANY Camera in 4 Minutes!

Start With the Composition

I always like to use the C.A.M.P. framework, starting with the composition.

Set the Ambient Light

Camera settings: 1/4 sec, f/2, ISO 800

Next, shut off all the ambient light and make it as dark as possible. We want the light to nicely light up our subject’s face. The dark room will give us room later on to slow down our shutter speed for our light painting portraits.

Modify the Light

Since we’re not working with flash, I’ll be making adjustments to the LED ring light. By having Sabrina move the ring light around, we can get different light qualities. I had her hold the light ring slightly in front of her face to create a nice and soft effect.

Place the light behind your subject facing the backdrop.

Lastly, I used a smartphone to give the background a subtle blue kick. Simply screenshot a blue screen and raise the brightness to your liking.

You can see the big difference with the addition of the backlight.

long exposure portraits light ring
Edited with VF Presets > Pure Pack

How to Capture Light Painting Portraits

Now that we have our look dialed in, let’s start creating our light painting portraits. I’m going to drastically slow down the shutter speed to around 1-2 seconds. Lower your ISO to compensate for the longer exposure. Make sure your shutter speed isn’t too slow, otherwise your model may not be able to be perfectly still for the exposure!

light painting portraits long exposure

A tip for light painting portraits is to wear dark clothing. Dark clothing picks up less light and is less likely to show up in the final images. Also, be sure to lock focus to prevent focus breathing.

light painting portraits edited
All images edited with VF Presets > Pure Pack

Now, try various movements and shapes and remember to have fun!


Interested in more SFX photography like light painting? Check out the SFX Course on SLR Lounge Premium along with tons of other full photography related courses such as Lightroom Editing. You can also visit Visual Flow for the full library of Lightroom presets and retouching tools.

Don’t miss our next episode of Mastering Your Craft on Adorama’s YouTube channel next week! If you want to catch up on all the episodes, make sure you check out our playlist!