How to paint a still life with light

What you'll learn

1. What light painting is
2. How to set the camera for light painting
3. How to use light painting to light a still life

Painting with light, or light painting, is a fun technique which gives you full creative control over how you light your photos.

What you'll need

  • Camera

  • Sturdy tripod

  • Cable Release (e.g. Triggertrap Mobile) 

  • Torches

  • Coloured gels or even sweet wrappers to colour your lights

  • Subject (something to photograph is always a good idea!)

  • Darkened room (or outdoor location 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 (which this tutorial covers) and another which involves using the light source to paint streaks of light. These two techniques can be be used independently or together for effect.

Before going much further, you should really have a basic understanding of using your camera on 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. You can think of your torch as a paint brush of sorts. It allows you to selectively light a subject, giving much more control than a studio lighting set up. 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.

Painting with light usually requires a couple of tools, the first of which is normally a torch. You can use any type of torch – just consider the colour and brightness. Using different torches with different brightnesses or beam shapes is often a good idea as it gives you more flexibility.

The finished set up

Capturing the photos