Drawing with Light: Creative Techniques for Spectacular Photographs

Drawing with Light: Creative Techniques for Spectacular Photographs

Drawing with Light: Creative Techniques for Spectacular Photographs


Shooting after sunset gives us many creative opportunities that are not possible during the day. Long shutter speeds, various coloured light sources and darker skies make it easier to create images with a difference. One style that can be very spectacular is called “Light Drawing”.

Optional equipment:

A remote shutter release

Off camera lighting gear (flash, torch, car headlights etc )

Assistant (to make things easier)

Dark clothing is advised so as not to be visible in the image.

Choose a dark location so that the ambient light will not affect the image.

Wait until it is dark enough so that your background doesn’t show or just shows slightly if that is what you want.

Aperture:   When experimenting with a new technique use f8 so it’s easy to remember next time.

Shutter speed:   Use whatever speed that suits the purpose to give you an accurate exposure.

Night photography is very forgiving of exposure error. The difference between 5 seconds and 20 seconds is often not noticeable.

We need to be careful that the ambient light is not affecting the sharpness of our model’s image.

ISO: Because we are using a tripod and the shutter speeds are long anyway….we may as well use 100iso for best quality.

White Balance: The colours of our flash and led’s will record better with a “Flash” or “Daylight” white balance but “Auto” white balance should also be ok.

Metering:   Your camera’s light meter is not very effective when metering night scenes. Check your image on the screen and consult your histogram. You will have some burned out highlights ( street lights etc ) Don’t worry ….this can’t be helped. Just make sure that most of your brighter areas are exposed correctly. Many of the darker areas will disappear out of sight. Again don’t worry, this will simplify your composition and the shadow areas may be brought back in Photoshop if you like.

Use manual focus or back button focus and switch off any image stabilisers.

Light drawing with a model

We will use flash to light our model so she is well exposed and sharp in the image. Our flash will fire at the beginning of our 10 second shutter opening then we can draw with light for the remainder of the exposure.

Extending our shutter speed to 20 seconds allows more time for light painting without affecting our exposure on the model.