Light Painting

Light Painting Tutorial | Shaping El Wire

el wire light painting

Electroluminescent wire (el wire for short) has been used by light painting artists for several years. It’s most common use is creating a glowing smokey effect (ex. 1). A less common use is mounting it onto objects and creating defined shapes and patterns (ex 2).

El Wire Light Painting

ex 1: For this photo, blue el wire was taped onto a long stick to get the plumes of light so far above the head of the subject. It was also shot under a full moon which helped light up the environment. A flash light was also used to light behind the subject and the limbs in the center top of the composition.

El wire light painting
ex 2: El wire was taped onto a diy rig I fashioned that spun on a tilted axis to create the 3-D effects. It’s the same light source as the above image, just a different application.

This was shot on a moonless night and a small flash light was used to light the trees behind the subject.

Below is the rig used to create the shapes in ex 2. It’s an old bike wheel mounted on an old tripod.

A: el wire taped onto bare copper wire. I used clear scotch tape so the light would be visible in the taped areas. The copper wire attached to the wheel by twisting it around the spokes . It’s important to make sure the “arms” are very secure and don’t wobble.

B: PVC pipe wrapped with black electrical tape. The el wire was wrapped around the pipe so it would be visible as the rig turned 360 degrees. Again, clear tape was used to hold the el wire in place.

C: A bike wheel. I removed the tire from it and painted it black with spray paint.

D: An old aluminum tripod painted black. I fastened the wheel to the head of it.

el wire rig

Uncropped version of the above image.
el wire light painting

And here’s the final product. The eyes were lit with a string of battery operated LEDs stuffed into the gas mask. The only environment lighting was a canon speedlite 430ex II fired through the window directly into the subject’s back. There was enough bounced light from the interior of the building to add some fill to the front of the subject. If you look carefully, you can see the faint blue lines below the light shape which were the tripod legs reflecting the light from the el wire. Perfection is so elusive 🙂
el wire light painting

In addition to creating 3-D shapes with el wire, you can also make some pretty cool 2-D patterns. I taped el wire onto a piece of foamboard and then attached it to my circle maker. I then moved the board around in consistent increments, holding each position for a second or two to burn in the el wire pattern.

Here’s an example of the rig. It’s not the exact pattern I used for the photos below, but you get the idea.

Test shot in the yard.

End result

  • Dennis, I think it’s great that you take the time to explain how these shots are created. I’m learning not only about the techniques for the light elements but also some interesting composition ideas. Where does one procure El wire?

  • Nice images and great tutorial :D, I love what you used to make such great effects :).. It’s something I will have to try at some point 😀

  • Wow those pictures are really cool! Awesome!

  • SO COOL. Definitely adding “El Wire” to my wishlist! 🙂

  • Very cool Dennis! Thanks for sharing your techniques and expertise.

  • Frank

    Great tutorial! I was just curious about some of the camera info on these shots, like ISO, shutter speed, etc. I’m trying to build my understanding of how these things look and all the components that go into creating a final picture. Thanks a lot!

  • outstanding! thanks so much for sharing this information. the deconstruction, then reconstruction of what you do really helps in working it all out.

    cheers from australia



  • Greg

    Those are pretty awesome pics! How long would you say the typical exposure is for something like that? Seems like it would have to be at least a minute or two for some of those circle ones! Is it hard getting the people to stay still for so long?

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  • Hulth

    The first picture blows my mind, and i get the creeps everytime i see it. Awsome work, and thousand thanks for the BTS 🙂

    Will definitely dig up my old elwire from the computer-mod-box in my storage and try it out 🙂

  • Bob

    Can you show how you powered the El wire?

  • Tamera Morgan

    I just was wondering how long you keep the exposure open for? What is the longest you keep the exposures open for in general with your pictures?

    • Dennis

      They exposure times generally vary somewhere between 30 seconds to three or four minutes.

  • this is really fantastic work… I think i may go on the hunt to buy some of the wire and have ago myself.

  • Rob Young

    Just ran across this blog post. Really enjoy the effect and suit in the first photo! How did you get the eyes to glow?