an introduction to light painting

Light Painting is an innovative and electrifying form of photography which is accessible to all ages and abilities.

We usually think of a photograph as a single moment in time, a brief ‘snapshot’ – but what if that moment was 10, 20 or 30 seconds long?

‘Long exposures’ like this transform images – human movement becomes ghostly or even invisible, light sources leave pulsing trails of colour, and night becomes day.

By combining the movement of light painting tools (think multicoloured LEDs, light sabres and high powered torches) with these simple but powerful techniques, astonishing and vibrant pictures are achievable for anyone – even a total photography novice.

The internet is full of this form of photography. A simple google search on Light Painting will present with a mass of examples, 'how to's' and communities that are open and willing to share.


Are the Ball of Light images Photoshopped?

Every Ball of Light image is taken in a single exposure. Not one pixel is added or removed from the image. The only adjustments made are minor saturation and brightness tweaks. There is no blending of images or use of any HDR software.

Why does it look like the photos are taken in the daytime?

Most of the Ball of Light images are taken around the full moon. The moon illuminates the surroundings making them more visible in the photos. The length of exposure also allows more light to enter the camera making it lighter overall. The moon is incredibly bright when it is full. I can walk around easily without torches when the moon is bright. In most of the images you can see star trails, showing it is definitely night!

Why can’t I see you in the photo?

Whilst creating the Ball of Light I am standing “inside” the Ball. I am constantly moving whilst the shutter is open, thus you cannot see me. I also walk into and out of the photo whilst the shutter is open. When you see photos of cars going down the road at night you see the white headlights, and red taillights, but you do not see the car itself. The theory is the same. At no time do I edit myself out of the photos.

What camera do you use?

You can do long exposure light painting with any camera that has bulb mode. Because my exposures are very long, I use a remote to open and lock the shutter open for a lengthy period, up to 10 minutes. All you need is a camera and tripod and you can create these images. Some of my favourite Ball of Light images were taken using a Canon 450d with a kit lens. I now use a Canon 5dmk2.

What light source do you use?

The lights you see in the Ball of Light images are created using LED’s in a variety of colours and sizes.

I would like to try this, can you tell me how to do it?

It is amazing how often I am asked this question. I am simply swinging a light around in a circle whilst rotating. There is no magic, simply experimenting with camera settings and light sources. Start by opening the shutter and wave a torch or light wand around. Once you get used to taking long exposure photos without over exposing the image, then start incorporating different types of light sources. Kids shops are a great place to find all sorts of colours lights. Tie them to string and wave them around. Experimenting was and still is the most fun part of what I do.

How do you get the Ball of Light so round?

Practice, practice and then I practiced a bit more. I assure you when I first started out the Ball of Light was more like an ‘Egg of Light’. I must have tried dozens and dozens of times before the Ball of Light even got close to round. It is incredibly satisfying every time I closed the shutter to see how it came out.

Do you use a mechanical device to make them so round?

No. If you watch the Ball of Light Movie you will see that I create each Ball of Light image completely by hand. I feel this creates a more organic shape. Every Ball of Light is unique, like a finger print.


Denis was born in Auckland, New Zealand in 1971. He spent the first half of his life living and working in Auckland and in 2009 moved to Adelaide, South Australia where he currently resides. Denis first became interested in photography in 2008. He is a self taught photographer and did not formally study photography at any educational facility.