Light painting - abstractions in the air or a work technique?

Light painting - abstractions in the air or a work technique?

Unleash your creativity with Godox!

Taking pictures at long exposure times allows photographers to create unique effects on the scenes they capture. However, there is a technique that makes the images achieved with it completely unique, and the final result seems almost unreal. This is light painting - it involves capturing the traces left behind by a moving light, such as when photographing cars on a longer exposure at night, resulting in the smudges of their lights captured in the photos. The difference, however, is that it is not the cars that are the source of the light, but the lamp or tube you hold in your hand. Instead of simply capturing the image in its usual form, you can add to it by illuminating objects in the frame or creating trails, colors and flashes within it.

Experimenting with light brushes can be undertaken by any photographer, regardless of his or her level of skill. Contrary to appearances, this technique is relatively simple to apply - it only requires basic photographic knowledge and a little skill in moving the light source. With its help, you will be able to outline letters, drawings, abstract shapes or even advanced compositions on the photo using even a simple flashlight. It's the perfect recipe for creative and unique photos that will leave everyone in awe.

light painting Godox LED
Mahda Doglek / Unsplash

In what types of photography does it work?

Each of us has certainly seen pictures in our lives, whose photographers have used light to create letters, hearts or other simple patterns painted in the air. However, this is just one of the many uses of this technique - in addition to great fun, it offers the possibility of achieving unique effects in almost any field of photography. In recent years, it is very often used by automotive photographers - thanks to it, they do not need several lamps to illuminate the entire car or motorcycle, as they are able to achieve great results with a single light source. Similar procedures are also used in product and landscape photography.

Godox cars light painting LED RGB Godox cars light painting LED RGB
Mike Boldt / @mikeboldtphoto Benjamin Bagwell / @benjaminbagwell

Light painting is also a great attraction for weddings and bridal sessions - it's great to decorate the entire reportage with some striking photos with special effects, such as a few hearts drawn on the photo during a long exposure. This technique can also be used to take creative portraits of wedding guests, including children, for whom it is also sure to be fantastic fun. A streak of self-painted light can also be used in portrait or fashion photography. It doesn't matter what the exact theme of the photo shoot is - with the creative use of constant light, it is sure to be memorable for both its participants and viewers.

Godox light painting LED RGB portrait Godox light painting LED RGB portrait
Robert Hall  / @robhallphoto

What equipment do you need?

Painting with light fortunately does not require the use of expensive cameras and specialized accessories. After all, it's not a modern technique at all - it was already used in the last century by Pablo Picasso, among others, creating luminous images on photographic film with the help of a small flashlight. Nowadays, however, we have much more advanced equipment with which you can make not only similar, but even more advanced works!

To begin your adventure in painting with light, you will need:

  • A camera that allows you to set a long exposure time.
  • A sturdy tripod that will keep the camera steady throughout the picture taking process. Remember that any slightest movement will be visible in the photo!
  • Any kind of light source which will allow us to paint our masterpiece. Godox LED tube lights, light sticks and panels are especially recommended – there’s lots of possibilities!

In many tutorials on light painting, the topic of remote control for the camera also comes up. These accessories make the work much easier and improve the shooting experience when you want to stand on both sides of the lens, but they are not essential - setting the self-timer with a few seconds of time will work just as well. Many camera models nowadays are also equipped with a WiFi module, so that their shutter can also be triggered using a smartphone with an appropriate app.

Godox tube stick RGB colors LED light painting


As with any other field of photography, equipment alone is not enough - to get stunning photos, you also need to prepare properly for taking them. First of all, you should think about choosing a suitable place. Initial attempts with this technique can be carried out late at night in one of the rooms in your own home, but on warmer days it is advisable to head outdoors to ensure adequate freedom of movement while painting.

Also, remember to make sure you have an adequate supply of batteries for your camera to ensure you have enough time to rehearse and take a proper photo. When shooting long exposures, batteries can drain especially quickly, and the lower temperatures in the early morning or late at night unfortunately further help with this. If you don't want to be seen in the photos, wear dark and uniform clothing.

Lamp in hand - and get to work!

