How to create a light painted christmas card

What you'll learn

1. How to use light painting to create a christmas tree effect, perfect for your christmas cards

2. How to avoid showing up in your light painting photos

3. How to create a handy LED light painting tool

With the holiday season rapidly approaching and the evenings drawing in, now is the perfect time to start getting prepared for the winter festivities. Creating your own christmas cards adds a personal touch, plus it’s the perfect weekend photography project, and also one that you can get the kids involved in too.

What you'll need

  • A camera with Bulb mode
  • A Tripod
  • A Cable Release
  • A string of battery powered LEDs
  • String
  • Colored Gels (or sweet wrappers)
  • A darkened room (or somewhere outside at night)

A bit of theory

Light painting is a pretty broad subject and it typically comes in two flavours: light painting which involves painting light onto a subject and another which involves using the light source to paint streaks of light (which this tutorial covers). These two techniques can be be used independently or together for effect. Light painting typically involves a long exposure and a hand held light that someone draws with. The person holding the light is normally moving too fast to be visible in the photo. Light painting a symmetrical shape, such as a light orb or in this case a Christmas tree, is created by swinging a light source around a fixed point This kind of photography requires either a very dark room or for it to be night time.

Before going much further, you should really have a basic understanding of using your camera on Bulb, manual exposure and manual focus. If you’re not sure on any of this, check out our basic tutorials.

Light painting relies on using your camera to make really long exposures, then using a torch or other light source to ‘paint’ the light where you want it. As with all long exposure photography, it’s pretty crucial that your camera is securely locked down on a tripod and it’s even better if you use a cable release. Seeing as creating a light orb will take an undefined amount of time, we suggest using a cable release that allows you to lock the shutter open and step away, create your orb, then close the shutter when you are done.

Creating a Christmas tree requires a couple of tools, the first of which is normally a string of battery operated LEDs. You’ll need some gaffer tape in order to gather your lights together and very importantly to cover any lights on the string of LEDs that you do not want for your orb. Lastly you might want to think about colour, so some coloured gels or sweet wrappers are a useful tool to add to your kit! Lastly, you will be moving around in the dark, so we’d suggest keeping a torch in your back pocket.

Setting up

Capturing the photos

Creating your card

You should need to do minimal editing on your finished photo, potentially editing out any hands and feet you can see or brightening the lights up. Afterwards there are lots of ways to turn your image into a fun card. You could try bulk printing them online as complete cards or buying some coloured card and printing the few you need at home. The second option definitely allows for more input from the kids if you're making the cards with your family!


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