David Papp Blog

Photographing With Flashlights: Here Are 4 Fun Tricks To Try At Home



You can have a lot of fun with flashlights and photography. Here are 4 very simple photos I took to quickly demonstrate. You can get much more creative with time and imagination. Be sure to try these out in dark environments. No Photoshop is required for these photos, this is all done with your camera.



In this shot, I taped a mini flashlight behind the bulb. Then you simply play around with the length of time for the exposure. The easiest way is using the Tv mode on your DSLR. A few seconds should do the trick. Seconds are usually represented as double quotes (“), e.g. 3” is 3 seconds.





In this photo, you set your camera on a tripod. Ensure it is very dark. Set your camera to a long exposure such as several seconds. Then turn on your flashlight while aiming at the camera and move it around all while the camera is “taking the photo”. Turn the flash off when you have created whatever shape you want. Hopefully you were quick enough within the amount of time you allowed yourself during the long exposure.







You can achieve the next 2 example photos using longer exposure time. The easiest is if your DSLR supports Bulb mode. Bulb keeps the camera shutter open as long as you are holding the button. This is great for very long exposures. I personally use this a lot for astrophotography and fireworks. Here are 2 photos I took recently. I had my camera set to bulb mode and kept taking random shots trying to time it to the fireworks and experimenting with different exposure times. Generally you only need a few seconds.




If you have a friend helping you, they can be the one pressing the shutter release button on your camera. If you want to do it yourself, you can buy a very inexpensive shutter release cable. It would allow you to “hold” the shutter open while you are taking your shot.



This is where a bit of imagination goes a long way using a flashlight to selectively “paint” your photo. In this shot I setup my DSLR on a tripod and used a shutter release cable to hold my shutter open with the camera in Bulb mode. I stood in position 1, turned on the flashlight aiming it at my face, turned off the flashlight, moved to position 2, turned on the flashlight, turned it off, moved to position 3, turned on the flashlight, turned it off, then went to the camera and closed the shutter by sliding my shutter release cable button.

You need to be careful you don’t trip on anything in the dark. You can get away with a tiny amount of ambient light to see.




This photo is identical to photo 3 above, however I kept my body in the exact same position and simply moved my head. You need to keep it very still otherwise it can get blurry like on the left.




You will need to play around with your focus beforehand when you know where you will be standing. These tricks are much easier with someone else helping you however as demonstrated above, very possible to do it by yourself.


If you have a willing subject, it is fun to paint them with a flashlight while you are taking the photo. You can have them move their hands. Also fun is painting objects. You can take some wonderful photos of your home at night and use a flashlight to highlight certain aspects.


I hope this provides you with some fun things to try with your camera. It’s great to experiment now that we don’t need to worry about wasting film.



64 thoughts on “Photographing With Flashlights: Here Are 4 Fun Tricks To Try At Home”

  1. I have already tried one of your fun tricks on photography, the one with the sunglasses, and it really works. Can’t wait to try this one out. Looking forward for more of your blogs. Thanks and keep it coming.

  2. That seems cool. Like I have said in your other posts I am always willing to learn new tricks to become a better photographer. I’d be sure to try it out. You should do more photography posts. They are quite interesting.

  3. Those are great photography tricks! I like the one where you move to 3 different locations in front of the camera. I may try that one, although I’ll have to be careful and do it where there are no things to trip over. It would be a good trick to play on the kids.

  4. This is awesome! I like photo trick 1 the best. The fact that you did these by yourself is amazing as well. I have a great imagination and I am glad you took the time to share this. Now it’s time to do some experimenting of my own. Thanks!

  5. Those are some pretty impressive photos. I used to be into photography a while ago, though I had a low-quality camera. Your tricks are useful and I will definitely find this useful should I ever take up photography again.

  6. I really love photo trick #2! Doing long exposures like that with a flashlight really gives you a lot of options for designs and images you can do with it.

  7. Thanks for sharing these techniques! I’m going to see how I can apply the first two to rendering lighting in a 3d scene.

