"Light Painting" means to paint a dark scene with light sources while taking a long exposure.
It is a lot of fun, and it allows you to express your creativity in many different ways
that are beyond the limits of normal photography.
A camera that is capable of doing long exposures and manual focus.This means that most point-and-shoot cameras won't work, except for the higher-end models that give you more control over the settings.
Normally an iPhone would not work for light painting, since it is just a point-and-shoot camera with no control over the exposure time or ISO.However there is an app called Lightbomber, designed for light painting, which allows you to manually control the exposure time and sensitivity (ISO). There may also be similar apps for other smartphones.
It is desirable to have a cable release or remote control that can be used to open and close the shutter manually, with the shutter speed set to "bulb".This gives you complete control of the exposure time, and also it frees you up to do light painting yourself without having to hold down the camera shutter button.And also it prevents blurring caused by camera shake, because you aren't touching the camera while taking the shot.
But if you don't have a cable release or remote, just choose a long exposure time, and then put the lens cap on if the light painting is finished before the exposure time runs out.
Either film or digital will work. Film allows you to do very long exposures without accumulating "noise" that digital cameras experience.However, digital allows you to see your results right away in "real time", and then you can redo the shot if it didn't turn out the way you expected.And recent digital cameras have much improved low-light performance with less "noise" than older digital cameras.
A sturdy tripod, or a steady surface to rest your camera.You won't be able to hand-hold your camera long enough to get a steady shot for a light painting exercise.However, in some cases you might want to combine light painting with hand-held camera movement to achieve a creative goal.
A dark location to serve as the "canvas" for your light painting.Anything is possible, however you want to avoid excessive ambient light that can "wash out" the scene when doing a long exposure.You could shoot indoors in a dark room, or outdoors in a park at night, for example. Generally spring and fall are the best times to shoot outdoors, since the days are short and the temperatures are not too warm or too cold.
Light sources to "paint" your scene with. Some commonly used light sources are flashlights, glow sticks, sparklers, and camera flashes.
You may want to add some colour to your flashlight painting. Some flashlights come with clip-on colour filters, and some models come with built-in colour LED's.Or you can buy coloured cellophane and hold it in place with an elastic band.
There are a wide variety of flashlight sizes and intensities, ranging from small LED key-chain lights to big handheld spotlights that have 1 million candlepower or more.Generally, choose a flashlight size and intensity that corresponds to the size of the scene that you want to paint.
Glow sticks come in a variety of colours, however they do not produce a great deal of light, so be aware of that when choosing exposure settings.
Glow sticks using chemicals have been available for a long time, but recently battery-powered glow sticks have become available.
The best sparklers in Prince George are at the Chinese Store, where they have big long sparklers that burn for several minutes.The little sparklers they sell at grocery stores don't burn very long, and even a light outdoor breeze will extinguish them.
When using sparklers, be very careful not to burn yourself, particularly the eyes, and be very careful not to let sparks fly onto your camera lens.
A camera flash can be a useful light-painting source, particularly when used as a handheld device, not attached to your camera.If your flash has a strobe setting, that can be useful in doing some creative effects.
The basic procedure is as follows.But these are not firm rules, so feel free to experiment.
Set up your camera in the desired location, using a sturdy tripod or a steady surface to keep the camera still.
Set your aperture to a medium setting, e.g. F8.You may need to experiment with the aperture if your images turn out too bright or too dim.
Set your exposure time to "bulb" or whatever time you feel will be adequate for creating the image.
Using a light source (e.g. room lights or flashlight or camera flash), adjust your camera so that the composition and focal point are correct.You'll want to use manual focus, since auto-focus probably will not work during a light-painting exercise.
When you are ready -- Open the shutter, do your light painting, then close the shutter.
Additional how-to information:
Use the lowest ISO to get the least amount of noise (digital) or grain (film). However you may need to increase the ISO if your light sources will be too dim or too fast to register.This is something you may need to experiment with.
It's usually a good idea to rehearse light-painting movements before taking the shot, so that your movements are smooth and not clumsy.Rehearsal is particularly important when using film, because you don't want to waste shots.
While doing light painting, be sure that your body doesn't block the path from the light source to the camera.
For digital cameras, keep the exposure time as short as possible, to minimize digital "noise".
The movements you choose for light painting are up to you and your creative purpose.You can use light sources as broad brushes, or you can use them as pens to write fine lines of light.
While doing light painting movements, you'll need to pick a rate of movement that is appropriate for the light source.For example, if you wave around glow sticks too quickly, then they won't register in your image because they are a dim source of light.And if you move too slowly,you'll get a burned-in spot on your image.
When doing light painting with a group, be aware that large groups are less productive than small groups.That's because larger groups take longer to make a decision about what to do, and it takes longer to set up everyone's cameras, etc.
When light painting outdoors in cool weather, be aware that digital camera batteries will drain quickly due to long exposure times, so bring some spare batteries.
Light Painting Suggestions
Painting an object or a person, indoors or outdoors.Use different colours to highlight the contours of the object, or to add imaginary extensions to the object.
Painting a location, using light painting to highlight parts of the scene, along with ambient and/or evening light in the background if desired.
Using film or stacked digital images, you can combine outdoor light painting along with capturing star trails in the background.Ideally a non-urban setting with no light pollution should be used.
Writing graffiti with light.Like regular graffiti, but when you're done there will be no trace except the images in your camera.
Resources on the Web
This is just a small sample of what's available.For further information, do a Google search for light painting. Caution: Some of these sites are very ad-heavy and popup-heavy so you may want to have your popup blocker turned on.