1. Mooncatt's Avatar
    Most, if not all smartphones are coming with various manual controls to adjust things like ISO, exposure time, and focus. This guide is to help you step out of Auto mode and explore a very creative way of using your manual controls. This kind of photography is called light painting.

    Here's what you need:
    A camera app capable of manual controls. The Play store has third party apps if your stock app doesn't do this, but hardware and ROM limitations for some phones may limit your ability to use manual controls.

    Sturdy mount. I use a tripod and a solid metal clamp similar to this: https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B01LX...cUvbUpU5856438

    A dark area, either in a dark room or outside at night. The darker, the better.

    Dark long clothing to cover as much as you can.

    A light source. I usually use small LED's on a string, but anything will work. Flashlights, sparklers, glow sticks, light saber, Christmas lights, steel wool you lit on fire (a whole topic can be written on the safety of that alone!)... You don't want it very bright, though, or you risk washing out the image.


    First, some understanding about what's going to happen. When you take a picture, the sensor only exposes pixels that are hit by light. If you've ever taken a black photo because you accidentally left the lens cap on a camera, you should get this concept already. You could leave the shutter open all day, but the final image would still be black if the cap isn't removed. We are going to use this to our advantage, and is why you need as little ambient light as possible and dark clothing. As the sensor is exposing the image, it should only pick up light from your light source. Ambient light isn't a 100% no-no, as you'll see in my examples, but it needs to be at least dark enough the background looks ok when you're finished. From here on, I'll be speaking as if you are in a dark location already.

    To start, set up your tripod and mount the camera in your desired location. Open your camera app and switch it to your manual mode. You should see a number of new controls pop up. This is what it looks like on the LG V20.

    What we need to pay attention to is Focus , ISO, and Shutter (labeled "S" in the bottom row of my app). The other settings can be left at their default/auto settings. The AE-L button is auto exposure lock, which activates when you manually adjust your ISO or shutter. If you get lost, turning this off effectively puts it in an almost auto mode and resets things as the camera thinks is best. First up, focus.

    When you start, use a flashlight to light up where you'll be standing. Set focus mode to manual and focus in on that spot. This prevents the camera from trying, and most likely failing, to focus when you go to press the shutter button. When focus is set, you can turn the flashlight off.

    Next, set your ISO level to the lowest amount. I don't suggest raising this unless you're needing it for a specific look, because raising it will cause increased image noise.

    The shutter time is up to your specific tastes, but most of my shots are between 15-30 seconds long. The longer your shutter time, the more complex and detailed your final image can be. At this point, you can also set up a timer if you need to get into place before the exposure starts.

    If you know how to use the Exposure (EV) meter, it won't do much good here, so just ignore it.

    Now for the fun. I'll start with just some random LED spinning.

    This was a 10" exposure at ISO 600 with low ambient light. After setting up the shot, I very VERY lightly tapped the shutter button to avoid camera shake and blurring. I then turned on a couple of my LED's on a string and spun them in a vertical circle as I walked past the phone. What's missing?


    Remember what I said about the sensor only picking up light that hits it? By wearing dark clothing and moving quickly, I avoided having enough light reflect off me to be exposed on the sensor. The sensor primarily exposed the background and the relatively bright LED's. If you move too slow, you can get ghosting.

    This was shot in a nearly dark warehouse. After starting the exposure, I walked into place and stood still. Because the sensor was given time to pick up light from the back wall and me, I show up transparent. A similar issue can happen with light painting too, either by moving too slow or having too much ambient light. As with anything photography related, you can also break this rule to your benefit like in the warehouse photo.

    Feel free to take a break here and go experiment! It's fun to go waving and spinning lights around to see what kind of abstract designs you come up with. You don't have to have them on a string, so let your imagination go.

    If you're lucky enough to have a camera with what's called "rear curtain flash," you can take this a little further. The V20 is one phone with this option, but not sure about others. Rear curtain flash will fire the flash right at the end of the exposure to light up the scene plus your light trails.

    This one was 15" long at ISO 100. So for 14.99999 seconds, I was hardly lit up while I spun the lights. At the very last moment, the flash fired to expose me and partially freeze my body. Due to the limitations of an LED phone flash, it wasn't as quick of a flash as on a dedicated camera, thus my hand is blurry.

    Stepping it up a notch is light writing.

    This time you have to both move quickly and write mirrored in the air. Because you don't want to block the light, always make sure you are behind the light source. When it comes to writing, this means writing from your right to left and the letters are written backwards. For this, I used the momentary switch on an LED to turn it on only when actively writing a letter. After the"M", I let off the button, moved over, then turned it back on for the first "O". Repeat for the other letters.

    I suggest you practice this before actually doing the exposure, as it is tricky. Both the writing and judging where to move. This particular shot was only 20" long, but it took about a half hour of practice writing and failed photos until I got it right. If you really want to get fancy, you could try writing in script/cursive, but that's more than I can do.

    Another very popular technique is called a light orb. For this, you do have to use the timer and a light on a string. Set the timer for about 5 seconds or more. Turn the light(s) you'll be spinning on, then tap the shutter button. Move into position and pick a spot on the ground. This will be your anchor.

    Start spinning the light and begin walking slowly in a circle around this anchor point, keeping your spinning hand centered on it. You should be moving when the timer counts down and the exposure starts. Keep moving in the circle until you're sure the exposure time had ended. You'll end with something similar to this.

    (Note, mine are kinda sloppy due to my lights being a little unbalanced on the string. With practice and a proper setup, they can look much more crisp.)

