If you have attended either (or ideally both) of the night photography evenings with the club I’ve been showing some basic light painting techniques, which are a fun way to create images using torches, glow sticks, LED lights, coloured filters, and so on. You can experiment easily in your own back garden, and with darkness coming earlier and earlier you can do so straight from work or school.

While I don’t intend to recreate those hands-on examples and help in text format, I have put together below a good set of items to get you started with light painting on a budget.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, and once you are happy with the basics I encourage you to try new things to get new effects! I used the example of a colander during the lessons that is almost a pre-prepared stencil which you can use to create circular dots or a Tron-esque “zoom” effect.

A Good Torch

One thing that is absolutely worth investing in when partaking in any kind of night photography is a good torch with which to find your way around.

The Lenser P7 is a fantastic torch that gives plenty of light, a focusable (narrowing/widening) beam of light, is built solidly and durably, and fits nicely in your pocket or hand. The P7.2 is the latest model as of writing this post, and you can also check prices for the T7 and T7.2 which is very similar but a slightly different grip. You should expect to pay between £30 and £35.

Cheaper torches are obviously available, but my Lenser T7 has lasted for 5 years of abuse so far without any issues whatsoever.

You can get by without investing in a torch if you’re just playing in the back garden, of course, but for night photography in general it’s an invaluable tool.

Coloured Gel Filters

The ability to colour your lighting is a light painter’s bread and butter, and coloured gel filters are a great starting point.

It’s both easier on your wallet to buy gel filters and use a white light, and easier on your back not carrying a specialist light in each colour for each outing.

You can either purchase a set to clip to your flash gun, or a slightly larger set to handhold or bend around your chosen light source. Depending on the type and number of colours, expect to spend from £3 up to £20 for a relatively entry level set to play with.

An Old Flash Gun

Not every beginner to photography will have a modern flash gun to experiment with, and that’s not a problem for light painting!

You can often light your subject by waving around a torch and “painting” in the detail by moving it across your subject in the dark, but for moving subjects such as people this isn’t always ideal and a flash is the preferred light to freeze your subject.

But instead if spending a lot of money keep an eye out in charity shops for a £5 flash gun such as the Vivitar next to this post. With the camera shutter open for a long exposure there’s no need for fancy syncing techniques, just press the manual “test” button on the flash to set it off yourself! When hunting take a handful of batteries (usually 4 AA) with you to test your finds before buying.

The caveat is that you must never put an old SLR flash on a modern DSLR camera as they are likely to send a voltage back through your camera and fry in expensive electronic innards. Great for manual off-camera usage, but do not risk as an on-camera flash.

Glow Sticks

You can grab a pack of 20 glow sticks from your nearest pound shop and they are a versatile way to provide coloured light effects – slowly waving one around to create a smoke effect for example.

Bear in mind though that they are dim, and only get dimmer the longer you use them!

Electro Luminescent Wire

This is a battery-powered alternative to a glow stick and can be used in the same ways. It is brighter and re-usable, but also more expensive.

You can get basic EL Wire kits for around £10 but be careful you’re looking at a wired up and ready to use system unless you like to play with electronics!

Other Lights

You can experiment with all sorts of cheap lights to paint with, from LED work lights and electrical tape (such as the setup I used on the first night) for ~£10, to spinning coloured LED keyrings from the pound shop on some string, to toy fibre-optic lights bouncing off objects to create a smoke or bouncing sparks effect, you can create all sorts of effects experimenting with different lights used in different ways.

Keep an eye open in places like pound shops, Aldi/Lidl deals, boot fairs, and so on for interesting coloured lights.

And don’t be afraid to experiment or combine effects to create an image!

The primary image on this post is a re-take of the image taken inside during the second night photography evening. Where you could see at the time that light reflecting off the walls inside the room produced a failure of an image, the same photo taken in your back garden really pops off the now black background.

In this image (if you missed the example on the night) a coloured flash was set off firstly through a hand-cut stencil (similar to this stencil tutorial but cut instead of printed), then aimed at the subject, and finally a glow stick was taped to a colander and moved to create the wave movement effect by using the colander as another stencil.

It’s not a perfect result (flash reflecting from glasses, waves not bright enough) but still an interesting image, created with no context required, using three pretty basic techniques.

And don’t forget you have ~20 days to play before the next competition deadline, which rather fittingly is “Into The Night”!