Light Painting Photography Tutorial – A Step-by-Step Guide for Endless Creative Fun

5 min read

Could this be the oldest photography form most people have never heard of?

First seen in the 19th century, light painting photography, or painting with light, is an imaging technique that uses a moving light source to add light to an under-illuminated subject while taking a long-exposure photograph. Using a light source as your ‘paint brush’, you can become both photographer and artist as you unleash your creativity on this novel form of photography.

There are so many possibilities when it comes to painting with light, and the best part is that you don’t need a fancy, expensive camera to do it. With an Insta360 camera, such as ONE R or ONE X2, it is super easy AND you can get cool shots that aren’t possible with traditional cameras. Below we explain what equipment you need, the ideal camera settings, how to shoot and how to edit.

What light painting camera is best?

Regarding the type of light painting camera, while painting with light can be done using a regular single-lens camera, a 360 camera offers far more creative possibility. A 360 camera has two lenses that together shoot a complete 360° view. This enables you to create some really cool effects when editing, such as adjusting the FOV to create a “Tiny Planet” effect, as well as many other possibilities. As such, we introduce two methods for how to do light painting photography with a 360 camera and one method for a single-lens camera.

A light painting with the Tiny Planet effect
Light painting with the Tiny Planet effect

Method 1)
Indoor Light Painting with a Smartphone
(360)

Where?
A pitch black room – this is essential so that there is zero light contamination.

What do you need?

  • 2 people – one person to be the subject, one person to be the “runner”
    (if you don’t want anyone in the shot, all you need is a runner)
  • Tripod
  • Selfie stick
  • Camera – Insta360 ONE R with the 360 Mod / Insta360 ONE X2 / Insta360 ONE X
  • Smartphone
  • Light painting app to illuminate your phone screen. We use an app called ‘SpriteBrush’ but there are lots of options.

Camera Settings?

  • The highest shutter speed you can use is around 20 secs. We used between 8 and 20. 
  • ISO should be low, 100 is most common for this type of shot. 
  • White balance is up to you because it depends on the environment.

How to shoot/edit?

  1. Setup a pitch black room with the camera mounted on the tripod.
  2. The subject in the picture must stay completely still. 
  3. The runner moves around the subject in any desired pattern, always keeping the phone screen facing the camera.
  4. To edit, go to the Insta360 app and change the FOV to the Tiny Planet effect, or play around with other effects/edits in the app.
A light painting created indoors using a smartphone as a light source.

Method 2)
Outdoor Light Painting with Steel Wool
(360)

Where?
Outside. As with option 2, find somewhere with plenty of space, and only try when there is no one else around.

What do you need?

  • Just yourself – you are the subject and cameraman for this one
  • Tripod
  • Selfie stick
  • Camera – Insta360 ONE R with the 360 Mod / Insta360 ONE X2 / ONE X
  • Handful of steel wool
  • Stainless steel whisk 
  • Metal chain – just long enough to swing above your head

Camera Settings

  • Shutter speed between five and twenty seconds
  • Keep ISO low again at 100

How to shoot/edit?

Firstly, a few safety notices because this can be dangerous if the correct precautions aren’t taken. Choose a location without flammable materials nearby, such as grass, trees, vehicles or wooden buildings. Ideal locations include beaches or rocky/sandy deserts. Do not wear flammable clothing and make sure to wear protective eyewear. Be careful that you are on your own in your chosen area. Also, have a fire extinguisher nearby just in case. 

  1. Attach the chain to your whisk. 
  2. Fluff up the steel wool so the particles are loose. Put that inside the whisk and make sure it cannot come out (important to avoid accidents).
  3. Light the steel wool inside the whisk, then swing it above your head, holding the other end of the chain. 
  4. To edit, go to the Insta360 app and change the FOV to the Tiny Planet effect, or play around with other effects/edits in the app.

Method 3)
Outdoor Light Painting with Sparklers
, Flashlights or Other Light Sources (4K or 360)

Where?
Outside. Find somewhere with plenty of space and maybe a cool backdrop for your shot.

What do you need?

  • Just yourself – you are the subject and cameraman for this one
  • Tripod
  • Selfie stick
  • Camera – Insta360 ONE R / Insta360 ONE X2 / A regular single-lens camera
  • Sparklers, flashlights, LED lighting, phones/tablets, basically any light source!

Camera Settings?

  • As it’s a smaller, fixed frame you can put the shutter speed lower, around 4-10 seconds.
  • ISO should always be lowest at 100. 
  • White balance is up to you because it depends on the environment.

How to shoot/edit?

  1. This one can be done in almost any way. You can stand still and use your chosen light source to create the light painting shapes, or have someone move around the subject holding the light source.
  2. With this option your shot is ready to go without any editing at all, however feel free to use the Insta360 app to edit/add any effects you would like!
Light painting with sparklers
Light painting with flashlight
A light painting with a flashlight

So those are a few ways you can try to get started with light painting photography. Try the different methods described above and see how creative you can get! If using an Insta360 camera, the Insta360 app is an excellent editing resource. 

If you’re in need of further inspiration, or want to see exactly how to execute the technique, check out the following video from our YouTube channel:


Keen to keep up to date on Insta360 user stories? Keep an eye on our blog. See the latest and join in on the discussion by joining Insta360’s user group or signing up for our mailing list. 

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