Skip to main content

Night Photography Fundamentals

Lesson 11 of 13

Light Writing


Night Photography Fundamentals

Lesson 11 of 13

Light Writing


Lesson Info

Light Writing

With light painting, we're using the light coming from the flashlight, we don't want to bring the light source and hit it directly into the camera. That is either a mistake or by painting we can write with light. But say I'm setting up a shot here, and somebody walks though my scene with a headlamp on. Any light that comes into the scene and if it directly sees the camera, it's gonna forever etch itself into the scene, however if I was, if the camera was here, and I walked into the scene and it's on my head, and my back is facing it, I can use the light from the headlamp to paint this, and we just seen the light in the scene and not the direct light source. But there's a lot of fun things we can do with writing with light and there's many different tools that we have, a lot of you might not even think about them. This is a shot I took going up a path in Missoula, Montana, and I simply took my iPhone and I put it over, I set up my camera, I drew my iPhone, had it face the lens and then ...

drew this line leading up the mountain. I turned it off after I walked about 15 feet and then walked back into the scene. You don't see me, but you see the light source that I have. You don't see me because this is a four minute exposure, I kept moving, I wasn't being reflected in the night, but you see again, the light source, that direct light source, that's forever etched into the scene, again we talked about car trails, we can use those creatively to add leading lines throughout the scene. Another fun tool, that's popular with light pagers and light writers is the pixelstick, and this is something, and this is a tool that we can program in a variety of colors, this was a shot I took at Joshua Tree National Park, and this has not only me walking through with that ribbon pixelstick, as well as it has one of our other students coming from the side and side lighting that foreground and the tree, so again applying multiple light sources to create a really unique picture. Boy the kids and I we had such a fun time playing with time, writing with light, painting with light, and creating these wonderful night portraits. When we think about night portraiture, I think the most common shot that we all, let's call it, suffer from is that we, we're standing on this ledge or this wonderful little viewpoint and the whole city is behind us and like "Oh, here take a picture of my friend and I and let's also get the city behind us." Well guess what, your camera is in flash mode, it's gonna pop a flash but your flash only goes so far and we see a wonderful picture of your friend and, of you and your friend, but then you don't see the city and all its lights, its a dark exposure behind it. Haven't we all suffered from that shot? So, with light painting, we generally want to have the light source not be seen by the camera, so again, kind of like moonlight, we want the light in there but we don't want the moon in the shot. So that's a big part of it, and oftentimes you'll notice sometimes if people are walking around with headlights or you have a group and they walk in your scene, they will leave a trail of light if they have their flashlights on, if they have their phones out, or if they have their headlamp on, they walk in the scene, they'll leave a trail of light. Now that can be used for creative means, and we call that light writing, when we put the light source into the scene. So why don't we try something like that out? So I'm gonna have the same settings I just did for painting the wall, and let's jump in the scene, turn the flashlight on and now I'm not an artist but we'll just do something crazy, painting-wise. And again we kind of have this spiral of light going on. So again, any light source that you add into this scene will forever be etched into the image, so you could write things with it, a typical wedding shots where they write out Love or the couple's name, that's a common use of light writing, or I've seen other artists just really draw amazing, amazing things in it, and again, you don't have to have a flashlight, any source can be your light, so let's take a look at another common light source. The phone's a little bit, it's not as bright as the flashlight, so let's just adjust our exposures, and actually let's beef up our brightness here. There we go. And most people ask, "Well you're walking in the scene, aren't you gonna be in the scene?" Nope, you're not. You would have, in order for you to be in the scene, you'd have to be in there for at least half of the time and standing still and even that would be sort of a ghosting effect of yourself, so again you can bring in, oh that's kind of an interesting little, I'm gonna try that one more time, kinda going somewhere, and this is all very, just, experimental. Nice, nice so any type of, I like this, I like, so flashlights, phones, tablets, sparklers, all these type of things we can use to write with light and have a permanent, sort of, drawing, etching, painting in there that wasn't there before, we brought it to the scene, we created it, so pick up a light, pick up a brick wall or a blank space, now it's important, the space that you are painting in or writing in, is dark, again if it's a bright scene, your light will just be eaten up by that light, so have a nice, you know, at least dark scene, you might wanna underexpose so your light that you bring to it will shine through, so good luck experimenting, again if you wanna learn more, check out Tim Cooper's Light Painting, and also check out Matt Hill and all the portrait stuff that he's doing with all sorts of crazy light sources.

Class Description

There’s more to night photography than stars and hikes. The vibrance of color can be found in capturing the stars, a city skyline at twilight, or even car trails amidst a forest. Gabriel Biderman is a self taught photographer who enjoys the process of taking an image. In Night Photography 101, he’ll cover how to get started taking photos in the dark.

You’ll learn:

  • What gear you’ll need and the fundamentals of using it safely in the night 
  • How to capture stars for dynamic landscapes 
  • How to capture the sky and urban settings at night 
  • How to photograph car light trails to create more motion in your night photos  


Christiane Menelas

This class was perfect in preparation for my trip to Zion and Bryce Canyon next week. I can't wait to put all this great information to good use! Very easy to understand, and fun to watch. I thoroughly enjoyed it!


This class was super helpful in what to buy and then how to get the pictures you want. Loved all the other stuff that I knew nothing about. I knew very little about light painting. Thanks for sharing this class with us. This class was one of the best I have seen.


This course is fairly comprehensive, and offers a good intermediate/advanced intermediate examination of night photography (NOT just astrophotography, which is only one form of night photography.) I don't necessarily agree with everything he's saying here, but that doesn't make it wrong - it's just a matter of preference. He is fairly equipment-centric, but getting into many forms of night photography DOES require some specific equipment. There's a lot of useful information contained here, and I can see myself consulting this course in the future to help solve and understand certain situations and problems that are unique to night photography. Recommended.

Explore More Free Classes


Enjoy the free classes? Get 2000+ more Classes and watch it anytime, anywhere.

Get The Pass