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Single exposure lightpainting photography. Model: Stepko

Lightpainting – photographic technique or own art form?


Wikipedia on the subject of light painting:

Light Painting or Light Writing (engl. drawing/painting/writing with light) is a photographic technique from long exposure, in which photographs are usually made in darkness or in darkened rooms by moving one (or more) light sources (or by moving the camera).” I suspect this text was written by someone who has never seriously and actively studied this subject himself. The explanation that the result of the work is finally a photograph simply falls short here.

What does Wikipedia say about the term photography?

“-An imaging method,[1] in which optical processes are used to project a light image onto a light-sensitive medium, where it is stored directly and permanently (analog process) or converted into electronic data and stored (digital process).”

Regarding the term artistic photography, Wikipedia knows:

“Artistic photography, photographic art or art photography are applications of photographic means in which a content-related or formal concern is to be expressed (and whose purpose is usually not directly the commercial exploitation).” – So that doesn’t help us here either.

Good. The term photography first describes only the technical aspects of recording, nothing more. So it is a technique, a tool. This tool has the same value in light painting as the blank canvas has for the painter. Would anyone come up with the stupid idea to call a painter a canvas artist and thus give the canvas a meaning that it does not have? I think not. The painter could also paint his pictures on a piece of toilet paper, on an old wall or on whatever.

At this point, we don’t have it so easy in light painting. The technical possibilities available at the moment only allow us to save our art with the help of a camera. Basically, the light painter doesn’t care how and with what his work of art is saved, at least not me. I would also put a toaster on the tripod if it could hold my art.

lightpainting, light painting, light art photography, fotograife
Singel exposure light painting. Models: Stepko & Hans


No more and no less! The painter buys a certain canvas, certainly there are differences in quality there. He stretches it on a frame and begins to paint. No one will thematize this process and the material on which the picture was created when he looks at the finished work of art.

But why does light painting focus so much on the camera, on our blank canvas?

Admittedly, the comparison with the canvas is somewhat misleading. With many cameras I could not take a light painting at all because they simply cannot control long exposure times or the picture would be unusable after 2 minutes exposure due to strong noise. However, this only means that I have to choose my blank canvas better than the painter and spend more money on it. But in return I can use my canvas again and again, and don’t need a new one for every light painting.


lightpainting, light painting, light art photography, fotografie
Single exposure lightpainting. Model: Marla


Often both. In the picture above, we have deliberately chosen the motif, the lighthouse Dornbusch on the island of Hiddensee, for our light painting. So the motif was only photographed by us first and then expanded with the model Marla and our light art. So we painted around in a photo, if you will. But again, the bigger artistic part of the finished result is the light painting and not setting the right aperture on the camera. The only photographic challenge in this image was choosing the right aperture and ISO so that the insanely bright light of the lighthouse doesn’t burn out completely and over a wide area.

lightpainting, light painting, light art photography, fotografie
Single exposure lightpainting.


In contrast, the image on the right is a pure Light Painting or rather Light Drawing, but more about that later.

Here I have taken only lights moved by myself, so the complete image created from nothing. Nothing of the shooting location is visible in the picture. So I could have done this Light Painting at any other place, if it was dark enough. Making the right settings on the camera for this light painting is not a great art, at least not in relation to the effort for the light painting. If I had only triggered the camera with the right settings, that is, photographed!, there would be exactly nothing in this picture. In the picture above, I would have had at least one of what felt like 2 million photos of the lighthouse at night on the sensor.


The question is not so easy to answer. But, do we even have to answer the question? I think not. Light Painting combines photographic techniques, painting with light sources and other techniques and ideas. Light Painting is an art form in its own right, a very diverse one moreover. There is a lot of creativity in the group of light painters. The artistic and technical possibilities in Light Painting are almost unlimited.


Light painting has established itself as a generic term for any art that works with controlled light as the main component of a picture. The result is a picture taken with the help of a mostly digital camera. This term is not correct because it actually describes only one of many techniques. However, there is simply no other suitable, commonly used term.

In the German-speaking world, one sometimes finds terms such as light painting or light art.

Most people know the term Light Painting and usually interpret it correctly.

The following techniques and terms can be found among others in Light Painting:

  • Light Art – describes any graphic art that uses light as its main component. This can be anything from light installations to light painting. Here is not necessarily a photo as a result, if the result is a picture often called Light Art Photography.
  • Light Painting – a person, an object, a room, a landscape or other already existing things are illuminated with mostly moving light in such a way that they can be seen in a special way in the finished picture. In this technique, the lamp itself is usually not visible in the picture.
  • Kinetic (kinetic) or choreographic photography, less commonly called camera painting – here traces of light are painted on the camera’s sensor by movements of the camera during exposure. Usually the light sources are fixed, but this technique is also possible with moving light sources or a combination of both. Probably the most common application of this technique is Camera Rotation Photography, i.e. rotating the camera around its own optical axis.
    Light Drawing, Light Writing and Light Graffiti – in these techniques, light trails from various moving light sources are captured by the camera sensor, so the light source itself is visible in the image.

Jason Page explains further terms on his website:

Many light painters combine several of these techniques in their paintings. Illumination of the room (light painting), creation of a figure out of light (light drawing) and movements of the camera during the exposure are anything but easy to plan and to execute in one exposure, but just this difficulty appeals to some colleagues, and of course to me as you can see in the pictures. 🙂


The Light Painting is taken in a single exposure, i.e. between opening and closing the camera shutter once. The image is considered the finished result as it was saved to the memory card. However, many light painters shoot in RAW format and do minor editing of their images later on the computer. They consider sharpening, denoising, changing the crop and adjusting the white balance to be permissible. Other changes to the image are consistently omitted. Montages, layer work, cloning of parts of the image, strong brightening and similar things are frowned upon.

Most light painters work in a single exposure (SOOC). They see it as a kind of sporting challenge to implement their image idea without tinkering on the computer only with light in one exposure. This way of working is on the one hand a kind of code of honor and on the other hand a sign of quality. For many, this method of working has a much higher artistic value than the creation of light painting on the computer. After all, the painter can not put 5 canvases with the individual image components on top of each other, retouch disturbing parts, brighten, darken or what else the digital magic box gives. Likewise, the painter has no such fun tools as live composite at his disposal. With this technique, the camera processes several individual images internally to create a finished picture. The software in the camera makes sure that no parts of the image are outshined, no matter how careless or unfocused I am with my lights. During the exposure, you can permanently check on the camera display whether you have already sufficiently illuminated all areas with the lamp and then rework if necessary. I often hear from Olympus friends that only the result counts and that it is still real light painting. I don’t want to dictate to anyone how they should work, but for me it is also important how the picture was created. And for me, this technique has a little bit of “paint by numbers”. My vanity forbids me to work with such tools.

Light painters who create their images from several layers in Photoshop or work very excessively are sometimes quite successful, but are not taken seriously by many colleagues. I find it especially difficult when they pretend to have created their images in one exposure, and then submit their image to a competition whose conditions of participation clearly state “one single exposure”.

In this sense I wish you all the time good light


Sven Gerard

Sven Gerard, Jahrgang 1969, geboren und aufgewachsen in Berlin. Er fotografiert seit frĂŒhester 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. DarĂŒber hinaus organisiert er Veranstaltungen zum Thema Lightpainting, wie „Light Up Berlin“. Gerard lebt gemeinsam mit seiner LebensgefĂ€hrtin 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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