Light Painting

Dissecting Photons

Light Painting Dennis Calvert

Light Painting Dennis Calvert

I really dig fog. A lot. A whole hell of a lot actually. 🙂 I even wrote about using it in long exposure photography a few months ago.

For this one, the idea was simple and the execution was fast. It’s only a 14 second exposure. Here’s how it went down.

First off, I set up a speedlite (@ 1/4 power) with a wireless trigger about 25ft in front of the camera. I zoomed the flash out to 24mm to get a nice wide dispersion of light through the fog, and set it to trigger on the first curtain.

Next, I triggered the camera (I use the rc-1 remote) with a 2 second delay and timed my jump with the flash. It was really a pretty pathetic jump, but the back lighting threw my shadow out in front of me and made it look like I really got some air.

Finally, I held a hula hoop with el wire taped to it in front of the camera and moved it away from the lens three or four feet.

That was it. The photo is a jpg straight out of the camera.

Camera geek info:
Canon 5d mk3 & 24-70L
14.0 seconds

Here’s the light I used. Disregard the paint roller and stick the hoop is stuck to. I just used the hoop with the blue el wire for the photo. This was something I taped together a couple of years ago. I could have taken the time to make sure the el wire was all pretty and perfectly lined up around the rim of the hoop (which would have made a complete circle of blue around me), but I decided to leave it crooked and uneven. Sometimes you get a little more spice when things aren’t perfect.
light painting tool

There’s something in the air…

Light Painting Snow

You can light up particles in the air for a snazzy effect. The photos below were done by shining a powerful focused light into the air in various weather conditions during a long exposure. You need a light source that outputs some major power to pull off the effect. I used a Coast HP21 and a 3000 lumen Stanley spotlight for these shots. (more…)

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

Light Painting in Atlanta with DJ Kave (video)

light painting dj

Light Painting session with DJ Kave. Footage by Zac Long.

Road Tripping

December 29th 2010 I headed out on a road trip from Alabama to Colorado, taking a detour through Indianapolis to pick up Aaron Bauer. We made the trip to meet up with two other light painters who live on the other side of the country: Chris Renfro from Washington (aka Captian Blithering) & Todd Blaisdell from Alaska (aka BlaisOne).

This video is the first leg of the trip before leaving for Denver. I’ve been sitting on this video for almost a year now. I had forgotten about it and then came across the files while cleaning off some old cards the other day. There was more video shot once we made it to Denver. I’m putting that together now. Pardon the quality, it was mostly shot with a very old Canon Powershot 🙂

Music by Fancy Mike:

Man on Fire

Light Painting by Dennis Calvert

Light Painting by Dennis Calvert

In this light painting tutorial I’ll explain how to create the fire effect in the above photo. If you aren’t familiar with light painting, check out this post to understand the basics.

What you need:

  • eveready electric glow sticks (no, the company does not compensate me for telling you to buy their brand, these glow sticks just work better than others for this effect)
  • a flash or flash light

How you do it:
Overexpose the area behind your subject with a flash or torch, but maintain a dark silhouette. Fill in the silhouetted area by jiggling the glow sticks around. Yep, that’s all you have to do for the fire effect… just jiggle glow sticks.  The overexposed background helps ensure you don’t color outside the lines with the glow stick. This isn’t a precision trick, but spatial awareness is helpful.

Camera Settings:
f/8 – 400 ISO is a good place to start. You may need to compensate for ambient light and other variables. Give it a shot and adjust accordingly.

Time-lapse making of vid:

The video step-by-step:

  1. I first shine a flash light onto the scene to ensure I have the composition I want.
  2. I step into position and point to flash light at myself as I trigger to camera to help with auto focus.
  3. I have a speedlite strapped to my back and set to full power which is triggered on the first curtain.
  4. I jiggle the red electric glow stick everywhere I was standing to fill in the silhouette created by the flash.

