How to have a glowing light ray effect outside some object like in this photo

Glowing ray outside car
(source: art-spire.com)

Edit Using photoshop to get this effect ?

  • 1
    @dpollitt - Looks like the original photographer has since gone missing. art-spire.com/en/photographie/jogiart-fabia-light (the image is all over the place, but not usually mirrored as this version is) and the Deviant Art account has been deactivated.
    – Joanne C
    Apr 27, 2013 at 22:50
  • I linked the image from the original site ! Have removed the uploaded one.
    – Sourav
    Apr 28, 2013 at 1:49
  • Great. Now this post generates traffic on someone's server and if the image is remove from that server this post is useless. The right way would be to upload a copy and add a link to the original image and (if known) mentioning the photographer's name.
    – eogavy
    Dec 9, 2015 at 20:13

2 Answers 2


Light Trails

This style of photography is often referred to as light trails.

Photoshop is not necessarily needed. Effects like this can be achieved on a single photograph without multiple exposures.

1. You need darkness for this style. Even though the photo may end up looking light, absolute darkness is needed do this sort of photography. Usually this means shooting at night or in a very dark room.

2. You need to mount your camera on a sturdy tripod so as to avoid any vibration.

3. You should keep your shutter open for a long period of time so that you have time to draw the pattern you want. It's possible to do this by using a very low ISO (25 or 50 ideally, but more modern DLSRs don't go below 100) and high f-value aperture to reduce the amount of light entering the camera and recorded by the sensor or film. You can also use a ND filter to decrease the amount of light that enters the camera.

4. Once the shutter has opened, normally a torch or mobile can be used to draw a light trail. This is done by moving the light source around whilst keeping a line of sight between the camera and the light source. You want a light source that isn't too intense, otherwise people near the light source might show up on the photo if they are close to the source. Lasers tend not to work.

Reproducing this photo. If I was reproducing this example, I would use sparklers to draw the light in order to get the fraying spark look and have several people 'drawing' around the car whilst another two 'draw' the track simultaneously. I'm not sure one person could do all this without mucking up when relighting the sparkler.

My experience of doing this sort of a thing isn't great. Here is one attempt of mine using ignited iron wool and a length of rope, and swinging it around. Luckily nobody was hurt! But it shows the concept works, and doesn't need photoshop.

  • It might be a little more clear in point 4 if you were to indicate the light needs to be pointed at the subject. Some novices might misread your current wording to mean they need to physically point the light source at the sensor itself through the lens, which will produce an entirely different effect.
    – Michael C
    Apr 27, 2013 at 23:30
  • Good idea, but can't understand how to hide yourself when holding the sparkler ?
    – Sourav
    Apr 28, 2013 at 1:40
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    Since you are only in the same spot for a second or two of a minutes long exposure, you are moving fast enough that you don't show up in the long exposure. Wearing dark colors also helps.
    – Michael C
    Apr 28, 2013 at 1:44
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    Doesn't your D5100 have bulb mode? If so you can use a wired remote to lock the shutter open or even a wired interferometer. amazon.com/s/…
    – Michael C
    Apr 28, 2013 at 1:52
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    @Sourav In my example, my bridge camera only allowed a shutter speed of something like 30 seconds. It might not be quite long enough to do anything complex like the car (unless you have a lot of friends who are willing to go to a car park in the middle of the night and play with fireworks!), but it's more than you need to get to grips with light trails.
    – James
    Apr 28, 2013 at 1:52

It looks to me like they used a sparkler(hand held firework) and physically drew around the outline of the car and road. To do this of course you would need a very long shutter speed. For example if the outline of the car took 2mins, you would need at a minimum of a 2min exposure. It would also be possible to stack multiple exposures to achieve this if the other areas of the image were blown out(too bright) due to the long exposure. It is difficult to say with any certainty which way this was done, but I think that the movement of the clouds makes it safe to assume very long shutter speeds were used.

A similar effect could likely be achieved in Photoshop but I think the effort to get the shadows right would be a significant more amount of work.

  • Sparklers emit showers of burning magnesium based chemicals. That can't be good for the paint on that car!
    – Michael C
    Apr 27, 2013 at 23:32
  • I suspect the car wasn't there. The light trails might not be photoshopped, but the overall result probably is. Apr 28, 2013 at 6:06
  • Given how closely the trails match the car (and how hard it is to draw a car in 3D), I'd say the car probably was there. Maybe they didn't realize how bad magnesium ashes are for car paint (or maybe they did, but decided to risk it anyways for this awesome photo) Apr 28, 2013 at 6:47
  • 1
    The car is there.By the time a spark hits the car its faily cool. If you've ever seen a kid play with sparklers, you'll see the sparks land all over their nice flammable gloves, coats, hats, but it's too cool to ignite anything. It feels warm when it lands on your skin, not hot. It's only the actual stick that is burning! The car will have been fine. It's way easier to do with a car and a sparkler than photoshop unless you are REALLY lazy.
    – James
    May 9, 2013 at 12:04

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