    This will get you started with some basics to build off of. I'll come back later and discuss another technique, making spirograph style images and also how to get more complex effects such as changing lights mid shot. So far, all of the images I've posted were using multiple lights on at once.
    06-19-2017 10:30 PM
  2. B. Diddy's Avatar
    Awesome pics, and awesome guide! I'll sticky it.
    Mooncatt likes this.
    06-20-2017 12:06 PM
  3. Golfdriver97's Avatar
    Simply outstanding!
    Mooncatt and B. Diddy like this.
    06-20-2017 12:14 PM
  4. Javier P's Avatar
    Awesome guide, Mooncatt! Subscribed for future reference.
    B. Diddy likes this.
    06-20-2017 12:25 PM
  5. Mooncatt's Avatar
    Thanks guys. Another quick tip: breaking the rules.

    What I posted so far is just to get you started so you get an understanding of the general concept. But what happens when you don't follow the rules? Well your light orb may turn in to a yarn ball...

    This was taken by accident, where I wasn't in position before the timer countdown ended. The exposure started while I'm carrying the lights loose on the string as I was moving into position and then started spinning.

    But it's still one of my favorite light painting shots, despite being on accident and not fully following a rule.
    B. Diddy and Javier P like this.
    06-20-2017 12:49 PM
  6. B. Diddy's Avatar
    Waiting for Tron to appear ...
    06-20-2017 02:58 PM
  7. Mooncatt's Avatar
    Waiting for Tron to appear ...
    Ooohhh, that gives me an idea! I'll post it too if it works out.
    B. Diddy likes this.
    06-20-2017 03:03 PM
  8. Mooncatt's Avatar
    Part 2 of my light painting tips, the spirographs!

    This is fun because the results can be somewhat unpredictable, but gives you plenty of shots in a relatively short period of time. Here's the setup I used for these samples.

    On the floor is my tripod with camera mount. Notice that when mounted, the phone will be pointing straight up. Right above it, I have my LED lights hanging from a hook in the ceiling. This setup is pretty simple, because you just need to make sure the camera view is centered directly below the suspended light source. The light(s) do need to be on a string so that they can swing freely.

    Set your camera to manual mode and follow the steps in the initial guide to set your focus, ISO, and exposure time. How you "draw" this time can be done a couple different ways.

    Because I used a loop of string, I twisted it up tight and turned the green and blue lights on for the above sample. I let it go so it would more or less spin in place as it unraveled. As the light was doing its thing, I quickly pressed the shutter. The exposure time on this one was only 2", but the lights were moving quickly enough that it gave me this nice little torus.

    The other way to paint is to simply swing the lights. There's no real technique for this, just give it a little push. This photo was shot at 13". One of my lights is an RGB color changing strobe for the striped effect.

    Now to add some flare.

    There's a couple of things going on there. The most obvious is the lit background. This was using the LG V20's rear curtain sync flash again, similar to in my first guide. But also notice how the light seems to have two patterns. This was a 30" exposure, which gave me time to cup my hand over the light and block it out. This effectively stops the exposure while I reposition the light and swing it in the new direction.

    Here's another one using a similar technique to change the movements.

    The reason I posted this one is to point out how stray light can negatively impact the shot. Notice you can faintly see the ceiling and such in the background of this one due to the number of lights on and length of exposure. This can possibly be edited out, depending on your skills. If this becomes a problem for you, I'd suggest hanging a black sheet or something across the ceiling as a backdrop to help prevent this from happening in the first place.

    Building on the motion changing technique, you can play with changing the lights.

    For this one, I used the maximum 30" exposure my phone could do. This time, I caught the lights mid-swing and cupped my hands over them to block the light from the camera sensor. After cupping the light to block it, I quickly turned it off and switched another one on before swinging it again. Having all of my lights mounted in a star makes switching quick and easy. I suggest a similar setup for those wanting to get more advanced like this. DSLR's can take exposures lasting minutes on end, giving you time to work. With smartphones, you are far more limited in time, so you have to learn to work within these constraints.
    Javier P and B. Diddy like this.
    06-20-2017 11:52 PM
  9. D13H4RD2L1V3's Avatar
    I've done light paintings before when I had the Note 7 along with my Sony a6000.

    It's a lot of fun
    06-21-2017 09:53 AM
  10. Mooncatt's Avatar
    One of the cool things about light painting is using your surroundings to great effect as your light "brushes" literally paint the scenery. In this one, a friend spun a string of battery operated Christmas lights while I took the shot. Notice how the light reflecting off the culvert walls adds a lot to the overall ambience.

    If you have a flashlight and something for a color filter (a stretched balloon over the lens works well), you can shine that onto your scene to create a similar effect.
    07-02-2017 12:33 PM
  11. Mooncatt's Avatar
    Waiting for Tron to appear ...
    I completely forgot about this idea until earlier today when I was joking around in another thread. Unfortunately I wasn't able to make a light cycle style painting as I originally intended back then, but I do have this. While the rest of this thread is geared towards working within the limits of a smartphone camera, this photo was made with my DSLR.
    [Guide] Light painting tips and tricks.-psx_20170907_221814.jpg
    I set up everything with the lights on and got my focus locked in. ISO 100, 22mm focal length, and shutter set to bulb mode. With the lights off, I sat in my pose on the couch and started the exposure with a remote shutter app from my phone. I then used my LED's and traced my body from head to toe. For my arms, I traced my left one while holding the light in my right hand. Then I shut it off, swapped hands, put my right arm into place, turned the light on, and traced it with my left hand.

    Working my way back and forth across the different parts of my body, sometimes switching lights and hands as needed, I created this outline. Once that was done, I got up and manually used my off camera flash to make it look like the t.v. was illuminating the room. Then I hit the remote shutter again to end the exposure at just shy of seven minutes.

    The key is to not move any body parts until they have been traced to keep the final outcome looking right. Otherwise you risk end up with a broken body. Lol
    B. Diddy and belodion like this.
    07-06-2018 06:20 PM

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