Chelsea Marie Photography | How-To :: Long Exposure Light Painting

How-To :: Long Exposure Light Painting

January 05, 2013  •  1 Comment

If you're a fan of my Facebook page, you have probably seen the last photo of my '366 Days' Project that I did in 2012. If not, please visit my Facebook page HERE. I wanted to do something REALLY special for my final photo of the year! So of course *sparklers* was my first thought! You can't have a grand finale without some flare... It's only obvious right!? ;) Planning, several attempts, and group effort went into the making of this photo, but it's actually pretty easy to do. So I'm going to tell you just how I did it!


Things You'll Need

  • DSLR camera & some knowledge on how to use it
  • Tripod or hard, flat surface if you're improvising
  • Wireless remote shutter release or self-timer setting
  • Sparklers, flashlights, cell phones, or anything else that emits light
  • The photographer and at least one other person
  • Safe location (please do not set anything on fire)
  • Non reflective clothing


The Set-Up

Night! You need darkness in order to imitate this image. Find a large, safe, open area for the set-up of this photo. In this case, we were in the middle of a culd-de-sac. Pay close attention to the surrounding area; whether there are houses, street lights, or nothing. The background depends on personal preference, but keep in mind that your camera will be set to pick up on any light source. Also, pay close attention to the type of clothing everyone is wearing. Make sure you wear clothing that is non-reflective so that the light source isn't reflecting off your outfits. (It is not necessary to wear black, but you can if you want to feel like a badass light ninja). Proceed to set up your camera and tripod an appropriate distance from where your subject will be. We don't want to risk any stray sparks hitting the camera! Usually when I'm doing long exposure shots, I just use my 18-55mm kit lens. But in this case, I used my 50mm 1.8 so I could have my camera farther away from where we were positioned with the sparklers, without having to zoom in to get the correct composition that I wanted. Once you have everything in place, you are ready to adjust the settings on your camera...


Your Camera Settings

You will need to be using 'M' (Manual Mode) on your camera. Once you're in Manual, you will have full control over the settings. First, set your ISO to 100. You will not need your ISO any higher than that because we will be using other settings to capture the light. High ISO will also cause a lot of grain and noise in the photos, which we don't want. Next, set your aperture (f/stop) to about 3.2. This seems to be a good median... You do not need your f/stop very large because you will be using a long exposure time to soak up any light. But you also do not want you f/stop small because you don't want to have a suuuupppperrrrr long exposure time to compensate. Finally, set your shutter speed to around 10 seconds. Your settings may vary depending on the light source you're using and the lights in the surrounding area. When doing this specific photo, we determined that it took around 10 seconds to make a complete spiral around us with the sparkler.


What I Did

Now, depending on whether or not you (the photographer) plan on being in this photo, the following may or may not apply to you...

I had myself (the photographer), my fiance, and his dad with me, in order to create this photo. His dad is the one running around us with the sparkler and deserves a BIG pat on the back for being such a good sport and putting up with his future daughter-in-law/crazy-obsessive photographer! Since I had no idea where to find sparklers when it was nowhere near the 4th of July, I went ahead and ordered them online a week before I took this photo. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, so I was planning for this photo ahead of time. Once I had gathered all my supplies, found a good location, and adjusted my camera settings... We were ready to start shooting!

I did a few test shots with just my fiance and his dad waving around their lit sparklers, so I could make sure I had the correct settings and could focus where I wanted us to stand in the photo. After I felt comfortable with the set-up and my settings, I asked Steve (my fiance's dad) to light his sparkler, I set the self-timer to take 5 photos, each with an exposure of 10 seconds. (We determined that the sparklers we had lasted about 1 minute). I then ran over to where my fiance was standing and kissed him for a minute straight while Steve ran around us with his lit sparkler, starting low and moving up in a spiral formation as he went around (then vice versa and repeating until the sparkler went out). We managed to keep a safe distance between us and the sparkler, while still having it close enough to achieve the look I wanted. My fiance and I had to stand VERY still! When doing long exposure photos, the camera will only capture stationary objects and light. Any small movement, and the subject will be blurry or not show up at all. This is why you can't see Steve in the photo; just his sparkler trail. Cool huh!? It took us all about 5 attempts (25 total photos) in order to get everything perfect! After we got the perfect shot, we packed up and went home (making sure to take our used sparklers with us). I did a little editing in Lightroom 4 and viola! You have a finished product! All the planning and effort was totally worth it!


Good luck! And happy light painting! :)


Christina Z Photography(non-registered)
Thank you! :) Your photo is beautiful & you 366 is inspiring! Keep up the wonderful work!
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