To take successful photos of luminous abstractions, it will be necessary to set the appropriate parameters on the camera. Extremely useful for this will be the knowledge of the exposure triangle, but it is not essential - the appropriate values can also be selected by trial and error, operating only exposure time and aperture. To make the task a little easier, the ISO parameter can be set to a low value (e.g. 100) and left unchanged throughout the session.

Exposure time, however, is a parameter that should be prioritized. It depends primarily on what you plan to create in the photo - choose it in such a way that you can paint the right shape or walk with the flash through the frame with confidence. Simple shots can be taken in a few seconds or so, but for more complex compositions you will need more time - from 20 seconds upwards. In such cases it will be necessary to use the BULB (B) mode, in which the exposure lasts as long as the photographer decides. It's also important to get a good feel for where and how long you can move the flash during an exposure - but this will only come with regular practice.

light painting Godox LED RGB
Bonnie Moreland / StockSnap

To begin with, you can start with simple shots and patterns - circles, curves or straight lines will be perfect for your first attempts with this technique. The real fun, however, will begin only when you become more proficient in operating the parameters of the photo and moving the light source, so that with each successive successful photo you will be able to create more and more complex compositions involving many different lamps. Don't be afraid of dynamic movements, but remember to keep the lamp facing the camera at all times - this way no dark gaps will be created in the light drawing. Your first photos may, of course, come out overburnt or underexposed, and it can sometimes take a long while to set the right parameters, but don't be discouraged after your first attempts - a little patience will eventually lead you to stunning results in your photos.

Which light to choose for light painting?

When facing the choice of your own "brush" for painting with light, it is worth bearing in mind that in this field of photography you can use literally any lamp. The choice is infinite, and it is for this reason that it is worth experimenting with different light sources - each of them can produce different effects, but as a rule, the larger the surface area, the more space in the frame its streak will occupy.

Using a spot light, you will create single lines that are perfect for drawing letters, numbers and simple shapes. The best possible solution for decorating portraits or automotive photos will be larger lights with RGB light, which, unlike ordinary light sources, offer the possibility to paint with different colors, without the need for additional accessories or homemade solutions. LED sticks and tubes will leave a wide beam on the photo, which will bring delight to any person viewing the photo you have taken.

Wirestock / Adobe StockAtiabii / Pexels

Godox tube stick LED RGB light painting Godox light painting

Do you want to start your adventure with light painting from high level and get almost unlimited possibilities of shaping your impressions at the start? Explore our lamp suggestions that will give your photos a new dimension of creativity and expression!

Godox LED tube stick LC500 light painting Godox LED tube stick LC500 RGB light painting

The LC500 LED sticks are light made for light painting - thanks to their comfortable handle and lightweight 60-centimeter design, they provide freedom of movement, and drawing shapes and streaks with their help is extremely easy. The classic version offers a white light - warm or cool, while the RGB model allows for far more freedom and the achievement of luminous stripes of any color. Both lights have practical barndoors, thanks to which you can further narrow the angle of illumination. They are also equipped with a capacious rechargeable battery that can withstand even the longest trials and numerous test exposures.

Godox LED tube stick TL30 RGB light painting Godox LED tube stick TL60 RGB light painting Godox LED tube stick TL120 RGB light painting

Simple, elegant shape and extremely powerful functionality are the two most important features of our LED tubes. These devices come in three sizes - 30, 60 and as much as 120 cm - so you can get stripes of different widths on the photo painted with their help. Each offers both natural and RGB light, as well as a range of pre-programmed special effects that will bring even more creativity to your creative process. Operation of these lights is extremely intuitive, made even easier by the Godox Light App mobile app, with which you can, for example, change the power or color of the light during an exposure.

Godox LED pocket light R1 RGB light painting Godox LED pocket light M1 RGB light painting

These two handy lights offer similar capabilities to the models mentioned above - just like tubes and swords, they emit natural and RGB light. They also did not lack effect modes, which will give you truly unique and varied impressions on your image. Their greatest advantage, however, is that they will even fit into your pants pocket – so you can take them literally anywhere you want. For maximum creative freedom, they can be mounted on any mini-tripod or selfie stick.

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