6 festive photo ideas to try this Christmas

Use this holiday break to experiment with your photography

3. Festive light painting

Light painting, or light graffiti as some call it, is created by moving light sources through an image while the shutter is open. This means exposures of several seconds or even minutes while we fling around torches, glow sticks or anything else that emits light. With a little practice, you can start to create words, shapes and pictures just like our festive-themed night shots.

There’s something addictive about light painting. It’s almost certain that your first attempt will be a complete mess, but you’ll quickly learn, shot by shot, how best to position the lights, which movements work best, when to shield the light source from the camera, and the length of time you need to paint for. 

Smooth, fluid movements work best, and serious light painters use all kinds of tricks to create patterns – for example, a torch tied to a length of string and swung around can create an orb-like shape, or even a snowman (see over the page).

All the usual tips for long exposures apply to light painting, so you’ll need a tripod to keep the camera in a fixed position, and a remote cable release if you’re out shooting solo. Your DSLR’s shutter speed maxes out at 30 seconds, which probably won’t be long enough for intricate painting, so you’ll need to use Bulb mode. Learn how to get set up, pick dark nights and good locations, and how shoot in Bulb mode, then over the page we’ll show you a few different ways to paint a scene. 

Step-by-step: Get set-up to paint with light

Essential gear to paint with light

This feature was originally published in Photo Plus Magazine, to subscribe, click here (opens in new tab)

Phil Hall

Phil Hall is an experienced writer and editor having worked on some of the largest photography magazines in the UK, and now edit the photography channel of TechRadar, the UK's biggest tech website and one of the largest in the world. He has also worked on numerous commercial projects, including working with manufacturers like Nikon and Fujifilm on bespoke printed and online camera guides, as well as writing technique blogs and copy for the John Lewis Technology guide.