Single exposure light painting, Model: Hans Roufflair



Many light painters, especially beginners, often find it difficult to illuminate the light painting scene effectively. With the right equipment and a few tricks of the trade, you too can succeed in cleanly illuminating a large lost place or landscape after some practice. In this tutorial, I will give you some tips on creative work with moving light and introduce you to suitable torches. Although this tutorial is primarily aimed at beginners, there is certainly still something to learn for the old hand as well.

First of all, remote-controlled pool torches or similar low-power light sources are completely unsuitable for effective, clean illumination of the location. This technique only works in combination with the so-called “live composite” of the Olympus cameras. In a single exposure, static lighting with such weak light sources does not work satisfactorily. Only to set small coloured accents can such torches be used. Nevertheless, I don’t like to take a lot of unnecessary luggage with me. For the illumination of the cover picture I used two torches, which I could carry in my pocket.

The term light painting describes the extensive use of light to make rooms, objects, landscapes or even people that exist in reality visible to the camera’s sensor through targeted illumination. The drawing of light traces is called light drawing or also light writing, light graffiti or light calligraphy. The actual generic term for all work with choreographed light in photography, “light art photography” is hardly ever used. The term “light painting” has become established as a kind of generic term, although this actually describes only part of the creative work of light painting artists.


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Benro TMA48CXL mit Markierung aus nachleuchtendem Material

  • Tripod to avoid camera shake during exposure. Good light painting photography is hardly possible without a stable camera. We often work with exposure times of several minutes.
  • Camera with the possibility to control exposure times longer than 30 seconds (“bulb” or “time” mode).
  • Lens. For most light painting pictures we use focal lengths between 12mm and 35mm (35mm format).
  • Remote shutter release. To avoid having to hold the shutter release button down for several minutes in “bulb” mode, a lockable remote shutter release is necessary.
  • Lens cover. To be able to cover the lens during exposure, you need an opaque, dark cap. With this technique it is possible to avoid unwanted light traces.


  • Exposure mode manual “M”. Aperture and exposure time are set by hand.
  • Autofocus “Off” or “M”. The autofocus does not work (reliably) in the dark. Manual focus with “live view” is used. 
  • Recording format “RAW” or “RAW + JPEG”. Especially in difficult light situations, you can achieve better results in image processing from the uncompressed RAW image than from the compressed JPEG image.
  • All other automatic functions of the camera are switched off.
  • ISO should be set to the lowest native value (100 or 200) to keep the image noise low.
  • The aperture should first be chosen according to creative considerations (depth of field). In most Light Painting photographs I choose an aperture between 5.6 and 11. It is advisable to work exclusively with whole f-stops (2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22).
  • The exposure time is usually not preselected. Exposure is continued until the light painting is finished.

Nikon, D750, D300


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  • Flooder with high luminous flux for uniform illumination of large areas. Recommended here are the Emisar D18 (fourth from the left in the picture). and the smaller Emisar D4V2 (next to it on the right).
  • Torches with a focus system are only suitable for illumination to a limited extent. Most of these torches, like the Led Lenser X21R (above in the picture), on the one hand reduce the brightness after a short time and on the other hand the light cone is not very homogeneous. The only really good focus torch is the Fenix FD65 (second from the left in the picture), which is unfortunately no longer available.
  • EDC torches are usually good for illuminating smaller areas. They illuminate a fairly narrow area with high brightness and a larger area around the bright spot in the middle with lower brightness.
    Throwers with a small beam angle and thus a large range for targeted illumination of distant areas. (Noctigon DM11, fourth from the right, green housing).
  • When choosing the right torch, you should also look for easy operation and as many brightness levels as possible or, even better, infinitely variable brightness control (ramping). The Emisar torches in the picture can be regulated either continuously or in 10 steps.


  • Colour filters made of acrylic. These are more heat-resistant than foils.
  • Colour filter foil. Only heat-resistant spotlight foil is suitable. On high-power torches such as the Fenix LR35R (10,000 lumens, third in the picture above) or the Emisar D18 (also 10,000 lumens), even spotlight foil burns within a few seconds. When using foil to illuminate the Light Painting Kullisse, be sure not to operate the torch at its highest setting.
  • Torches with coloured LEDs. The simplest and “cleanest” option for illuminating with coloured light. Convoy S2+ are available with different emitters, such as red, orange, blue, light blue, green and purple. Various LEDs are used, such as Osram, Cree or Luminus. These torches are available in the “Convoy Flashlight Store” at AliExpress.