Note: There was no post work done for the final image. It’s a single exposure straight out of the camera. The making of video is not the same take as the final image I have presented. A car drove by while I was recording the time-lapse and hosed the shot so I had to do another one.

eveready electric glow sticks
electric glow sticks

I hope you find some inspiration in this post. If you have any questions about the technique leave a comment and I’ll get back at you.


Perfect Circles of Light

light painting circles

Light Painting by Dennis CalvertA Perfect Circle, besides being one of my favorite bands, is also an easy and cool light painting trick.

What you need:
A paint roller and handle

A stand to mount the paint roller onto. I use a stand from a utility light.

Some lights to tape onto the roller handle. I like strips of LEDs, cold cathodes, and toy swords that light up.

Lights I’ve used:
Citylites LED Stick
Cold Cathodes
Light Up  Toy Swords


What you do: Tape some lights onto the paint roller handle and attach the roller to the light stand. Using the stand as your center point, rotate the roller to create a circle of light. Since this photo was taken, I’ve painted the light stand black to reduce the amount of light being reflected by the legs.

light painting circles

Below are the two light sources I used for the photo at the top of this post. The one I’m holding is a Citylites LED Stick and the other is a pair of cold cathodes. It’s nothing fancy and just taped on. I prefer the short paint rollers like the one I’m holding in the photo over the 12” size.
lights on paint rollers
Here’s a close up of the paint roller on top of the stand I use. The pieces I had fit together perfectly. You may need to make some modifications or get a little creative to get your rig stable, but at least you get the idea.

paint roller on stand

Coast HP21

Coast HP 21

Coast HP 21

Recently, I’ve been testing out some of Coast’s latest and greatest offerings. I got this beast in the mail the other day. It’s rated at 1317 lumens lumens of LED goodness. When I first got it, I was thinking about large scale applications (as you can see by my initial test shot, first image below). On the second night of use, I started using it to illuminate not only the landscape but the model in the photo. I was blown away by the quality of the light falling onto a person’s face. It gives the effect of large studio lights and modifiers, but in an easy to carry torch.

This thing is built like a tank and I’m very pleased with the power efficiency. It lasts so much longer than any of the HID spots lights I’ve used and doesn’t have a hot spot in the center of the beam even when it’s in the spot light setting. No hot spot means you get very even lighting when using it for long exposure photography. If you are serious about light painting, this is THE flash light to own.

Coast HP21 Light PaintingCoast HP21 light painting

Light Painting Primer

Light Painting by Dennis Calvert

Light Painting by Dennis CalvertOften times, people have a hard time believing you can create this kind of stuff with out the one stop cure-all miracle known as Photoshop. The approach and methods for creating a light painting are very simple and straightforward.

All right, so here’s the basic idea.

What you need:

  • A camera with a manual shutter speed, preferably bulb mode.
  • Tripod
  • Shutter release, I use the wireless canon rc-1. It has one button and an on/off switch. Simple and perfect for working in the dark.
  • A dark environment, we are going to be dealing with very long exposure times and just a little bit of ambient light will make a huge impact on how the image turns out.
  • Light source(s) (flash lights, electric glow sticks, anything that lights up)
  • A dash of creativity.

How you do it:

With the camera mounted on the tripod and set to bulb mode, open the shutter, move lights, illuminate the environment, close shutter.

There are two basic forms of lp: light drawing and surface painting. Drawing with light is done by pointing a light source such as a flash light, LEDs, etc, directly at the camera and creating lines and shapes. Surface painting is when you hide the actual source of light from the camera and use the light to only illuminate the environment you are in.  Personally, I like to incorporate both techniques in my work.

Camera Settings:
This area is totally subjective. Exposure time can range from 10 seconds to 10 minutes. Lower ISO settings will generally give you better quality photos.  If you shoot with your aperture wide open it may look as little too soft, hell it might look cool. My point, try some stuff out. Get comfortable with your camera and just experiment. There is no golden rule.

Here are a few making of videos so you can see it in action. Check back soon for more indepth and detailed explanations of light painting techniques.