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What Is Light Painting?

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  • Written By: B. Koch
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 19 August 2016
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Light painting is done by creating a design on a photographic image with a source of light. To accomplish this, a light source, a camera, and a tripod are the three most essential tools. To successfully create an image, the artist must consider the shutter speed and the aperture opening on a camera.

These types of paintings are easily recognizable. Light painting features photographic images with designs that appear to be coming from a light source. They are created by using light sources to "paint" a picture onto an image. The compositions may be on a dark or black background, or they may be features on top of a visible background. Some times these images are called light graffiti, as the results sometimes resemble the graffiti found on walls or buildings.

A variety of results are produced by light painting. Sometimes artists use a light as a paintbrush to make designs or words. They may also choose to capture a real life subject in their image and use the light source to draw around it. Artists may also use light painting more subtly, such as to emphasize an otherwise dim object.

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In order to practice light painting, a number of supplies are required. A camera with an easily adjustable shutter speed and aperture is required. This camera may be a film camera or a digital camera. A tripod is also needed to keep the camera still so the image does not turn out blurry. Light painting must take place in a dark environment, and a light source such as a flashlight is needed to paint with.

To paint with light, the camera needs to have the right settings in order to capture the light as well as the image. The shutter speed of a camera refers to the amount of time the film, or digital image, is exposed to light. In the case of light painting, the shutter speed should be very slow, meaning the shutter will be open for longer than normal. This is important to give the artist time to work.

The aperture, also known as the f stop, is another setting to consider. The aperture controls the amount of light that is allowed to enter the camera. The aperture used in light painting will depend of the type of environment and the strength of light used. In a very dark environment with a dim or moderate strength light, a large aperture is needed in order to let enough light in to expose the film. In an area where there is some background light, a smaller aperture may be needed in order to block some of the environmental light out so that the film does not become over exposed.

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