Light painting tools and equipment explained.
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April 12, 2019

Not for nothing is photography called a creative art form. It does let you run wild at times. This is a photographic technique in which you move a hand held light source as if to draw something in space while taking a long exposure shot. This is presently used in scientific as well as commercial purposes. Imagine a beautiful night sky with millions of stars embedded on it. I set my camera on a tripod and click a nice photograph of the same. Now, think of the antithesis! Instead of making the sky my object, if I imagine it as my canvas and my camera as the paintbrush! Before calling me crazy, try this once with low shutter speed. Light painting is a complicated process that requires quite a few tools. Let us take a look at the usage of these tools in light paintings.  


Image courtesy: Bored Panda

  1. The camera gear: There is no such thing as a bad camera. For light paintings, all that you actually need is a camera that has manual controls. A DSLR camera is always preferred but any point and shoot will also do the job provided it has manual controls. A DSLR is preferred due to its low light performance. Since this is a kind of low light photography, lenses with wide open apertures will be preferable. A 50mm f/1.8 prime lens is a cheap lens which punches above its weight. In case you don’t have a prime lens, you may use any other lens as well depending on the composition. Wide open apertures let in more light and in turn, fasten up the shutter speed.

  2. The camera accessories: Low light photography and long exposure photography require stable mounts. A tripod is mandatory for a long exposure shot. Check out the maximum weight bearing capacity of the tripod. It must be more than double the weight of the camera gear. On windy nights, you may suspend some extra weights from the middle leg of the tripod to achieve further stability. The other really important camera accessory is the remote shutter cable release. When you are shooting long exposures, there should be no hand-camera contact since that can introduce shakes in the image. The best way to avoid this is by using the remote shutter cable. You may also use the self-timer of the camera. For light paintings, the shutter speed normally needs to go below 10 seconds. You may not be able to get proper exposure with the shutter speed at 10 seconds. In case the shot appears very bright, decrease the aperture to around f/16 and check. If it is still brighter than required, you will need to use a neutral density filter. An ND filter is used to reduce the amount of light entering the camera. The intensity of ND filters is measured in stops. Attach the filter to the lens and you will be able to reduce the shutter speed further.                                                                                                                                                                                                        

  3. Light source: The digital light wand can be used as a light source. This is an RGB light strip. There is a microcontroller present inside this wand and can be programmed after connecting to a computer. As a result of this, any pattern, text, etc. can be painted using this digital light wand. The Pixelstick is another such tool. This is a modern tool that can allow you to create anything you actually want to. There is a controller in the Pixelstick which can store the actual pattern that you want to paint. The 200 RGB lights present in the gadget can produce around 16 million colors. With such advancements in light wands, anything can be lightly painted these days! 

  4. Torches and other flashlights: These can be used as brushes too. Torches are smaller and lighter and hence quite effective in light paintings. Flashlights are rated by ‘Lumens’. Some flashlight beams can be spots; some of them are floods and others have focusable beams. The flashlights with focusable beams are most preferable in light paintings. Flashes are also used to freeze the action. They may also be used to introduce flashes of color within the light painting.    

  5. Gels and other accessories: Gels are nothing but colored polyester filters. These can be fit in front of the flashes to change the color of emitting light. Gels are available in packs and are quite inexpensive. Glow sticks are used for light paintings as well. The first type of glow stick is the chemical glow stick. This can be used for a single time and is disposable. The electronic glow sticks are brighter and can be used repeatedly. Lasers are also used in this kind of photography. Lasers emit pretty powerful and sharp light beams which are quite effective in light painting. Lasers may be useful here but they are dangerous too. A laser should never be pointed at someone’s eyes. When you are using a laser to make the light painting, make sure that your model keeps his/her eyes closed all the time. Light swords are also cheap colorful objects that are readily available in markets. These emit different colors of light. The light sword is actually an inexpensive way to try out a light painting. Make sure that you carry a lot of tapes. Tapes will often help you out of unwanted situations. The 3 different types of tapes are the Gaffers tape, Gorilla tape, and duct tape. There are several other accessories that are suitable for this genre of photography like poi balls and lightsabers.


Light painting is one of the most creative genres of photography since hand painting is also somewhat involved in this. There can be two ways to do light paintings. You can move the camera with a slow shutter speed in order to make a painting or else you can have the camera stationed at one place and make the light painting before the camera. Either way, a light painting is made. Make use of the mentioned tools and accessories and you can benefit a lot while you are out there for the light painting!

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