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How to Create Impressive Light Graffiti

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Related course: Infinite Exposures

Light graffiti is a pretty simple concept. You take a long exposure and use a light source to paint graffiti in the frame. You can do this with a torch, a sparkler, a fire, or even a still light source if you move your camera.

A man in front of a graffiti wall doing light painting
Photo by Luis Quintero from Pexels

 [ExpertPhotography is supported by readers. Product links on ExpertPhotography are referral links. If you use one of these and buy something, we make a little bit of money. Need more info? See how it all works here. —Ed.]

What Is Light Graffiti?

If you’ve read all about light painting, then you’ll have a good understanding of how this works. Basically, when you’re shooting in poor light, your camera’s sensor is a blank canvas. Just like light painting, you use your light source to paint/graffiti on where you want the camera to expose.

'I love you' spelled out in light graffiti
Photo by Bo Stevens from Pexels

Select the Exposure Mode

First, you’re going to want to set your camera to manual mode. This will allow you to make the most out of your shutter speed. Unlike on Shutter Speed Priority mode, you go all the way past 30 seconds on the dial, and you will reach bulb mode.
This means that the camera will expose for as long as you hold down the shutter. I recommend using a cable release for this.

Whenever you’re painting with light, you’re dealing with long exposures. Your shutter speed will depend on how long you need to complete your painting. Then you can then give priority over to Aperture and ISO.

If you’re creating a quite deep photo, then you’re going to need to have a narrow aperture. This allows less light into the camera and will pose other problems for you. The results are long exposures and a high ISO.

Man sitting on a truck with a halo in light graffiti above his head
Photo by Aidan Roof from Pexels

Pay Attention to the Depth of Field

DoF is vital to completing an excellent light graffiti photo. If the picture is out of focus, then it’s going to stand out like a sore thumb (for all the wrong reasons).

Check out my photo below, it’s a cool photo, but it’s out of focus. Focusing in low light is quite hard, so I recommend two options.

One, you can use manual focus. Two, you can shine a light on where you’re going to focus and use automatic mode. Then switch to manual focus so that it doesn’t adjust when you go to take the photo.

A light graffiti portrait around three men

I’ve seen some amazing light painting photos, and you can also google it. A lot of these photos need a good depth of field to work.

When it’s a small and simple light source, it’s not so obvious. But as you are getting more creative, you can start to tell.

As you would all know by now, to produce a deeper depth of field you’re going to have to narrow your aperture when painting with light. This, in turn, will provide your camera with less light for your exposure, so bear that in mind.

Choose a Light Source

My advice is: go crazy with this! I’ve used sparklers, torches, flashlights, fire, LED’s, even my phone. If it makes a light, then you can use it, and why not? I haven’t tried glow sticks yet, but they are perfect tools for creative light photography. They stay bright for ages, come in a variety of colours, are quite cheap too.

If you’re using a torch, be careful not to shine this into the camera. Otherwise, the light source will start to appear uneven.

A light graffiti sail boat

Play a Graffiti Game

I’m not that big on light graffiti, I prefer night photography, but one game I have played is a form of Pictionary. You get together with your friends and draw something with your light source. The rest of the group has to guess. It’s a fun and creative way to spend an evening.

Cool night portrait of a man riding a light graffiti bikeLet’s see your photos! Leave a comment below, or leave a link on the fan page under the correct link, or post it on the wall. If you’re copying straight from Facebook, please remember to copy the image location/URL and not just the link in the address bar.
You can follow the progress of this project on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Want to play with light in other ways? Photoelasticity lets you create amazing rainbow light effects with plastic objects you have around the house.

Examples of Light Graffiti  Photography

Light graffiti photography is one of the topics we cover in our creative photography course, Wow Factor Photography. Below are some of the photos taken by our students.

If you’d like to learn more, check out the course here.

Light graffiti photography by Stuart
Light graffiti photography by Stuart
Light graffiti photography by Chris Mcrobb
Light graffiti photography by Chris Mcrobb
Light graffiti photography by Chris Mcrobb
Light graffiti photography by Chris Mcrobb
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