Painting with Light: A Fun Photography Technique

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Painting with Light: A Fun Photography Technique

PAINTING WITH LIGHT by Martha Bravo Photographer

Photography comes from the greek words “phos” that means light and “graphis” that means writing or painting, so the exact meaning of the word PHOTOGRAPHY is PAINTING or WRITING WITH LIGHT. And that is exactly what we are going to do with this technique.


To create these fun photos you need:

– your camera

– a super dark location or room

– a tripod

– a remote trigger

– a flash (an external one)

– a source of light that in this case was a flashlight

– your subjects

– an assistant if possible

So how you do it?

Well as I mentioned earlier, you need a very dark place, it can be indoors or outdoors but it has to be dark.When we did these photos we were camping in the middle of nowhere. You could barely see the lights on the horizon, but as you see in the photos they were present in our final product Don’t be fooled by a light that you think will not affect your photo, everything will show as we will be using super long exposures.

Set you camera in your tripod, connect the remote trigger. Yes I know what the next question will be, “Do I really need a remote trigger?” The answer is YES. Why? Because when using “bulb” in your camera, the camera stays open during all the time you press your shutter. When you release it the exposure will finish, but you need to be pressing the shutter all the time. With the remote trigger you press once and the shutter stays open until you press it again. That way you don’t need to be touching the camera and you can go away from it and paint while it is exposing!


You have your camera on your tripod with the remote trigger connected. For the settings: set your shutter speed to BULB (that is the longest exposure time possible in all cameras) and you aperture to f22.I know what you are thinking: “Why f22 if it is so dark?When I don’t have enough light I use big apertures, not small ones.” Well, yes, but remember we will be using little light but for a loooooong time, and that is why we use the smallest aperture possible, and that would be f22.

Position your subject in front of the camera and focus. Yes, here comes the next question, How on earth am I going to focus if it is so dark?Well, use the flashlight! Ask someone to illuminate your subject with the flashlight so you can focus. Once you have it in focus, turn off the flashlight and shoot. The shutter will remain open and exposing until you press your remote trigger again.

Now let the fun begin! Your subject has to stand still, really still the whole time (that is the reason why this is hard to do with small kids). Stand BEHIND your subject and start painting with your flashlight. You have to plan before hand what you want to paint. Pose your subject and rehearse your painting or writing. In case you want to write you have to do it backwards so it shows correctly in the final photo!You have to turn on and off the flashlight as you do the different strokes. Remember everything will show so be careful!

This is the hardest part, as you have to go fast, turn on and off the flashlight and paint!Believe me, planning before hand makes things easier! Don’t turn on the flashlight until you are ready to start painting and turn it off before you go back to your camera.

Once you are done with the painting, go back to your camera and fire the flash on your subject. If you have a flash with modeling light use that one for 2 or so secs. If you don’t have a flash with modeling light just fire it using the test button. The purpose of the flash is to illuminate your subject so make sure your are firing it on him/her.

And voila! Finish your exposure by pressing the remote trigger again! The image will take some time before it appears in your cameramonitor so be patient!

As I mentioned earlier, you need a source of light to paint, we used flashlights with different colors but you can use something else like a sparkler, those are awesome when you write with them.

Here are a few examples! All these photos were shot by my friend Ben Dow using a Nikon D200 camera with a 17-55 2.8 lens. Please comment below with any questions you have and also which are your favorites.





If you have any question, I will be more than glad to help. You can contact me

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  1. April 8, 2009 at 9:41 pm —

    What a unique and fun idea. I love the bus one!

  2. Jenny Carroll
    January 25, 2009 at 1:19 pm —

    This is such a fun, fun, fun idea. I am going to try it this evening. But how do you get the light to write in front of your subjects if you have to stand behind them to write? I’m thinking along the lines of the school bus photo. Thank you!

  3. January 24, 2009 at 8:11 am —

    that is insanely fun-looking! I think I like the angel and the bike shots best!

  4. January 22, 2009 at 1:05 pm —

    Martha, you totally rock girl!

  5. January 21, 2009 at 10:17 am —

    thankyou for this info- love the angel pic

  6. January 21, 2009 at 2:19 am —

    the bike shot is totally rad!!

  7. January 20, 2009 at 11:10 pm —

    Thank you for the tip! I think I like the heart photo the best.

  8. January 20, 2009 at 9:53 pm —

    This is really neat! I love the angel one!

  9. January 20, 2009 at 7:40 pm —

    What a fun idea! Can not wait to try it!

  10. January 20, 2009 at 7:28 pm —

    Wow, what a fun technique. These look amazing. Is there pp done to bring out the colour in the light?

  11. January 20, 2009 at 2:00 pm —

    This is awesome, thanks so much. I can’t wait to try it.

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Painting with Light: A Fun Photography Technique