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Playing with Long Exposure and Light Painting Photography (Creative Tips and Community Events)

Have you tried long exposure photography? Without a doubt this technique can yield incredible results. You can try it with any kind of camera, even a smartphone. All you need is a tripod. If you go out at night the long exposures can be lengthened and your creativity can have no limit.

The ultimate light play photography is known as “light painting” and we will explore these techniques at our upcoming events.

In this post we’ll share some photography experiments and tips and let you know about our meetups. It’s a lot of fun! Let’s get creative!

Credits (Creators)

This post was written by Mike Simpson from Tdot Shots. Follow Mike via @tdot_mike.

The photography is by community member Scott Harrald, a Toronto-based photographer. Thank you Scott for sharing your time and expertise. Follow @scott_harrald on Instagram.

What You Need

You will need the following:

  • Camera such as DSLR or mirrorless
  • Tripod or flat surface to keep camera still
  • Light sources and props such as flashlights, vehicle traffic
  • Manual setting for long exposure (shutter priority)
  • Camera flash (use rear curtain mode)

While you can use a smartphone in manual mode to achieve a long exposure we recommend a dedicated camera for best results. Don’t forget to shoot in RAW.

Location is a key factor. No matter how good your camera or technique is, if the location doesn’t offer a dark area and has too many ambient light sources or distractions such as street lights, you will have elements in your frames which can ruin your shots.

Introduction to long exposure photography

If you open the shutter on a camera for longer than 0.5 seconds you will often get a really cool effect, particular if there are objects in motion. At night you can open your shutter for 3 – 10 seconds and get fantastic light trail effects from passing traffic. You can even go into bulb mode and shoot star trails.

Here’s an example of a sequence of daytime long exposures using about 1/4 second, just long enough to get some interesting motion blur.

Image sequence at Queen and Spadina in Toronto by Mike Simpson / Tdot Shots

Process: Using a tripod I shot the photo sequence in mid-afternoon on a rainy day. A dark sky was beneficial for allowing my shutter to stay open longer than the typical shot. I shot 50 frames in total at 0.25 seconds per frame, which captured some nice long exposures. The animated GiF edit above is a selection of about 15 frames.

Exploring night time long exposure photography

I would be remiss not to include some of the typical, and often beautiful long exposure photography that is possible in the city at night. Here is a long exposure sequence I shot on downtown Toronto with about a 2-second shutter and 50 frames.

Process: In this sequence I captured dozens of long exposure frames, then imported them to Photoshop.

Though they were shot on a tripod so they line up perfectly. I used the “timeline” feature in Photoshop to animate the frames. Some of the frames have a slightly longer timing to exaggerate the effect.

Read the post:
Create a Photo Animation from an Image Sequence in Photoshop (Make a GIF or Video)

Experiments with Light Painting (flash lights, glow sticks and camera flash)

I went out on a recent evening with Toronto photographer Scott Harrald. Our intention was to play with some fun light painting in downtown, and see how creative we could get with some basic gear and props.

We brought along various flashlights, glow sticks and our camera gear. We chose a dark location in Queen’s Park where the traffic would zip by, so the background would also feature long exposure tail lights from passing vehicles.

Camera Gear and Technique

For this shoot Scott was using the Canon EOS R6 with a flash. The main technique was to open the shutter for 10 seconds and then pop the flash at the end of the exposure. This is known as “rear curtain flash.” It’s the perfect way to illuminate the subject (person) who is creating the long exposure light streaks.

“M” and “t.” for Mike and Tdot / 10-second light painting with red flashlight, traffic streaks and curtain flash
Flashlight in a plastic bag (no curtain flash)

Above is the best versions with the letter writing techniques. It took about 3 or 4 tries to get the timing right. Pretty quick!

At left is the initial no-flash long exposure where Scott used a flashlight in a plastic bag. The glow is amazing. The swirly random motion looks amazing as does the light streak moving off frame.

Editing Tips for Your Long Exposures

Much of your shot will be in darkness but avoid the temptation to raise the light in the shadows and focus instead on making the light pop. If your image is blown out play with highlights and whites. As with most general photography, assuming you have slightly underexposed you will have useable images.

One reliable editing technique is to use the HSL sliders and increase/decrease the luminance and saturation of the reds and yellows. This will have the biggest impact on the final image. I even used the burn tool to darken myself as the flash really illuminated me in a few of the captures.

Join our Toronto Photography Meetups and Practice New Techniques

We offer photo walks and meetups for creatives in Greater Toronto. Check out our events site to register for a walk or tour.

On August 7 we are pleased to present a special Light Painting meetup for photographers with our guest Scott Visscher. Read Scott’s blog post about steel wool photography to get a glimpse of what is possible at the extremes of light painting.

Recommended Resources

We found a few videos that highlight some techniques. Check out the following.

Flash with Long Exposures

The author discusses the benefits of using “Second curtain sync” so the flash pops at the end of the long exposure. The creator uses some sweet light strips wrapped around a model for amazing effect.

General Light Painting Techniques

This video talks about a few DIY techniques to employ for light painting. I think the lights on the stick look pretty incredible and would be easy to mount. You’d just need a string of lights and some mounting tape.

Thanks for Stopping By

Cheers for taking the time to read this article and think about experimental photography. Hope to see your photos! Try to join one of our meetups and be sure to use hashtag #tdot_shots on your images.

All the best and happy light painting!


Let’s shoot and explore Toronto – check out our events:
Upcoming Events – Events by Tdot.com and Tdot Shots

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