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Single exposure light painting photography


With this technique, the light painting scene is illuminated directly with one or more torches. In the picture above, as you can see, I illuminated the pyramid directly from the front with the Emisar D4K. I stayed as still as possible, I just moved my hand with the torch in a circle to illuminate the whole pyramid evenly. In the second step, I then walked to the trees on the left and right and illuminated them from a short distance. In the last step I lit the foreground with low brightness so that it would not be completely black. The ISO value of the Nikon D750 was at 50. The aperture ring on the Laowa 12mm lens was set to 5.6. The torch was set to about 2000 lumens. The exposure time was 147 seconds. I illuminated the pyramid from the front for about 20 seconds.

This technique requires some practice and above all concentration during the light painting. The movements with the torch must be carried out evenly. Each area to be illuminated should be painted with the same amount of light. It is advisable to work slowly and deliberately and not to wave the torch around wildly.

In most cases, as a light painter, you will not want to shine the light on yourself, as in the picture above. To avoid being visible in front of the camera while working with the torch, it is essential to wear dark clothing without reflectors. In addition, it is important to always keep moving and to light away shadows that you have created while lighting the scene. To do this, illuminate the shadows from a different position. It is essential to make sure that the light source itself is not visible. The simplest variant is to always stay between the camera and the torch with your own body. If this is not possible in some places, the helper covers the lens. Then move to the next position. When the torch is covered again by your own body, the helper covers the lens again. Alternatively, you could of course switch the torch off and on again, but in most locations it is not a good idea to walk around in complete darkness. The danger of falling is often quite high.

First of all, you should always assess the refraction properties of the different materials at the shooting location. Bright parts of the picture with high reflection will be illuminated for a shorter time than dark parts. In many cases, only test shots can help to assess this. Especially when working with coloured light, this can hardly be judged with the naked eye. The camera sensor, for example, is much more excited by red light than by white light. Even if the red light appears very weak to the Light Painter, the camera “sees” it much brighter.

Lighting from a position behind the camera does not produce good results in the vast majority of cases. The whole scene looks flat, the light painting photography has no depth. In the cover picture of this article, I first shone the light behind our model Hans in the direction of the camera. The torch was covered by the model and is therefore not visible. In the second step, I brightened the scene a little from the front.


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Electricity – Single exposure light painting


When illuminating bright, highly reflective parts in the picture, it is advisable to illuminate them indirectly. If I had illuminated the light grey switch cabinets directly with blue light, the result would certainly not have been nearly as good. Here I have illuminated the foreground indirectly via the floor, the opposite wall and the ceiling. As you can see from the shadows on the far left, most of the light comes through the floor to the control cabinets. In many cases, however, it is advisable to integrate additional steps for illumination into the picture. In the picture above, a torch was placed in the control cabinet. I illuminated the areas in front of and behind the switchboard on the right-hand side with light blue and warm white light in the direction of the camera. In addition, the streetlights illuminate the scene through the large windows of the room from the right and left. The entire illumination is thus very complex. As a beginner, you should first implement simpler variations and learn from your mistakes before combining several techniques for illumination.

If there is no bright wall, ceiling or floor at the shooting location, indirect illumination can be achieved with a large folding reflector. This is illuminated with the torch and then aligned in such a way that it illuminates the scene, or only parts of it, cleanly and evenly. This method has some advantages. You can change the direction from which the indirect light hits the scene, and you can of course move the reflector and the torch to different positions. So there are hardly any limits to creativity in lighting the scene. Especially in the combination of several techniques, there are endless possibilities to present the light painting scene in an exciting way.

I hope my tips and tricks are helpful for you. The theme of the next contribution is painting traces of light.
Good light all the time


Sven Gerard

Sven Gerard, Jahrgang 1969, geboren und aufgewachsen in Berlin. Er fotografiert seit frühester Jugend mit großer Leidenschaft. Neben dem fotografischen Erkunden zahlreicher beeindruckender verlassener Orte, widmet er sich seit mittlerweile 10 Jahren intensiv dem Lightpainting. Sein umfangreiches Wissen teilt er auf seinem Blog „“, weiteren Publikationen und in seinen Workshops. Darüber hinaus organisiert er Veranstaltungen zum Thema Lightpainting, wie „Light Up Berlin“. Gerard lebt gemeinsam mit seiner Lebensgefährtin in Berlin und hat einen erwachsenen Sohn. Sven Gerard was born in 1969 and grew up in Berlin. He has been a passionate photographer since his early youth. In addition to photographically exploring numerous impressive abandoned places, he has been intensively involved in light painting for 10 years now. He shares his extensive knowledge on his blog ‘’, other publications and in his workshops. He also organises events on the subject of light painting, such as ‘Light Up Berlin’. Gerard lives in Berlin with his partner and has a grown-up son.

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