Long exposure happens to be one of my favorite forms of creative photography. Of course I believe that all photography is creative, but long exposure gives you that extra sense of expression. Instead of aiming for the ‘perfect setting’ and the ‘perfect shot’ you are now free to create that shot the same way a painter chooses to paint an abstract rather than a detailed exact.

Before we get into the how to, I wanted to point out that there are two kinds of long exposure ‘paintings’. The first is when the light is stationery in your scene – and then camera moves and the second is when the camera is stationery and the light moves. Both ways can create stunning pictures.

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Painting with Moving Lights

The first step is to find an ideal setting. This would be a space with very low light where external light won’t interfere with your image or change during shooting. (for example passing cars shining their lights through a window into your scene would definitely interfere)

You will need a tripod and your camera will be set to delayed shooting (2 seconds will be fine) or your will have a remote trigger and you will need an LED light (like one of those fun little key-rings where you press and it’s a mini torch) You can actually use a variety of lights to paint with, but the LED works really well to create definite lines.

Your camera will need to be in full manual control so that you can ensure the correct settings are in place.

Your aperture needs to be as small as possible. Remember the smaller the aperture, the less light the camera is going to let reach the sensor and with your shutter open for so long you are already letting a lot of light in so you need to compensate with a small aperture (F11 to F29, depending on your scene, you will need to test the various options to see which one works best)

ISO down at 100 (as low as it can go).

Now the actual exposure time is up to you and depends on what you are going to be ‘painting’.

With all your settings in place and once you have taken a few test shots to make sure the settings are right you can begin your painting. Remote trigger in hand, move into the scene of your image, trigger the shutter and then begin to draw pictures in the air using your LED torch.
Keep your shutter speed in mind and try and time your painting to match the shutter speed.

It might take a few practice shots to get it right, once you get the hang of it it is so much fun. You can write letters to your friends or paint a scene of light-people standing in an otherwise empty room.

Remember to turn the light source off between objects that you are painting otherwise they will all be connected.
NOTE: whatever your draw or write – will be mirrored in the image. (you can flip the image easily once it is downloaded from your camera)

A Moving Camera

This is the type of photography where you are driving through a city at night and taking photos from the moving car. The lights are all still, but your camera is ‘painting’ them by moving.

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The moving lights shot at the top of the article is from this blog