The Best Light Painting Photography

Cruising the web can be erratic, like you’re in one of those car commercials where cars are whizzing by you. It’s nice when an interesting piece of digital or digitized art arrests your attention for a moment, takes you out of the whirlwind.

So far, I have written two posts on the topic of light painting. One was an interview with a professional photographer who explains how to do light painting, and one was the documentation of how I have tried out some light painting techniques. Since then, I’ve only become more interested in the ever more popular craft known as light painting photography.

In the best examples of light painting, you get more than half-hearted newbie experiments or over-the-top spectacles. Rather, you get a moment of reflection, in which you find yourself caught like a deer in headlights in the presence of the juxtaposition of human and digital. I’m sorry. That was a mouthful. Why don’t I just let you see for yourself. Here’s a collection of what I consider to be some of the best examples of light painting out there on the WWW, a.k.a. Pinterest. And, humor me, think “digital/human juxtaposition” as you parse the range of emotions evoked by these stellar works of digital art.

1. They Are Among Us


I mean, this is crazy, right?! You can almost FEEL the presence of these weird light dudes as they approach you at a murderously slow pace. Are they astronauts on our own planet? Is this our planet? I was unable to locate a larger version of this photograph, but I still put it at the top because it is incredibly evocative. And that’s not even the real kicker. If you’ve read my other posts on light painting, you know that incredibly long exposure times are necessary for shots like this. So homegirl or homeboy was out in the snow, in the dark, making this thing. And she/he had the wherewithal, tromping through the icy powder, to render these human forms so very well, even making one look like he’s trudging knee-deep. So weirdly inhuman. So weirdly human. I love this photo.

2. Give Up the Ghost

I told you this was going to be good! The second photo in my small collection is also evocative. There’s a clear message of freedom, which is menacing because death is certainly a theme here. What can you say about a neon skeleton ghost rising righteously into the deep night from the body of a normal dude? Both fantastical and everyday, there’s a juxtaposition that I like a lot. I think I could pull a version of this off. What do you think? Any suggestions or ideas?

3. Behold the Star Man!


Are you noticing this theme of the supernatural? One explanation is that the medium of light painting kind of determines the possible content. The process takes place in the dark, and the dark naturally leads us to “darker” themes, I think. And the light, it’s definitely going to have a glowing effect. So darkness and glow are likely factors in most light paintings. The major techniques for giving variation to the painted light are to mix up the color of the light and the shape of its beam. You’re also going to notice a lot of photos of people standing on the edge of water. So much so that it is almost humorous. Almost. But it ends up being kind of creepy, which I sometimes like in an arresting piece of digital art.

I mean, how did the photographer accomplish this feat? I think a model (the photographer?) stood still while someone turned a strip of lights 180 degrees. Then, I think someone traced the model from behind with a flashlight. BUT, that half-spherical web of blue light? I have no clue on that one. Help me if you have an idea. The bottom line is that this photo makes me feel triumphant.

4. Make a Wish


This piece has that something special, as well. There’s a certain whimsical feeling. I can’t be sure, but it seems like the photo is commemorating the date 11/11/2011. There’s a corresponding image of a clock. While some art likes to question time and boring stuff like that, this is a simple celebration. The whimsical aspect is balanced by the precision executed in the multicolored swirly circle. I also like how this exposure was taken at dusk. It’s a nice departure from the typical blacked out light painting.

5. Skeletal Kum Ba Yah


Here’s another one that was taken before the sun had completely set. This is cool because it’s dark in the woods, while the sky still has some ambient light. The photographer has taken advantage of this unique lighting situation: The light in the sky makes the skeleton people a little more believable. And, by the way, can we talk about the recurring theme of the skeleton? Remember how I was talking about the conditions necessary for painting with light and how those conditions might influence the content of the light paintings? The skeleton is a logical and naturally appropriate subject for art that is more about darkness than light. Plus, skeletons have tons of interesting lines, and lines are the name of the game in light painting. That’s why you’ll see Pablo Picasso, the man himself, using light to create some interesting line drawings below.

6. Utterly Ordinary to Spectacular 

I would never give you a photo of old shoes to look at unless there were something special going on in the picture. In this one, there’s a simple, appropriate message. Ready for it? LIGHT ENHANCES THINGS. Duh, right? This photo is aesthetically interesting, but more valuable to me is the way it shows the essential point of light painting: To have fun! To breathe some excitement into your photography. If your only subject is an old pair of Tims, don’t complain. Turn off the lights and bust out a “paintbrush.”

