Light Writing

December 26, 2009 | Category: Video, tutorials

November 24th 2008 - Graffiti
Subjects that aren’t always predictable make photography fun and challenging. You do your best to arrange the lighting, pose your subject, but there are always variables that make every frame different. Light writing is one of those subjects.

If you’ve got a few minutes to spare, a small colored light source and a remote shutter release cable, you can make some surprisingly fun photos.

The principals of light writing are as follows:

Find yourself a dark area to work in

This can be a dark room at night, or even the great outdoors. All that really matters is that you can leave your shutter open for long enough to write or draw without the ambient light contaminating your image.

Set your working aperture, ISO and shutter speed

November 25th 2008 - From the Heart of the Black SoulI like to work at least around f8 so that I have enough depth of field to work with. I then set my ISO at 100 to keep the noise low and also to keep any stray ambient to a minimum. As for the shutter speed, the best case scenario is that you have it set to bulb and use a remote shutter release cable to trigger and lock the shutter open. If you do not have a cable release, simply set the shutter speed to it’s longest setting (usually around 30 seconds) and set your timer.


Mark the spot where you’ll be standing and with camera in hand stand in that spot and focus on the tripod. Lock the focus on your lens and then place the camera on your tripod.

Turn the lights off and have fun

With our flashlight or penlight in hand, trigger the shutter and then step in  the shot. When the shutter trips, turn the light on and begin writing with the light facing the camera.


June 27th 2008 - My Heart Beats for Her1. Try multiple lights with different colors.

2. To find your focus spot in the dark, try some glow in the dark material on the floor.

3. Instead of turning your flashlight on and off before and after or between words, try instead to cover the light with your hand.

4. If you’re writing words backwards and are having trouble getting it right, face away from the camera and turn the light back towards the camera… you can then write normally.

Getting more creative

But what if you want to add yourself or a friend into the photo without them showing up as a big blur? Well then it becomes a little more complicated.

The following video will show you how add an off camera flash and a cheap wireless trigger to spice up your light writing shots.


If you’ve got some interesting light writing shots, be sure to leave me some links in the comments.

Have fun!

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  1. Bixby
    on December 29th, 2009

    Awesome!!!!!! A very good candidate for the Jan. 1st pic to kick off my attempt on a 365 project!!!!

  2. Stephen Poff
    on December 30th, 2009

    Send me a link when you do!

  3. Appu John
    on October 13th, 2010

    Hey bro,

    Amazing work here! I am really inspired by your work.I am a very amateur photographer and I do have a question. I was trying to do the light writing, but my writing comes out shapeless as in there is no definitive shape. I was trying to write the letters E and Y which is the name of our Band. I was trying to shoot our recording studio in the background( lit moderately), with the letters E and Y in the front using light, but whenever I try it , it comes out very vague and definitely not in the form of an E and Y :(
    Any suggestions? I really would appreciate it!!!

  4. Stephen Poff
    on October 15th, 2010

    It’s really kind of hard to tell without seeing the photo. Could be that you have too much ambient light.

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