Light painting, also known as light drawing or light graffiti, is a photographic technique in which exposures are made usually at night or in a darkened room by moving a hand-held light source or by moving the camera. In many cases the light source itself does not have to appear in the image.

The term light painting also encompasses images lit from outside the frame with hand-held light sources. The first known photographer to use this technique was Man Ray in his series “Space Writing” created in 1935. The photographer Ellen Carey discovered Man Ray’s signature signed by penlight nearly 74 years after the pictures had been taken.

The light can either be used to selectively illuminate parts of the subject or to “paint” a picture by shining it directly into the camera lens. Light painting requires a sufficiently slow shutter speed, usually a second or more. Like night photography, it has grown in popularity since the advent of digital cameras because they allow photographers to see the results of their work immediately.

Flash lights or light pens can also be used to create Full Bleed images. Different colored lights can be used to project an image on the CCD.


A variety of light sources can be used, ranging from simple flashlights to dedicated devices like the Hosemaster, which uses a fiber optic light pen. Other sources of light including candles, matches, lighter flints, glowsticks, and Poi are also popular.

A tripod is usually necessary due to the long exposure times involved. Alternatively, the camera may be placed on or braced against a table or other solid support. A shutter release cable or self timer is generally employed in order to minimize camera shake. Color Gels can also be used to color the light sources.

Manual focus is often used since autofocus systems may not perform well in low light. In addition, photographers often use a slow film speed or low ISO setting on a digital sensor to minimize grain (or digital noise) and increase exposure tolerance, as evaluating exposure is often tricky.

Aperture is also an important variable in light painting. Smaller apertures such as f16 or f22 generate a sharper image and preserve a large depth of field, creating deep focus. This technique requires longer exposure times but creates interesting results. Larger apertures such as f5.6 or f2.8 often blur the lines drawn by a light pen or LED source.