  8. I never knew you could do such fun things with a camera and a flashlight! I’d like to try the one where you “paint” your shape with the flashlight. Do these tricks work with a mobile camera, like an iPod Touch or iPhone?

      • what about Rebel T2i? I really like the effect on photo trick 2. the fireworks are really nice.

        When I take firework pictures it always get all bury and firework lines look scatter everywhere. Any tips =)

        • You should be fine with a Rebel T2i. You can set longer exposure times using Tv (time value) mode. The key to any nighttime/dark shot is to use a tripod. It is near impossible to hand hold it. That is what causes the blurring. You’ll need to experiment with how long you leave the shutter open for fireworks. Probably about 2-3 seconds would be good for most. This will likely be displayed as 2″ or 3″ on your camera (the double quote denotes seconds). Hope this helps. Try taking a shot in the evening of your home from outside. That is always neat. Experiment with different exposure times (i.e. length of time you keep the shutter open by forcing it using Tv mode).

          • Wow I didn’t know the tripod made so much difference!! Just got one few days ago and it looks way better =) now I just need to get familiar with how the exposure time works. Thanks

  9. Your last two photos were very trippy! I would have never though you could do so many things with a flashlight and a camera. I wonder what you could create with Vine!

  10. Phot trick 3 is definitely interesting and I’ll probably try it. I have a DSLR but honestly speaking, I don’t really know how to use it. I just bought it so I could take great pictures with it so I will definitely be looking for more articles on tricks to use with a DSLR.

  11. These are amazing tricks. I never would of guessed you could create such amazing photos with your flash light. I particularly like photo trick 2, where it almost looks like fireworks. I hope one day to try this out.

  12. I think 3 and 4 are the ones that catch my eye the most, the use of long exposure on fireworks gives an extremely pleasing visual effect, but those last two are so simple and striking, and I can see that you could use them to get some fantastic effects, they are techniques that would scale very well. Great ideas there thank you very much.

  13. These photos are really effective! Who knew you could create such fantastic imagery with simple flashlights? I don’t own a DSLR but I have a friend who is big into photography. I’m definitely going to pass this post onto her so she can try it out for herself.

  14. I’d also want to try these tricks for myself. Will also share these with my dad. Curious and looking forward to how my attempts will turn out.

  15. I was watching a behind the scenes video of Star Trek the reboot. They were talking about all the different effects they were doing with simple lights and light bulbs. They were using them to change how the camera viewed everything and it made everything seem so much more magnificent and beautiful. Really cool effects.

  16. This is actually awesome. At first glance, I looked at the 3rd picture and thought it was 3 different people before reading the trick. My tripod broke recently so I guess I should look into getting a new one.

  17. Oh wow, the first trick is pretty neat, almost artistic. Took me a while to figure out what was wrong haha. It always seems like there’s a lot of work involved in decent photography, but there actually are a bunch of really easy tricks like these. One just needs decent equipment.

  18. There are some really cool ideas here! I’ve done the second one before (looks really cool if you use coloured glowsticks), but the others are great too. I’ll have to give number 3 a try…very creepy!

  19. Oh, yeah, I think my kids are really going to like these! I can already think of a couple of uses for these tricks during Halloween this year. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  20. Those are some great tips, I really need to get myself an SLR but they are just so damn expensive.

  21. These are great tricks! I’ll be sure to try these with my camera and show them off to friends… I think they would also be great tips to show kids when they want to get in a piece of the action. Thank you for sharing!

  22. These tricks are great and quite unique, how do you come by them? Just wanted to say thanks for the tricks, especially number four. Sent the article to some of my friends and they’ve all replied with hilarious results. And the firework photos are great, how did you deal with the possible blur over such a large exposure time?

    • Probably by only exposing the camera to light when he wanted that image of him to show up at that time.

      Sort of like turning a flashlight on and then off, moving and then turning it back on.

      • I kept the shutter open the entire time. To avoid blur you must use a tripod. Then as Khronic says, I only turned on my flashlight to “paint” myself with light, turned off the flashlight, moved, and then turned it on to paint myself in a new position.

