Light Painting With The Family: A How To Guide

Over the holidays I decided that a fun event for the family and the kids would be to do some light painting in the backyard. I set up the tripod and got all of my nieces and family in the backyard. Using one of the kids Christmas presents that’s designed for use as a bathtub light party, the light changed colors constantly. We had a ton a fun creating pictures of the girls running around, and then showing off to them what we created. We even got the adults involved creating wall art, Christmas Cards and writing names. The first image is a picture created of me running around with my niece on my shoulders. You can see where she dropped the light and we had to pick it up.

light painting, family activity

If you’d like to duplicate this with your family. You can set up your camera the following way. 

Set the camera to manual, and mount it on a tripod. This is the M on your dial. Not every camera has this exact same dial but it should be similar. You can try Shutter speed (S) to try and simplify things, but I’ve never shot it that way.

Set your ISO to either 100 or 200. This can be done from the menu on your camera. This will reduce noise (dots) in the image, while also capturing less light so you can slow down the exposure.

Set your shutter speed to 30 seconds. This needs to be done so that you have enough time to capture the lights that lights, or writing, or whatever you’re doing. This is done on a Nikon with the flat dial in the top right corner on the back of your camera. (If you’re using Shutter Speed Priority you can stop here, and the camera should take care of the rest.)

Then set the aperture to as far open as you can. On Nikon this is done by pushing the +/- button, and then turning the same dial you used for the shutter speed.

After you have set this all up you need to take a practice picture to see how it looks. If you look at the first picture, you’ll see that there is enough light being captured that the trees and grass is clearly visible. You want to make sure that this is the case for your image, but you don’t want things too washed out.

Once we were done, I took the camera off the tripod and was showing my sister the settings so that she could duplicate the experience with her girls on their own. In the process I accidentally hit the shutter button, TWICE. You would think after making this mistake with a 25 second shutter the first time, I would be more careful the second time. Well, you’d be wrong. However, since I still had two 4 year olds running around holding lights, plus Christmas lights on the house, and dock lights around the lake I figured I’d make something of it. Since I was already holding the camera in my hand I started waving the camera around for the whole 30 seconds. What I came up with was the two images below. They are a combination of every light source available swirled into ethereal art. Even though these were mistakes, I enjoyed how they came out so I wanted to share them here.


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