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How to Paint with Lights

Taking photos of street scenes during the night using long exposures can produce some exciting images and be fun at the same time. Wonderful ribbons of colour from passing vehicles can bring out the artist within and create some wonderful art that looks great as a large print.


How to Paint with Lights


1 x DSLR Camera

1 x Wide Angle lens, 24mm and below focal length.

1 x Lens Hood to fit lens (Used to reduce flare when shooting outdoors particularly when skin tones are of importance)

1 x Tripod; Preferably with a Pan and Tilt Head for accuracy. Also one that is sturdy enough to support your equipment.

1 x Circular Polarizing Filter

1 x Shutter release Remote Cable, this will prevent camera shake during long exposures.


1. Make sure you are in a safe environment and you have a clear position avoiding pedestrian traffic. This will help prevent re-shooting in the event someone should walk in front of the lens. Wear some bright clothing too as you will be close to traffic at night. Observe traffic and pedestrian laws.

2. Combine camera, lens and attach the lens hood.

3. Once you have found your spot place the camera on the tripod, be sure the camera is locked in and the tripod legs are on sturdy, preferably level ground. (Please note the higher the centre column is extended the less sturdy it will become.) Treat this like a landscape shot by being careful of vertical and horizontal lines of buildings, signs etc.

4. Compose your photo by taking a mental note of where the trails of light are sweeping. This can be a little tricky so you may need to take a few test shots to get the feel of what we are creating. Squinting is always a good way to see where these light trials are.

5. Once you have your composition set, attach the shutter release cable or connect the remote. Set your camera on Manual (M) mode (this will give you total control of the camera), now use the bulb setting on the camera‚ bulb setting allows you to control the amount of time the shutter stays open. On Canon you will hold the shutter release button down for as long as you need to expose the image. Most Nikons you will need to press the shutter button once to open and again to close.

6. Set your aperture to a mid range F8 or F11, this will give you a longer exposure needed to create those ribbons of light and allow you to get a large amount of the foreground and background in focus.

7. A lower ISO will also help your cause so try to keep it to 200 or below, you photos will also benefit by being less noisy or grainy. You may think that using a higher ISO would help as it is a night time shot, usually you would be right if we were trying to keep a fast shutter speed. In this case though we are not worried about fast shutter speeds.

8. Use manual focus as auto focus can struggle in low light so manual is used for more accuracy.

9. Fire off a few test shots taking note of your exposure length. This is where you have to be in control. You have set the aperture to F8 or F11.

10. Now you are good to go, this shot does have an element of being in the right spot at the right time. Be patient and try to vision and predict the shot before pressing the trigger.

Note: Shoot just after dusk, just before last light will result in a rich blue sky adding much more interest to the final result.

9. Shoot like no one is watching™

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