Light Painting

Light painting is a technique where you take photographs in near-darkness with a long exposure time. Only things that light falls on (and/or the lights themselves) will show up. Some side effects of the long exposure are that moving lights tend to show up with a neon-like effect, while moving non-light objects may appear ghost-like or do not show up at all.

I’ve been experimenting with light painting for a few months now, getting the idea from an Ignite Boulder presentation in March. The camera I use is a Nikon D40 SLR, which allows me to manually set for up to 30 seconds exposure time. After photographing various wearable-LED projects and trying to write everyone’s name in sparklers, I brought my camera to July 4th’s fireworks festivities. One problem: I didn’t bring a tripod, and no matter how still I held the camera, there were always some flaws in the photos. About half way through the show I decided to just give in to experiment and started moving the camera around. The results were pretty abstract and surreal, I want to try more of this! Moving your camera around like this is also called “camera painting”.

Here are some guidelines and tips for doing light painting:

  • The key ingredients are setting a longer exposure time, having enough darkness and “painting” with a light source.
  • A tripod (or tabletop, etc.) is a must for any stationary work, or you can move the camera around for more abstract effects.
  • Zoom out all the way if possible for maximum sharpness (I forgot this with many of the sparklers).
  • If your photos have too much ambient light and you can’t control it, try reducing the exposure time.
  • In addition to setting the time, I also needed to set my lens to manual instead of autofocus.
  • A remote is good to have for self-portraits and/or minimize further camera shake. And/or get to know where your timer setting is.
  • Image processing: spelling names in fireworks or making shapes with camera painting means you’ll want to flip the photos horizontally and/or vertically after you upload them.
  • A little planning goes a long way – for instance with the sparkler painting, make sure you have enough room and enough time to complete a name, and consider how you will dot i’s and cross t’s.
  • Handwriting seems just as good or bad in the air with light as on paper with a pen – I should have had Tina and Sue write more of the sparkler names for me!
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment. That’s how I stumbled on the camera painting!

Project Update

There’s been a lot of activity at the space lately and here are just a few of the awesome projects happening here:

Plans are underway for us to hold a light-your-bike workshop on a Saturday afternoon in May. We are thinking of having 2 projects people can choose from, one pretty easy for novices in need of an intro, and the other ultimate fun for those already somewhat technically inclined. Details will follow soon. We are also planning a party which will probably be held in late June.

John E and Edwin are working hard on their Musical Universe of Faux Fur Flowers (they did receive some grant money – yay!) and to a lesser extent their costumes for Burning Man / Apogaea.

Spring has brought renewed interest in Autoponics (a fully automated aeroponic system). Dan Z and Lindsay are also practicing worm husbandry plus growing hundreds of seedlings at their apartment. They are looking for foster farmers who can offer spare land and watering when their crop is ready to transplant.

The Solar Steam Engine project has lost a little steam lately but is always a hit with visitors. Some solar panels and a voltmeter told us the solar power concentration is about 30% greater through the Fresnel lens than with normal sunlight.

Joel is working on several projects, including a lunch-box light show that consists of lasers and mirrors all self-contained in – you guessed it – a lunch box. His Ardouija will be a hands-off Ouija Board powered by an Arduino. He has one dimension going and was working on refinement plus adding and integrating the second dimension. He also just brought in various rocket parts and related paraphernalia for people to hack away on.



John M bought some Sifteo cubes which we were playing around with a couple weeks ago and will be thinking about possibilities for.



Ross has been hard at work building a heat-forming machine which will take a sheet of plastic which with a mold, heat and a vacuum will allow creation of various things. One application could be for Halloween masks or related props. Employing a CNC machine to make molds will broaden the possibilities considerably.

Dan D-B found a YouTube video a couple weeks ago of someone using spray paint to create a painting in about 40 seconds and wanted to try it out himself. Scrounging up various cans in various colors that were recently donated, he created a bunch of paintings one Saturday afternoon out in the parking lot. Liz tried one too and we now have more paint and props so expect more of this.

Spray paint art

Spray paint art

Liz is still working on improvements to her LED coat but dropped that temporarily to work on some flower power – adding simple yet elegant white LEDs to a floral print dress. She has plans for a few more projects like this but also is thinking about Apogaea / Burning Man plus ahead into fall and ideas for us hosting a Haunted Hacker House.

At this past Tuesday’s meeting, Juan from SparkFun attended and intended to photograph general goings-on at our space, but also got roped in to doing some light painting with Liz and her LED coat on rainbow mode.

Light painting

Light painting

We are expanding in to more of the building! Which is fortunate as our stuff has accumulated and we’ve attracted more people. In addition to all our fun projects we will be spending some time reorganizing and moving things around to better accommodate our needs.

I know there are some things I’ve missed so these are just a few of the projects going on at Solid State Depot. Come check us out on a Tuesday evening or see if we’re around on a Saturday afternoon! (But maybe not this Saturday 4/23 – instead go see our friends at SparkFun for their Autonomous Vehicle Competition!)