Photography Experiment: Phones and Light Painting

I found collection of stunning light painting photos and decided to try my hand at it for my experimental assignment. What is light painting? The short version is “drawing with a light source while a photo is being taken very slowly.” There’s a tutorial on youtube if you’d like some more in-depth instructions. The end results, when done well, often look a little bit like the following image.

My own attempts didn’t turn out quite as well as the example. I didn’t have an interesting light source to work with at all. Instead of a flashlight as in tutorial the video or a sparkler as in the example image, I decided to try substituting my phone. I turned the screen on when I wanted light, and turned it off when I didn’t want light. I set my camera’s ISO speed to 100 and the exposure time to 15 seconds. I had it on a tiny tripod to aim it upward. The end result wasn’t particularly impressive, but it works.

the smiley face I pulled together for my assignment

Smiley face achieved.

Ways to Improve

Firstly, I can get my focus figured out a lot better. I used a tripod to do my focus, but my heater turned on midway through the long exposure. The vibrations may have contributed to the blurriness above as I had some earlier test photos of the background that weren’t quite as blurry.

Phones, unlike other light sources, have screens. The first improvement that comes to mind is color cycling. I could try for a rainbow, or some smaller range. However, that’s boring given what many phones are capable of. Many have at least an accelerometer if not more sensors for detecting the motion and orientation of a phone. That means that color can change depending on how the phone is being moved. If I have time in the future, I’d like to make some kind of app or javascript fueled page that changes the color coming off of the screen.


2 thoughts on “Photography Experiment: Phones and Light Painting

    • A slightly beat up Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z2. Although it’s almost 10 years old, it has the important things: a tripod socket and basic aperture/shutter speed settings.

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