I have been obsessed with light painting for a couple years now and believe that I identify as a light painter there is a certain hierarchy that can apply within the community. There isn’t one that is superior to the other just different, as photography is mostly subjective with elements of objectivity. These tiers have been pulled from www.lightpainters.com and I think they represent the different levels well. We will go over all of them from top to bottom as they build on each other.

Full Image Levels, one exposure
Spot Editing, One exposure
Live Composite (either SOOC or editing)
Layers, Photoshopped, or significant editing

SOOC – Or Straight Out of Camera is exactly how it sounds. Literally what you see is what you get. No editing of any kind on a computer. For most light painters getting something SOOC can provide no better feeling of accomplishment and you feel amazing when it happens.

Full Image Levels, one exposure – Similar to SOOC except adjustments such as highlights, white balance, whites, blacks, etc. are allowed but no other editing of any kind.

Spot Editing, One exposure – Spot editing means that if we end up seeing an extra light like an airplane or or someone’s feet that we don’t want to see we edit it out. This is only in reference to taking elements out of your picture and not putting any elements in.

Live Composite (either SOOC or editing) – Live Composite can be tricky because it is done IN camera but has an editing like effect to it. Basically for Live Composite to work you are creating a kind of double exposure. First you will exposure for your environment for a determined numbers of seconds for how bright you want it to be. Then once that is done your environment won’t overexpose like it would for a traditional camera and instead you can add in your light painting after words. This is very useful in bright ambient areas like New York City at night.

Layers, Photoshopped, or significant editing – Once you’ve added more than one layer to your light painting photo or added things into the photo you are on this tier. This can be a variety of different things and at this point the sky is the limit. One of my personal favorite artists using this technique is Atton Conrad with his light painting dresses. Absolutely gorgeous.


The most important thing to remember is that at the end of the day you use light painting how you want to use it. Sure there will be purists who might scoff in your direction because you used Photoshop to enhance your photo, but when it comes down to it those people don’t matter. The public certainly doesn’t care if it was done in camera and more importantly if you are doing it for a client you should be delivering the best consistent content you can for them.

As for me I love the challenge that light painting provides. There are so many options in not only how I can push myself but just in possibilities! Traditional photography most definitely has it’s own merits but doesn’t make me feel like I’m embarking on a new frontier like light painting does. I especially feel this way with drone light painting because I’m doing things that have never been done before with a single drone. Let me know what kind of light painting you enjoy, I’d love to hear from you!