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an easy light painting tutorial for adventurous families

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It’s spring camping season, guys, and that means it’s time to take the family on a new adventure! We have several really exciting camping trips coming up in the next couple of months in AZ and CA, all of which I’ll be sharing with ya’ll as they happen. Camping is a family passion  because it encompasses multiple loves of ours – the great outdoors, being active and photography. Both of our kids are really into photography now (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree) and their favorite type is light painting.

Let’s start by saying, this tutorial is just for fun, so don’t feel intimidated by the settings or gear… you’ve got this! I’m not writing this for professionals, just my fellow parents who love both the great outdoors and photography. Sometimes there isn’t much to do at a campsite after the sun goes down, so this is a perfect way to finish tiring the kids out for the day – just have FUN! We’re not looking for perfection, even the outtakes took cool to kids.

what you need to light paint with kids

the right gear

Light painting is an activity any family can attempt as it doesn’t require any unique gear. If you’re interested in light painting, you probably already have a decent camera set up. For this activity, you’ll need a DSLR that has a “bulb” setting (if using a remote trigger), a sturdy tripod and a light source. If you are attempting this alone, you will also need a remote trigger. You already have lots of light sources in your camping gear like: headlamps, flashlights, LED bracelets…

…a lantern, tent light or a LED light stick.

Okay, you probably don’t already have an LED light stick in your camping box, but if you’re serious about light painting, it’s an awesome (small) investment. It is really simple to use and kids will love waving it around in the air. One tip: just be careful of surrounding pricklies. I may or may not have bounced into a yucca or two on this last trip.

This image was captured by just a flashlight in hand walking to the potty! Get creative – there are no definite rules! Well, there is one rule which is don’t point your light source at the camera. Even this has an exception though, like if you are very far away as in the photo below where I just wanted to light up our camp.

have kids wear black

Stay invisible in the final image by wearing all black and staying in motion. If you stand still, you will appear as a ghost in the image (see below). If you do choose to be visible, stay as still as you can! My kids like to have images where they can be seen so we’re often drawing shapes and writing letters.

choose the right location and night

Light pollution is the enemy of night photography, so choose a remote location. If your campground is lit up, I suggest wandering off a ways. Another thing than can contaminate your photo with extra light is the moon. Ideally, night photography is created on nights with a new moon or waxing/waning phase.

camera settings

First set up the camera on a sturdy tripod (camera shake would be bad). If using a remote trigger (instead of pressing the shutter button) set your camera to “bulb”. Turn off image stabilization on your lens (VR). Make sure you are shooting RAW and set your camera to these settings:

  • ISO: 100 ideally; keep it low
  • aperture: the smaller the aperture (larger the f-number) the longer the exposure time. Start at f/5.6 and adjust as the scene requires.
  • shutter speed: how low is your ISO? How much ambient light is contaminating the scene? How bright is your light source? These answers will determine the shutter speed. For these images, the shutter was at 15 – 60 seconds.
  • focus: turn your focus to manual and use the light source (flashlight, etc) to lock in the focus.

editing program

Honestly, the images I have in this post looked pretty similar SOOC. They only need little tweaking in an editing program to be their best selves. I always use Lightroom first to edit the RAW images (mostly exposure adjustment) and then send it off to Photoshop where I can make minor adjustments. You could easily get away with not editing since this technique always creates epic images. The only shot that requires major editing is the flashlight beam, which I’ll be sharing a tutorial on coming soon!

batteries and more batteries

Those who love to camp know that many batteries are required. I always have a variety of battery sizes stored in our main camping box. I wouldn’t risk duds out in nature, so quality is key. If you have rechargeable batteries with you, bring a car-ready charger as well. It’s always better to be prepared because light painting isn’t happening without batteries!

I recently posted my Ultimate Camping Checklist and on it are many essentials that require batteries, from lanterns and hangable bulbs to fans and toys. Don’t get stuck out in the dark! Keep extra packs of Energizer® Ultimate Lithium™ batteries in your camping box. Energizer® Ultimate Lithium™ batteries are the #1 Longest Lasting AA Battery, perfect for your epic outdoor adventures.  They are lightweight and perform in extreme temperatures -40F to 140F so no matter where you are camping and exploring, you’re covered.  They have a 20 year shelf life (AA/AAA only), leak resistant construction and are 33% lighter vs alkaline batteries (AA/AAA only)

Find Energizer® Ultimate Lithium™ batteries at your local Ralphs, Albertsons or Vons. They are found with other batteries in an end cap or near the cash registers. Keep in the know with Energizer® on Facebook!


Happy camping and creating!

Feel free leave questions in the comments



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