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Photography – Painting with light

| January 4, 2010 | 1 Comment
Word “Photography” means painting with light. So, why don’t we ?

Many people use the word “Photography” without considering it’s real meaning. When translated literally, “Photography” means painting with light, and in the nutshell that is what happens. The light that comes through the lens, illuminates the photosensitive surface (film or sensor), causing a reaction. In case of film cameras, using the right chemicals, the film is “developed” into a photo, reproducing original image, or in case of digital cameras, the effect is converted into digital stream(through the sensor) and stored as an image on the memory card.

Now what if we take the phrase “painting with light” a little bit too literally ? We just might get very interesting shots. For example, something like a photo below.


Delirium by Grunf911 on Flickr

I have gotten the idea to experiment during my recent Christmas vacation in Thailand. So, if we want to enter the realm of creative photography, how can we make such an image ?



First, you need a digital camera capable of longer exposure (30 sec will do just nicely), and a tuk tuk. Tuk tuk is basically a motorcycle taxi, which can be seen on the image to the right.

I have used the following settings on my Pentax K200D (manual mode):
1. ISO set to 100
2. Lens 18-55mm kit lens set to 18mm
3. Aperture set to minimum (f/22)
4. Shutter set to 30sec

Tuk Tuk Ride

Tuk Tuk Ride

I have gotten on board of a tuk tuk, told the driver where I wanted to go, fired away a shot while he was driving, and gotten this image you can see on the left. There were lots of shops on the left side and some traffic on the street which left nice light trails.

Next, when considering on how to make it more interesting, I have decided to fire away a shot, and rotate my camera counter clockwise around lens’ axis while the driver was driving, resulting in the first image of the post, as well as some other interesting abstracts. My only regret is that I did not have a second camera to record the driver’s facial expression as I was rotating my DSLR :-).

So, my photography tip of the week is:

Think of incoming light into your camera as painter’s brush, and your camera’s sensor as canvas. Paint with Light !!!

Do not restrict yourself on thinking in terms of scene that is before you and how to shoot a snapshot of it. Think of its potential, and what it could be if you …. (i will let you complete this sentence for me)

Be creative, and have fun. If you have a photo that was made in a similar or another creative way, you are welcome to link it in the comments. Share your ideas. Happy shooting!

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Category: Low Light photography, Photo Enthusiast, Photography Tips

About the Author (Author Profile)

Alan Graf is the editor and founder of Digital Photography Student. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, and is also editor of – a Croatian wallpaper archive, and his own photo gallery at

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  1. […] You can read more about how this photo came to be in our article Photography – Painting with light. […]

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