  23. Very cool ideas. I would consider myself a pretty terrible ‘photographer’ but these are really good. The first two in particular look worth trying. More of these photography tutorials would be appreciated.

  24. I like number three a lot. The spooky face technique. It is a shame that film photography is going the way of the dodo. While I like the convenience and ease of digital, it is kind of cold in comparison to film. It is always cool to see these kind of techniques in action.

  25. ahahahha! nice tricks. i have a son i will try it with him. and love the one with 3 dimensional.

  26. When I was a kid my brother used the second light trick to keep me believing in the Tooth Fairy for YEARS. All old embarrassment aside it is a very beautiful effect. I wish I had a camera that I had that kind of control over. But what’ll ya do? Teacher’s salary.

  27. Very interesting techniques! Like Medza I would also love to see more of these on the blog. They are fun to look at and some of them could even be done by photography beginners like myself.

    I loved the second photo trick! It’s amazing what you can do with just a flashlight, a tripod and a camera!

  28. You’ve got really interesting photo tricks. I really never realized that you could do all these stuff with a DSLR camera. Thanks for this. I’m gonna start exploring my camera one of these days, and maybe I could do some other tricks you showed in this post.

  29. Damn, those last two tricks are scary, haha! Nice work, though. I love the fireworks photos especially – I’ve always wanted to get a great photo of them, and I do actually have a good friend that lets me play around with his DSLR every so often. I’ll have to look out for Bulb mode when I next get a chance.

  30. These are really neat pictures. The fireworks pictures are by far my favorites. I didn’t realize you could do this with a camera, but I see I have a lot to learn! Well done!

  31. Tricks 3 and 4 look interesting, like something I might be able to use to photograph to get a scary effect. The 4th one reminds me somehow of Silent Hill. I’m curious if I’d be able to get the same effect for videos. Or if I can, how.

  32. Nice one. Photo trick 3 makes you look really dark and mysterious. The cams of today are of such a good quality.. I remember changing films when I was a kid. Nobody would believe that today.

  33. Cool. That is early photographers must have been doing before people played around on instagram and photobooth. I very much enjoy the “faces in the dark picture”. I watched a horror movie last night and it spooked me up. Your picture re-spooked me.

  34. If you happen to have a copy of Photoshop, there are some really cool effects you can do similar to these with a process known as image stacking. Basically you could shoot 3 or 4 images lighting an object from a different angle in each shot, then combine them all into one shot in Photoshop. Photoshop has certain settings in this process where it can, for example, find the brightest areas in each shot, then combine them all together so the final shot looks like it was lit from multiple angles. It’s a very cool effect.

    • I use image stacking for astrophotography. Works fantastic. Especially on shots including the Milky Way. Definitely an idea for another blog posting. 🙂

  35. I’ve just started to get into photography and this is great. I’m going to try these tomorrow, will you be doing more photography articles in the future?

  36. I tried them out and they really works great. I mean, these ideas never came in my mind, your articles are absolutely great.

  37. I really like all these amazing tips and tricks you teach us using DSLR cameras. I wish I owned a DSLR camera so I could take amazing pictures like this.

  38. These are all amazing tricks, David. I’m quite impressed. You’ve created such beautiful, well-crafted images. I like them all, with #1 and #4 being my favorites if I had to pick.

    As you point out, it’s great that we don’t have to worry about wasting film anymore. Back in the ’90s when I did a lot of photography — as a hobby on the side — that was a bit of a deterrent. I have to say the more I check out your photographs and your tips the more inclined I am to take up photography again. I really do miss it!

  39. Oh dear! The last two shots really freaked me out! I haven’t expected something like this – I was waiting for more pretty fireworks pictures, lol!
    Anyway, I meant to say that all of those are really great tricks. I would never thought they were possible without the use of photo editing software.

  40. I think I’ll try out photo trick 4 on my husband and tell my son daddy is an alien with three bodies… Lol. That trick with the lightbulb was good too! I have never been too successful in shooting fireworks though. I think my timing is really bad.

