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Video: Light Painting Photography Technique

In this video, we’re going to walk through how to create stunning light painting photography effects featuring our lovely model Renee. Watch and learn how you can use these techniques to take unique and creative portraits. I want this to be simple and approachable regardless of what you’re trying to do – you could be just trying to explore light and better understand light painting photography or trying to create portfolio-level images. In either case, we’re gonna break the process down into three parts:

What You’ll Need for Light Painting Photography

You’re going to start by finding a location where you can control light, ideally a dark room. This could be a room in your home where you can close the curtains or blackout any light peeking through.  Next, grab whichever camera and lens combination of your liking. We don’t need anything crazy, what’s important is to use a camera where you can control shutter speed because we’re gonna keep the ISO low. We’re also going to be closing down the aperture to help control our ambient light exposure and create a dark space. For this tutorial, I am using a Canon 5D Mark IV paired with a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8.

Next, you’ll need a tripod to stabilize your camera since we will be dragging our shutter to achieve this light painting photography technique.  One of my all-time favorites is the Peak Design Travel Tripod. And that brings us to our final item, our light. You can grab a cheap LED panel or video light to use for this technique.  In this video, you’ll see me using the Falcon R7 which gives me complete control over the intensity as well as their color. A simpler solution is to use your phone and set the screen to your desired color and brightness.

Light Painting Photography Setup

In order to follow this process step by step, we will be working through the C.A.M.P. Framework. This will help you understand the intention behind our exposure, light, and pose in great detail.


3 light painting photography ideasI had Renee sit in a chair because when it comes to light painting photography I like to give my subjects easy positions and poses that they can hold throughout the entire length of the shutter. You’re going to notice when you start doing this that any tiny movement is noticeable, especially when you’re shooting close to your subject. I want to see the movement of the light so I’m shooting a little bit wider and leaving space around her. We are going to use the light to help frame her.

Ambient Light Exposure

2 light painting photography ideasWhen working through your exposure setting, start with shutter speed since that is going to determine the brightness and motion of the light painting. Keep in mind that the longer the shutter speed the more difficult it’s going to be to not only get the movement right but then to not have your subject move throughout the frame, so I would suggest between 2-4 second shutter duration. Your subject should be able to hold pretty still within that range. My final settings before light painting are ISO 50, 2″ shutter, f/11, completely blacking out the scene.

Modify & Light

1 light painting photography ideasI chose to use the red coloration on the panel just to add some more interest to the photo but you can feel free to choose whichever color you like, or no color at all.

Pose & Photograph

We’ll save this portion for the next section of this tutorial so we can suggest some options and tips for how to create a variety of light-painted photos using the setup we’ve made.

Light Painting Photography Ideas

Now that we’ve got our intended setup, let’s walk through some of the ways we can light paint and ensure our subject is well lit in the frame. These three photos were taken consecutively, as you’ll see in the video. It just goes to show what kind of variety in the imagery you can get with light painting photography.

Circular Motion

1 light painting photography

To achieve this look swipe the light in a semi-circle or circular motion, depending on how far around your hand can rotate. Keep the light close to the subject to fill more of the frame, or back up and create a circular frame surrounding the subject’s body. With all of these light painting photography ideas, make sure you take multiple shots to ensure that they are sharp and your subject isn’t moving.


unique light patterns

Adding a bit more motion, swipe the light from left to right in windshield wiper-like motion. This allows you to see the tiny LED light streaks across the frame and adds a bit more interest to the light. Test out a few different wave patterns and make sure they are pleasing to the eye rather than being a distraction for the viewer. You can use these as leading lines as well.


profile rim light

Use the light to paint out the subject and chisel them from the background. You can see that this is a much tighter composition, however, it still shows great detail and graphically interesting.


We hope you enjoyed this tutorial and found it helpful! Light painting photography has so many possibilities due to the variety of lights on the market, color options, and motion. Don’t be afraid to play around to arrive at the final look! You can find even more tips and tricks to incorporate light painting into your photography on Adorama’s blog. We cover techniques for both on-camera or off-camera flash, as well as a number of applications for using either.  Also, make sure you follow along on Adorama for more photography, editing, and posing tutorials!