In our latest DIY Photography Hacks post we show you how to get creative with some common household items and build your own light painting kit for hours of long exposure fun.
There are lots of ways to capture great images after the sun has set. We’ll help you get started in the creative, inventive sport of light painting – photographing moving light to build up an image on your sensor.
It can range from simple hand-drawing with an LED torch, to creating sophisticated geometric patterns using a variety of homemade tools. In this area of photography you’re limited only by your imagination!
And one of the great things about light painting is that you don’t need a fancy location or expensive, specialist gear: just darkness.
In fact, the ‘tools’ of this trade are fun to source. You can use something as basic as an LED torch. But if you like a bit of DIY photography, you’ll enjoy adapting implements for the job.
Light painting is all about sharing ideas, working with friends, building and improvising, and modifying gadgets. The pound shop may even become your favourite haunt!
Below we show you how to use a few common items to make spectacular floating orbs, domes of light and other light painting creations.
Build your own DIY light painting kit
01 The tools of the trade!
One inventive aspect of light painting is making helpful gadgets out of everyday items. Torches, lamps, laser pointers, Christmas lights and decorations all provide good sources of light. Space blankets or water can be used for reflections.
Dog leads, chain, ropes, bird feeders and plastic plumbing parts can be used to make spinners and light movers. Balls, bicycle wheels, roller skates and hula hoops have all been pressed into service.
If it moves and you can attach a light to it, it’s fair game.
To create amazing lighting effects, a DIY photography approach is required. For the orb, you’ll need a set of battery-powered LED fairy lights, electrical tape and cable ties, nylon rope, an off-cut plumbing tube to use as a handle, and a large washer.
To create sparks, get a chain dog lead, a wire whisk, a handle (such as a cut-down paint roller handle) and some wire wool. The dome requires an old wheel, an elongated axle, and some more LEDs.
02 Create a floating orb
The set-up for an orb is straightforward. Cable tie the LEDs into a bundle with the knotted rope in the centre. Insert batteries and test. Cable tie and/or tape the battery pack to the bundle, but don’t cover the switch.
Measure a comfortable rope length, about one metre, and thread this through the pipe and washer. Then tie a knot in the rope so its length is adjustable. Alternatively, tape the rope to a wooden dowel. See the Video Disc and Super Tip! for more on this technique.
03 Make some sparks!
Creating an awesome shower of sparks is also a relatively simple procedure. Cut the dog lead chain in the centre with a hacksaw. Clip the kitchen whisk to the end of the dog lead, and cable tie or tape the other end of the lead to the handle – securely and strongly! Stuff the whisk with super-fine 0000 grade steel wool.
04 Build a dome of light
Domes require a little more DIY construction, but results can be spectacular! You need a wheel – an old bicycle wheel is ideal as the slender spokes help with the illusion – set on an axle the same length as the wheel’s radius (so when resting on it the wheel slants at 45 degrees, with the top rim directly over the axle).
Use a string of 10 or 20 LED fairy lights equally spaced around the circumference of the wheel, facing up and out. Secure them with cable ties or electrical tape.
For the dome, start with the wheel facing away from the camera, put the lights on and begin your exposure. Rotate the wheel one turn around the axle on the ground, taking care not to move it, then switch off the lights again when it is facing away from the camera.
Now walk away, taking the wheel with you, and close the shutter. It’s best if you wear dark clothes and keep moving.
05 What to wear
Wear dark clothes because any light objects may show up in the images. A dark hoodie works well and also protects from sparks – but be careful you don’t scare the neighbours or local dog walkers!
As long as you keep moving, you’re less likely to show up in the final image. Just don’t stand in front of the LED lights or in front of a light background.
You can paint light on things with an LED torch, or shine it directly at the camera to draw lines. Tracing around an object or person works well, and strapping the light to an object that moves around can produce great trails or patterns. You can even hang it on a string. Lots of creativity here!
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