How To Do Light Graffiti – All You Need Is A Camera And A Torch

light graffiti

Light graffiti is a form of graffiti art which changes urban space yet leaves no trace. All you need is a camera and a battery powered torch to transform your surroundings into eerie art.

Light graffiti – also known as light painting or light scribing – is essentiablly about combining time-lapse photography with light sources to imprint photographs with stunning, vibrant light. Light graffiti is more concerned with the skill and imagination of the artist than the size of their wallet.

To give light graffiti a try, all you need to get started is your camera.

What equipment do you need to make light graffiti?

  • All you need to get started is your camera and an understanding of how to control shutter speed. Light graffiti demands longer exposures, from several seconds to many minutes. Ideally, you’ll have a camera which can handle a really slow shutter speed.
  • A tripod is handy, too. You need your camera to be still to get the precision and movement of the light. But you can work without a tripod if you don’t have one. You could, for example, balance your camera on a tree stump or car and line it up with the shot you want to take.
  • You will also need portable light sources to play with. Think glowsticks, torches (flashlights), bike lights and blinking LED lights (or anything that works with batteries). You’ll gain the most satisfaction from lightsources you can wave and move around. Sparklers are perfect, and fireworks are good to work with, too. On the whole, it’s best to stick to battery powered lights unless you’re planning on doing some interior light graffiti and can plug your light sources into a mains plug.

light graffiti

How to do light graffiti

First, find a spot you think would benefit from having light lines superimposed on it in a photograph. This has to be done at night, really, or in a dark setting.

Now you’re ready to create light graffiti. Stand in front of the camera with a light. You can do this solo, or with a friend. After you open the shutter, you can begin moving the light to draw shapes and patterns in the air. If you move quickly enough, the camera won’t record a person, only the patterns of light you leave behind. The camera may also record the background if it is spotlit by other light sources, such as the moon or a streetlight.

If you move around a lot while creating your art piece, you should end up a mere blur, a living ghost. That’s if you appear at all. It’s down to so many factors – your shutter speed, the steadiness of your camera, how fast or wildly you move… You may be invisible in the photo. You may be an apparition. Half the art is in getting the results you want. The other half is in venturing into the unknown to see what happens.

light graffiti

The exposure on your camera should be set at somewhere between 10 and 30 seconds, but can be as long as you need to get the effect you want.

  • If you have an SLR camera, set the camera to ISO 100 and close the aperture as much as you can.
  • If there is still too much light you may have to use a ND-filter.
  • If your setting isn’t dark enough, a higher aperture number (16 or higher) may darken the scene sufficiently to let you write more light graffiti.

If you have an average digital camera you can always try setting your camera up on a tripod or flat surface, turning off the flash, and seeing if it will work for you. It’s really important, though, that your camera doesn’t move in the slightest, or everything will blur. This isn’t what you want, unless you choose to explore blur graffiti instead.

Light graffiti tips to get you started

Don’t neglect your surroundings. Anything that’s spotlit should appear in the picture. Churches and major buildings are often underlit at night and make great backdrops. If you just happen to have a big halogen lamp you can use it to spotlight anything from statues to trees.

Experiment with your choice of light sources. Use different lights and reflect them off things to see what happens.

Experiment with how you use your light sources. You don’t have to be a Lichtfaktor from the word go. It’s enough to discover what light can do. Can it make simple lines? Does it fuzz? Can it create patterns?

Light graffiti artists often write words on visual backgrounds in the style of a technological Tracey Emin. They draw charming cartoons by adding character to inanimate objects, turn various objects into monsters and much more. All this art is created solely with light, just as dolphins build transitory soundscapes to play in.

Established light graffiti artists haven’t come up with everything that can be done with light. Not yet. There are uncharted territories on the map. Venture forth, explorer, and see what you can do.

Using light graffiti as a magical tool

If you walk the hidden path, you could use light graffiti to work your sigil magic, or invisibly mark the territory as a psychogeography exercise.

Light graffiti could also be a wonderful way to make a magical crown of light for our annual May Day Magic ritual. We look forward to your taking part and hope you have a great time! To find out more, follow @MayDayMagick and join in the conversation using the #MayDayMagic Twitter hashtag. We hope to see you there.

crown of light may day magic