Light Painting with an LED Flashlight

| January 3, 2011
led light painting

Light painting with a five-LED flashlight

This image was lit entirely with a $3.00 LED flashlight from Wal-Mart. Please consider this an experiment and not the pinnacle light painting for now. I will need more practice and experimentation before I can claim that. The results achieved during my 30-minute session, however, warrant further investigation!

The process is as it sounds. You basically “paint” light on areas you want to expose. For this experiment, I grabbed a padded bench, a vase, and a $3.00 LED flashlight from Wal-Mart. I then went into a completely dark room and set the scene up. The bench was about three feet from the background wall and the camera was about five feet from the vase.

I used the following steps to achieve the results in this shot:

  1. Put the camera on a tripod. You are going to keep the shutter open so keeping the camera still for the duration of the shot is critical.
  2. Although not required, use a remote shutter release if you have one. That way you will not have to touch the camera to hold the shutter open.
  3. Focus the shot with the room light on. I used the autofocus (AF) on my lens to focus the shot then turned AF off. This way, when you turn the light off to paint your shot, the camera will not endlessly try to focus with without light in the room.
  4. Set the camera to its “Bulb” setting. When the shutter button is pressed, this setting will keep the shutter open as long as you hold down the shutter release button.
  5. Pick an aperture and ISO setting. Just experiment here. I wanted low noise so I picked ISO 100. To lengthen to time I had to paint, I used an aperture setting of f/16. The lower the ISO and higher the f-stop the more time you will have to “paint.”
  6. Grab or buy an LED flashlight. Wal-Mart has a bunch in the camping section. Some have more LEDs than others. Mine had five LEDs that were on all at once. That is why my light streaks have multiple lines. Buy a few configurations and knock your socks off trying them out!
  7. In complete darkness, have a friend open the shutter and keep it open until you are done.
  8. Start painting! For this shot, I turned the flashlight on and painted the vase with it. I just went up and down from the top of the vase to the bottom as if I was brushing paint. To make the right side of the vase brighter, I just spent more time painting on that side. You will have to experiment with several shots to get the timing right. Once you get a good result, write down how much time you spent painting the vase in case you want to replicate the results for multiple shots.
  9. After the vase was done…remembering the shutter is still open at this point…I turned the flashlight directly to the lens and made a few swirl patterns behind the vase. I moved pretty quickly because the bright light will blow out the exposure pretty fast.
  10. As long as you keep your arm and hand moving through the scene during the painting process they will not show up in the exposure. Pretty cool huh? Oh, and remember not to park any part yourself in front of the lens. If you do you will become  part of your lovely picture or block something in your scene.
  11. Once you are done painting, turn off the light and have your friend let go of the shutter button so it closes.
  12. Now sit back and bask in the glory of your results.

In total, I spent about 40 seconds on the vase and 10 to 12 seconds on the background swirls. The possibilities are endless. You could paint the vase with colored LEDs and paint the background with white LEDs for instance. My next task is to set up a full blown still life and go to town!

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Category: Photography

Comments (4)

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  1. AutumnLeaves says:

    Lee, your December challenge photo was fabulous, as were each of the artists’ submissions. I hope to participate in your next challenge as I am back in a home and have my studio pretty well set up (though I find I need a new drafting table). I am in need of doing something and this will be a wonderful vehicle for me! I look forward to getting back to my daily reading of blogs too.

  2. Jean Nelson says:

    Your light painting is so cool. I remember learning how to do this when I took photography, but never used the idea since. The ribbons of light behind your blue/purple pitcher is intriguing and I like the way they are reflected in it. Fun experiment. Nice photo.

  3. Lee says:

    Hi Sherry. Good to hear from you. Can’t wait for you to be able to participate again.

    Jean, thanks as always for your comment. The possibilities are endless. Different lights produce different results!

  4. Really cool and what fun for a dark evening! Thanks for the intro, I’m going to get light painting straight away!