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Painting with Light

Painting with light is a great technique to know as it opens up so many possibilities for creatively lighting a subject with limited resources.

This a photo that I shot last night of a very interesting cactus, called Queen of the Night. The plant blooms only at night. When it does bloom however, the blossom then dies by morning. The flower is about 6" in diameter and is very Fragrant. The plant itself is a little odd looking but the flower is stunning!

Here are the settings for this particular shot:

Nikon D3X 24-70mm f/2.8 ISO 100 f/11.0 25.0" seconds

This is a Quick Start guide for Painting with Light.


  • Must be done In a completely dark room

  • Dark background work best

  • You will need a flashlight-you will get a better result with a narrow beam.

  • You will need a tripod or someplace to stabilize your camera

  • Cable release or use your self timer will be helpful

Camera Setup:

  • Place camera on a tripod

  • Camera should be in manual ‘focus’...focus on you subject with the lights on.

  • Use M (manual exposure mode)

  • Set f/stop to 5.6-

  • Set shutter speed to 8.0” that’s 8 ‘seconds’ or more

  • ISO to 100

  • White Balance set to ‘auto’


  • Turn off the lights, press the shutter and while the shutter is open for 8 seconds “paint” the light where you would like it to be.

  • This is a highly experimental technique and you do not get the same result every time. You may want to vary your aperture and shutter speed depending on how much light you need on your subject. Making your aperture smaller will allow less light in. The above settings are just suggestions, the idea is to understand how light comes into the camera.

  • Try using different color lights, or filters or fabric to cover the flashlight. You can get really artistic results with this type of lighting.

Happy Shooting!!

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