EasyDigitalPhotoTips.com >> What Is Trick Photography?

What is Trick Photography?


4:52 PM - September 12, 2014 by Dan Makela

To quote Wikipedia: "The illusions or tricks of the eye used in the film, television, theatre, video game, and simulator industries to simulate the imagined events in a story or virtual world are traditionally called special effects (often abbreviated as SFX, SPFX, or simply FX)."

Trick photography often includes 
long exposure effects performed in-camera using a diverse range of light sources. 

Camera Settings

Your first consideration in trick photography is camera settings such as shutter speed, aperature, ISO, white balance, manual mode, and manual focus.

See also: Getting Start - Fundamentals

Here is a good video on the basics of aperature, shutter speed, and ISO:

Shutter Speed


Shutter speed determines how long the camera is open to let light in to take your picture. You need to determine the best shutter speed to take for your photograph. A long shutter speed of several seconds will capture movement of objects and light. A short shutter speed will freeze high speed motion that's difficult to observe in normal situations.


The aperature setting determines how wide the opening is in the camera - the wider the opening, the more light is exposed in your photograph. The aperature also determines depth of field - how much of the photo is in focus in the foreground and background. A small opening brings the entire scene in focus, while a wide opening blurs the foreground and background of your shot.



The ISO setting determines how sensitive the camera is to light. Higher ISO means more light is captured, which is helpful in low light situations. However, the higher the ISO, the more noise is introduced into the image. Ideally, keep the ISO setting at 100 or 200 wherever possible for the clearest possible photograph. Only raise the ISO when necessary or to achieve specific effects.


White balance

Different light sources amplify certain colors. For example, sunlight has stronger blue tones, while candlelight introduces more red tones. The human eye automatically corrects for different lighting conditions, but you need to set your camera to adjust color balances to look natural under different lights. You can either set your camera to adjust automatically, or assign specific settings such as "Daylight" or "Flash" to preset color balance in-camera.


Cameras can focus automatically, or manually using the focus ring. In many situations where the focus needs to be steady in a long exposure or identical across multiple exposures, it's important to set the focus manually to remove focus variation across exposures.


DSLR cameras have different modes, including full manual, shutter priority, or aperature priority. It's important to learn to use manual mode for photographs that require identical settings across long or multiple exposures.

Common Light Sources

Trick photography makes use of a variety of light sources to achieve specific effects.


Standard flashlights are an excellent tool for use in trick photography, and particularly in long exposure light paintings. There are mini-flashlights available for lighting small subjects, and large lamps for lighting scenery.

See Video, Introduction to Light Painting

This photo was lit with a small Maglite flashlight. The apple was lit up first, then a fiber optic adapter was used to light up the almonds and paint the drawing in the background.


This photograph was taken with an LED Lenser X21 that works up to 500 meters. The combination of a long exposure of the sky with illumination of the foreground trees with the flashlight produced this interesting effect.


Fiber Optics






Glow Sticks


Electronic Flash


City Lights






Common Techniques

techniques applied to trick photography include:


Light and dark are inverted, colors are complementary.



Light drawing

Multiple Exposure


Long Exposure

High-Speed Flash

Image Editing

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