Light Painting Brightens Art World

It looks easy.  You switch out the lights, squiggle a few lines, and there’s your painting, right?  Anyone could do it.

While technically yes, anyone can have a go, including children, to get some of the complex and imaginative pieces you see, a little bit more technical skill is required.  But after all, practice makes perfect, so find instructions on how to make your own light art below, plus some amazing artists to help you get inspired.

Light Painting

Michael Bosanko


What is it?

Light Painting is an art form that uses light as a paint brush, and a camera lens as a canvas.  Although it has been around for a hundred years, there has been a recent boom in popularity for the technique.  Some reasons for this might be the accessibility of long-exposure cameras, new lights such as LEDs becoming more versatile, and the increase in exposure from social media such as Instagram and Pinterest.

How do you do it?

Equipment needed:

  • A camera that can do long-exposures (nowadays most digital cameras can do this)
  • A Tripod (so you can keep the image stable)
  • A Light  source (LED torches and hand-held lights are popular)
  • A dark location


1) Set the exposure to a long value- if you are unsure how to do this either check in your camera’s manual, or google your camera’s model to find out.  The average, longest exposure for amateur light painters is normally 30 seconds, which sounds like no time, but is in fact longer than you think.

2) Make sure you are dressed in dark clothes- if you are wearing bright colours and the light shines on you, you will appear in the photo.  Wearing dark colours can help minimise this problem.

3) Turn off the lights- if you are indoors, make the room as dark as possible, but you still need to see your camera to take the photo (unless you have a friend willing to hep).  If you are outside try and find as dark a location as possible, with no other interference such as cars driving past, maybe with some good ambient lighting.

4) Make the click and begin to paint!- the slower you paint, the more lit the section will be, but try not to linger too long on one section.  Also try and remember where  you’ve painted before, although this can only be perfected with practice!

5) When the shutter closes, your free to move, turn on the lights, and see your creation!


Mina Mikhael and Matthew Barhoma


Past Light Painters 

So you might think of this as a fairly new phenomenon with our advanced tech, but in fact, the first evidence of light exposure being used was in 1889, and it wasn’t even meant to be art!  So how did this develop into what we now know as light painting?

1889- Étienne-Jules Marey and Georges Demenÿ

– Both Marey and Demenÿ are regarded as being instrumental in the development of photography and cinema, and were the first to create a ‘light painting’.  Called ‘Pathological Walk from in Front’, incandescent bulbs were attached to Demenÿ’s joints and this was the result.


1914- Frank and Lillian Gilbreth-

-They were employed in industry to improve efficiency and so used small lights attached to clerical workers to track their movements.  This created what would now be called a light painting.


1935- Man Ray-

-Visual artist Man Ray tried many modes of art, and in his series ‘Space Writing’ he explored light painting.  The photographs were self portraits and a small penlight was used to create swirls and lines.  It was thought these were just random until 2009 when photographer Ellen Carfey held up a mirror to the photos and discovered that it was Man Ray’s signature.


The original on the left, and the image flipped and signature outlined on the right


1930s and 40s- Gjon Mili-

-In 1945, Albanian photographer Gjon Mili attached lights to ice-skaters skates during a workout, and captured their movements.  Mili worked for Life Magazine until his death in 1984, and was the one that introduced Picasso, and Henri Matisse to the art of light painting in 1949.


Ice Skater Carol Lynne, photographed by Gjon Mili


Picasso light painting


1949- Andreas Feininger-

-A famous photographer, Feininger had the idea of taking long-exposure shots of amusement rides which already had bulbs attached, as well as images of a helicopter’s assent and descent.


1976- Eric Staller- 

-Often called the father of light graffiti or light drawing, Staller took light painting to the streets of New York to create these distinct images.  He started off using sparklers, and has been developing his art ever since.


1977- Dean Chamberlain-

-Combining both light art and music, Chamberlin created many light painting photographs for album covers, and makes light paintings which take weeks to capture.


Timothy Leary photographed by Dean Chamberlain


1980s- Vicki Da Silva-

-A light painter and graffiti artist, she was the first to use four foot eight fluorescent tubes to create her work.  She can be found on her YouTube channel, still creating and has even had her work featured on the billboards in Time’s Square in New York.


Present Artists 

Today, there are so many amazing artists doing fascinating things with light painting, with some dedicating their whole body’s of work to it.  It would be impossible to share all of our favourites, so here’s just a few to spark your creativity.

  • DariusTwin (Darren Pearson)-


  • Jason D. Page-


  • Patrick Rochen-


  • Michael Ross-


  • Roomba Art-

Sometimes your favourite artist doesn’t need to be human- this was created by attaching LED lights to a Roomba


Future? Space Light Art! 

Light art is not simply confined to Earth either.  Some astronauts have taken the form further into the solar system to create these amazing designs:


‘Spiral Top’ by Koichi Wakata, 2009, JAXA (Japanese Space Agency)



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