Paint With Light - tyneholm
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Paint With Light

Assignment L44

If you enjoy nighttime photography, but have wondered what to do on cloudy evenings, this is the assignment for you. Painting with light is a technique in which you use a flashlight to subtly shine light on a subject, making it stand out from the rest of the scene, which will be in the relative darkness of the ambient light. 

Painting with light works best if you keep it simple. Find a single subject-perhaps one that is naturally isolated-and paint that object only. Try to avoid over-painting, as your subject can appear too bright, and paint evenly. You probably won’t need to shine the flashlight during the whole exposure, although exactly how long you should paint your subject for will depend on its distance from the light source, its size, and the brightness of your light. Begin by painting for about half the duration of the exposure, review your image, and then reshoot with more or less painting if necessary. 

Most modern flashlights use LED lights, with brightness measured in lumens. There is no one correct brightness for light painting, so anything from 200 to 1,000 lumens could work, depending on subject distance; you just need to adjust how long you paint for. LEDs tend to produce a rather cool light, though, so you may want to use lighting gels to give the light a warmer tint. 

View the images


  • Don’t stand behind the camera-painting from the side will give more modeling to your subject. 
  • Lone trees, rock formations, and abandoned buildings all make great subjects. 
  • Try shooting when there is still a little color in the sky. After the blue hour, but before true darkness, is ideal. 
  • Base your exposure on a meter reading from the sky. 
  • To focus, shine your flashlight onto your subject and focus manually. 
  • If your flashlight is harsh and your subject close, try bouncing the light from a reflector. 

Field Notes

  • Lock your shutter open in Bulb mode for the duration of the exposure and move the flashlight beam slowly and methodically around your subject. 
  • You can break the usual rules of night photography as cloud can add atmosphere to the scene. Light pollution can also benefit some images, by adding a sunset-like glow in the distance. 

Special Kit

  • Flashlight 
  • Tripod 
  • Lighting gel