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Quick Tip: Show Your Valentine Love with Light Painting

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Valentine's Day is soon upon us, and we all know that loved ones like to receive homemade gifts. Here's a simple but fun idea that's perfect for creating a gift, and you'll learn a new photographic technique along the way!

Getting started

The basics of light painting are easy to grasp. Once you have the correct settings selected, you can have a lot of fun with waving torches around! All you need is a dark place, your garden, a closed room or even on the street will be fine.

Try to avoid any rogue light sources, such as street lights, that may detract from your image. You'll need a light source to paint with, such as a torch, flashlight, glowstick or a bike light. Even a torch app on a smart phone can work quite nicely. Using a selection of coloured lights can also create some really nice affects.

Camera equipment

You'll need a few pieces of equipment before you get started including a camera that has variable shutter speed or a bulb setting. All DSLR's will have this feature and some compact or bridge cameras will as well, although you may have to go searching through the menus to find them. You'll also need a tripod or something to rest your camera upon. Sometimes using a small beanbag can be useful to help keep your camera steady.

It's also useful to have a remote shutter release. Without one, it's still possible to gain the desired exposure. This just be sure to make your exposure long enough to walk into the scene and back out again.

Be careful that you're actually working within the frame, it's good to take note of the surroundings, or better, just mark the floor with tape. Alternatively, get a friend to control the camera, whilst you paint the light.

Photo by ash-brown

Settings and using bulb mode

The best option for light painting is bulb setting, which is usually found when in manual mode. Simply scroll all the way through the shutter speed options and at the end of the options (usually just after 30 seconds), you'll find Bulb. The functionality of bulb varies depending upon the manufacturer, so you may either need to hold down the shutter button for the duration of the exposure, or depress the shutter button to begin the exposure and then depress the button for a second time to end the exposure.

As far as exposure settings are concerned, it's a good idea to have a nice tight aperture, something between f11 and f16, as you're relying on the shutter speed to let enough light in and will provide a deep depth of field to ensure that everything is in focus.

You can also select a low ISO such as 100, as again, you're relying on the shutter speed for light. Focusing will be tricky due to the lack of light and your autofocus may struggle, so manual focus is usually a good choice.

Photo by louish


For this Valentine's project, there's are a whole variety of subject matter to choose from. You could try drawing a heart, for which it's best to use two similar torches and draw a half with each to get the shape nice and even.

You could also write a message with lettering, something along the lines of ‘I Love You' would be suitable or if you're feeling adventurous ‘Will You Be My Valentine?'. It's essential to remember that you'll need to write the letters backwards, starting from right and going left. This isn't as difficult as it sounds, just visualize the shapes you need and make sure you leave plenty of space between letters by taking a sideways step after painting each one.

Photo by montaleast13

Step 5 - Now It's Your Turn!

So now it's over to you to give it a try! Start out with an easy shape and progress from there. Once you've capture the shot you want, consider making it into a print or a card for your partner or alternatively you could email it or send it within a picture message, whichever format you think your partner will appreciate most!

As far as other light painting projects go, there really aren't any limits on what you could try, so get creative! You could try including other people or even have a group of you painting complex patterns within a frame or try using props or buildings in your shots. When done well, you can create some really eye catching images. The more practice you get, the better you'll get. Remember, you can be as inventive as you like!

Photo by ngmmemuda
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