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Light Painting With LEDs

Updated on September 1, 2017
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Jenn enjoys photography and digital art, and has been pursuing these passions since 2007.

Getting Started

I took this long exposure by flipping the hoop in front of the camera.
I took this long exposure by flipping the hoop in front of the camera.


The minute my LED (light-emitting diode) hoop came into my hands, the photographer in my went, "Aha!" I started to make plans to "paint" with the lights in my hoop.

Light painting is a term that photographers use when lights are photographed during a long exposure, usually consisting of a few seconds or more. I'm going to tell you how you can do light painting photos either with your own LED hoop. What is you don't have one? Easy! A glow stick on the end of a string can give off a beautiful effect when twirling it around. A simple flashlight will also be useful, too. What I am going to teach you here can be be used in conjunction with the same instructions for LED hoop light painting.

How to Get Started

To start light painting with LED's, you need a few things to get started.

  • A DSLR camera or a good point-and-shoot with a manual setting. Make sure you are familiar with your camera!
  • A tripod is a good idea.
  • A remote trigger will be helpful, especially for self-portraits and using the BULB setting.
  • Your LED apparatus of choice.
  • A dark setting, preferably outdoors.

Find your dark space. I prefer plenty of space outdoors at nighttime. If you have a wide space where you can turn off the lights with minimal windows light is a great place, too

Set up your camera. Set it to the manual setting, or, if you have a BULB setting, that is also great, too. Here's what to set you camera to for each setting.

  • Manual: Set your shutter speed down as far as you'd like it to go. It should go down as far as 30 seconds. For your aperture, that is up to you. Play around and see what you like! Most users will be using manual mode.
  • Bulb: Bulb mode is cool. It allows you to keep the shutter open as long as the shutter button is being pushed down. This is where a good trigger that you are able to lock the shutter button down while the shot is being taken. I would only recommend using the bulb setting if you have a timer on your trigger, so that way you don't have to keep going back and forth to the camera.

Place you camera on a tripod. A tripod will greatly reduce or eliminate camera shake.

Set your camera's self-timer. This gives you a few seconds to get ready before the shutter is opened. This is where a great, wireless remote trigger comes in handy. Click the trigger, take a few seconds to safely stash your wireless trigger, and get in place!

When you hear the shutter click open, start moving! Wave your hoop, glow stick, or flashlight around until you hear the shutter close. What I like to do is hop over to the camera immediately and see my results.

Your next step? Repeat and experiment!

With positioning, you can capture a silhouette.

Have you ever tried light painting in photography?

I want to know, have you ever tried light painting with photography?

See results

Technique to Try: Silhouettes

Silhouettes are fun try try with LED light painting. What the key to a silhouette? That would be back lighting. Place your subject IN FRONT of your light source. The person using her LED hoops here was positioned right in front of her lights, so it was the perfect silhouette shot!

Get Yourself in the Action!

I had a friend take my photo while I spun the hoop over my head.
I had a friend take my photo while I spun the hoop over my head.
Here I try to create an "orb" around me with my LED's.
Here I try to create an "orb" around me with my LED's.

Things to Try

Some times it's a blast to see what crazy and squiggly lines you can get with your light painting. Still, it's great to try to see if you can create patterns and lines. here are some ideas to try.

  • Write your name with a glow stick!
  • Spin your apparatus in a certain direction. Then reverse it!
  • Swing your apparatus like a pendulum.
  • See if you can capture yourself in a photo by getting close to the camera.

The list is endless of what you can do. Have you tried any cool light painting techniques that you want to share?

Waist Hooping Capture

Waist hooping reveals a swirl of colors.
Waist hooping reveals a swirl of colors.

Beam Me Up, Scotty!

This reminds of being in a Star Trek teleporter.
This reminds of being in a Star Trek teleporter.

Try Video with LED's!

Video with LED's

I will admit it, video with LED lights isn't quite as cool, but it's fun to watch the lights dance around a performer who is in the dark. The person performing this light show? It's me!

Still, with the right settings, patience, and experimentation, you can get cool effects with light trails in video. See the next module below on how to do that!

There's an app for that!

Get amazing light trails on your iPhone or Android device using the Luminancer app. I have played with the app to get some cool effects with video.

To get a good idea and feel for Luminancer, I recommend looking at other photos and videos, such as the ones on this tumblr blog. Keep in mind, you can use Luminancer for still photos on your phone, too!

Playing with Luminancer

Light Painting with you iPhone

Believe it or not, you can achieve great results using a few apps on your iPhone to get great light painting effects. My personal favorite is called Slow Shutter. Here are the settings I use.

  1. Click on the gear in the lower left hand corner of you screen after you open your app.
  2. Set capture mode to Light Trail.
  3. I usually set my Light Sensitivity to Full.
  4. Shutter Speed? About 2 seconds.
  5. Lastly, I leave my ISO on Auto.
  6. Go to the right hand corner and click on what looks like three bullet points. This is where you adjust your settings.
  7. You need to set up your photo, so give yourself 10 seconds.
  8. Play with the other settings if you wish and to your liking.
  9. I recommend seeing what you can do with the Intervalometer setting. You may get some cool effects that way!
  10. After you are ready, steady your camera, and hit the shutter, and start moving!

Photos taken with Slow Shutter

I dropped my hoop down a hill here while the photo was being exposed.  I'm not complaining!
I dropped my hoop down a hill here while the photo was being exposed. I'm not complaining!
I dig the silhouette capture here.
I dig the silhouette capture here.
Going in circles!
Going in circles!

Show Me Your Photos!

I would love to see what LED light painting photos you have done yourself. It's a fun way to experiment! Please leave a link to where I can see your photos in the comments. I'm looking forwards to seeing what you share.

© 2014 Jenn Dixon


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