7. There Are ALMOST No Words for This

DJ Glowing Skeleton in the house! Speaking of fun, this is one of the most fun examples of painting with light that I have seen out there in the cyber abyss. Again with the skeletal theme, which is seemingly ubiquitous in the minds of light painters.  This is one, like most, is not so much macabre as fun, and I’m beginning to think that light painting has something in common with the many cultural celebrations across the world that make “light” of the theme of death. This post is beginning to resemble a costumed procession on el día de los muertos.

8. Angels in the Regular Field

Isn’t this great? What I love most is how nonchalant and, well, normal the guy looks in this photo. See? It’s all about juxtaposition. Angel wings mixed with a loud sense of everydayness (he COULD be wearing white robes) make you take notice of the unspoken contradiction. You ask, Why this? And you are led to wonder if maybe this is saying something about how sometimes the people who are the most inconspicuous are the most angelic. See what I did there? That’s why I have chosen these photos from among the hundreds that are out there. They invite wonder and have the power to lead to new insights. I am a dork.

9. Do Not Anger Him/Her/It

If you try to tell me that you do not like this photo, I will either not believe you or not understand you. Because it is totally awesome. I told you there would be a lot of photos set on the edge of water, if you’ll recall. I’ll be frank, though: I do not understand how the photographer pulled this off. It LOOKS like he or she put an LED on the inside of his or her goggles, though, which is cool and creates a kind of bionic avenger look. There’s also smoke, which I don’t quite understand. What I do get is that this is way otherworldly and almost convincing. I don’t want to make this crazy, tentacled, bionic, swamp person angry! (P.S. I think this photo was edited. That’s some bright green!) 

10. Living Room Madness

If you’ve made it this far through my rambling, it won’t surprise you that what I love about the photo above is more than just the contents of the picture. I love what it suggests. I mean, the photo is really cool. One thing I like about it is the way that it looks like the model is being illuminated by the glowing, spaghetti-like orb in front of her. I don’t think this is the case. If she were sitting there while the painter made those thousands of squiggles, she would probably appear more blurry than she does. Instead, I think a very warm flash was used after the squiggles had been squiggled. Very cool effect. Now to the “theme.” The way that she’s sitting in her very relatable home shows how the essence of light painting is turning the everyday into something magical. I LIKE that you can see a random power cord out on the floor. I even like the fact that the floor wouldn’t be hurt by a run of the old vacuum. The realness of the scene just makes the magic of the light painting, well, more magical.

11. I Mean, If Pablo P. Was into It…

Step aside, amateurs. This is none other than the man himself, Pablo Picasso, light painting. Did you know that painting with light was even a “thing” half a century ago? Amazing, isn’t it? Ask yourself why a living legend in the realm of painting and drawing would mess around with light painting. Well, the question had its own answer, didn’t it? Light painting is like what they call “line drawing.” If there’s no on/off switch, you’re drawing one continuous line for the whole painting, as if you were creating a drawing while NEVER lifting your pen from the paper. Line drawing, of course, was one of Picasso’s favorite modes. So it makes sense that he would have been a pioneer in this slow-to-emerge art form.

12. Color at Night

It’s important for you to remember, among all this squiggly madness, that painting with light encompasses more than just using hard lines. This photo reminds us that light painting can also refer to the use of a light source to illuminate color and shapes that already exist. In other words, the light source doesn’t need to be the star of the show. A flashlight can be held out of frame to “paint” the surface of objects at night. Here, it looks like orange and green gels have been used to create an otherworldly feel to what, during the day, is a normal landscape.

13. Is There Something on Your Floor?

Here’s an example of what they in Pinterest land call “light topography.” It basically consists of drawing lines over the surface of objects in a way that transmits the artist’s impression of those objects. It’s kind of funny. If this photo were taken during the day and not painted with light, it could show up in another of our blog posts about kitchen lighting! However, the feel here is a little different. Notice how the composition is made up of almost entirely straight lines until we get to – what’s that?! – the shape of a body lying on the floor. The “darker” subject matter that finds its way into many light paintings has found its way into this photo, as well.

I hope you have found something interest in this collection of the best examples of light painting I could find on Pinterest. Please share any light painting techniques or ideas you might have in the comments below. Thanks for reading, and see you soon!

* Note: I found these photos on Pinterest and was unable to confirm all of their original sources. So, if you have any information about the original sources for any of these photos, please let us know in the comments sections. We want to give credit for these fantastic light painting photos where it is very much due! Thanks!

Tom Sowders

After majoring in creative writing at NC State, I worked in the home remodeling industry. Then, I attended graduate school for a really long time and gained experience as a writer and writing instructor. I live in the Raleigh-Durham area with my wife and baby boy, and you can find me around the Triangle anywhere there's good music and/or NC-style BBQ.

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