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Photograph courtesy of Johnny Andrews

Why do I believe all photographers should be light painting photographers? Maybe a little background will help. I actually first got into photography while studying graphic design in college. I had a camera and my friend Johnny showed me a photograph of a light painting. What is this amazingly mysterious art! Witchcraft?! Johnny assured me that it was not witchcraft. He explained that it had all been done with a camera and no Photoshop. I decided right there that I would learn this craft. What I didn’t realize was the technical camera skills I would quickly learn in order to become a light painter. The first lesson, Auto Mode is out, from now on it is full Manual baby! I didn’t have any clue what an aperture or shutter speed really meant. ISO was even more a mystery. Pretty soon I was heading out on campus in the middle of the night with a tripod, and letting my camera shoot for the maximum 30 seconds I could get out of the shutter. It was amazing! I couldn’t believe the images that were showing up on the back of my screen. It wasn’t long that Johnny and I had figured out that you could get starbursts from the lights in an image using a tiny aperture setting. Not only that but you could get bokeh with a large one!

A full bokeh of stars in northern Minnesota.

A full bokeh of stars in northern Minnesota. Photography -Dan McCreight

The rabbit hole didn’t stop there. As we headed to the tunnels underground, we started adding in our own lights. Sparklers, flashlights, and steel wool for the most part. We spent hours tweaking our settings. We would open the shutter to bulb mode (with the help of a trigger release) and play with the aperture and ISO to get the artistic image we were after. We had full control of ambient light, our flashlights, and the quality of the pixels coming across the sensor!

Image courtesy of Johnny Andrews

Image courtesy of Johnny Andrews

The wonderful thing is that instead of painstakingly learning the technical side of the camera in a classroom, we were just having fun. Little did we know how this stuff would translate into other areas of photography.


Let me explain. After graduating with a BFA in Graphic Design, I decided I was off to photography school. There I was thrown into the world of portrait photography. I knew very little about how light should fall on a subjects face, but I already understood how to control the quantity of light. Next we introduced strobes!

Mokkyung illuminated by strobes.

Mokkyung and her Gayageum illuminated by strobes. Photographer -Dan McCreight

Whoa I have seen this before. When I was deep in the tunnels I had been controlling the intensity of the light with the variable of time. Now I was using the power of the strobe to do the same. Not only that but in the dark I had to imagine what the image would look like and create it. The same goes for strobes in a studio. Can you see the concepts falling into place? Not only this, but there have been times when I had no strobes with me, yet a flashlight saved the day and was used to get the same effect. Thank you light painting!

Nate Illuminated using a flashlight. Photographer -Dan McCreight

Nate Illuminated using a flashlight.


Did I mention I went to photography school in Wyoming. Do you know what a photographer does while in Wyoming? Shoot some landscapes of course! Great landscape photography is all about composing a great looking image in early or late daylight using a tripod.

Early morning storm at Buffalo Bill Reservoir, Wyoming. Photography -Dan McCreight.

Early morning storm at Buffalo Bill Reservoir, Wyoming. Photography -Dan McCreight.

I had already been through all of this. Even better, I had learned to do it all in the dark! It is a whole lot easier making a good composition with the sun still in the equation!

Nowadays I am photographing things that like to go fast.

Wingless sprints at Granite City Speedway, Minnesota. Photography -Dan McCreight

Wingless sprints at Granite City Speedway, Minnesota. Photography -Dan McCreight

Shooting racecars at high speeds in low light commands a high ability to control the camera with her settings maxed out. While not exactly the same scenario, light painting had taught me how to balance between aperture, shutter speed and ISO when one or more of those settings was at it’s max .


It is amazing that all the skills it takes to be a good photographer of any genre can fundamentally be learned from light painting. So next time you are trying to shake things up and try something new, why not try some light painting.


Did I mention it is really freaking fun!


-Dan McCreight