  41. Great tricks and pictures! I love photography and always enjoy learning new and interesting tricks to do. Your pictures turned out great, I especially love the one when you swirled the flashlight around. It looks like a glowing tube or neon sign.

  42. I love the trick in photo #1. It looks like a real light bulb that is lit up without any sort of lamp connected to it. Nice trickery there. Trick #2 is really impressive. I can see why the long exposure feature of the camera would create that effect. Very creative thinking. I’m going to go try these out and add them to my screensaver picture collection.

  43. These are some truly good tips in between some spectacular photos. The concept behind making that bulb photo is very smart. The last dark photos at the end are extremely creepy though, and they look that good that they belong in an X Files episode.

  44. Whoa! How didn’t I see this article before! These tips are really amazing! I had no idea DSLR’s were even capable of doing this.

    I must say this is among your finer photography articles, thanks really for sharing these tips. I will be testing these as soon as I can!

  45. Now these are some really cool tricks in photography. Well it is pretty normal for everyone to get into the role of a photographer on certain occasions in the daily life and however amateurish they can be , taking a decent photo makes quite the difference, but also having tricks like these here doesn’t make you seem an amateur at all.

  46. It’s amazing what you can do with a camera and lights. It’s interesting to know these tricks as they can be used to share some fun and laughs with your friends or at a party.

  47. Exposure photography has always been on my bucket list, but I never manage to ever try it! If only I weren’t such a procrastinator…

    These are really interesting however – it’s these kinds of things I would never have thought of, yet sound so simple in hindsight.

  48. Another trick is to set the camera on a tripod or other surface with the shutter time set to about 1 min. Then wave a bright flashlight around someone’s head (and body) the light will “paint” them to show on the final image, and they’ll have cool light streaks around. If you’re really clever, you can ‘draw’ wings or ‘write’ someone’s name that way. (just briefly cover the light to break the streak). I did this in a photography class, it was fun 🙂

  49. This is going to be fun! Both my partner and I are into cameras. My first was a very old 35 mm Nikon. I’ve upgraded over the years. We are already planning on trying these especially the astronomy trick. Here in Kansas the night sky is usually visible an we’ve tried taking pictures of it with only so-so results. Can’t wait for the next full moon. Thanks for the hints.

  50. This is so awesome. It’s amazing to know that you don’t need photoshop to do some pretty awesome tricks. These pictures were quite extraordinary. My favorites would have to be of the fireworks. I think I need to invest in an actual camera.

  51. Photos are really good. The tricks are quite elegant considering the types of lights and bulbs you use.
    I have a couple of questions, are those bulbs dependent on the brightness?

    Probably it is quite relevant if it is closer to your face and when it comes to multiple shots, it does look a bit trippy.

  52. Wow these are pretty neat ideas to do with a camera. I will try next time I have time. I dabble from time to time taking pictures, but never something like this.

  53. These look awesome! I will have to give it a try with my friends. Playing with long exposures is fun. I like taking interesting photos on the 4th of July with fireworks and sparklers. I’ll have to try your tip with flashlights. I think it’ll help me learn a thing or two about my camera as well.

    • My friends and I tried this out last weekend! The weather was perfect. We hung out in the park all night and played with cameras and long exposures. It was a lot of fun and much cheaper than hanging out in a bar all night 🙂

  54. These look pretty amazing! I’ve done some long-exposure photography before, sometimes with LEDs and glowsticks. I’ve never really considered a flashlight, because I’ve always thought it would’ve been too much light and the picture would’ve been ruined after, especially if the flashlight was pointed at the camera. Some of the effects were pretty cool too, like the multiple faces, and the three-headed picture. This’d be really cool for some Halloween pics.

  55. The pictures of you in the dark look a little bit creepy. Cool, but unsettling. I wish I could make such beautiful pictures of fireworks! Next ones coming will not be for a few months though.

    Also, I absolutely love that lightbulb picture. So stunning in its simplicity.

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