Light Painting And EL Wire Secrets Revealed

Electroluminescent wire (EL wire for short) has been used by light painting artists for several years. It’s most common use is creating a glowing smoky effect. A less common use is mounting it onto objects and creating defined shapes and patterns.

EL wire Light Painting

Example 1: For this photo, a blue EL wire was taped onto a long stick to get the plumes of light so far above the head of the subject. It was also shot under a full moon which helped light up the environment. A flash light was also used to light behind the subject and the limbs in the center top of the composition.

EL wire light painting

Example 2: EL wire was taped onto a DIYed rig I fashioned that spun on a tilted axis to create the 3-D effects. It’s the same light source as the above image, just a different application.

This was shot on a moonless night and a small flash light was used to light the trees behind the subject.

Below is the rig used to create the shapes in example 2. It’s an old bike wheel mounted on an old tripod.

Breaking it Down


EL wire rig

A: EL wire taped onto bare copper wire. I used clear scotch tape so the light would be visible in the taped areas. The copper wire attached to the wheel by twisting it around the spokes. It’s important to make sure the “arms” are very secure and don’t wobble.

B: PVC pipe wrapped with black electrical tape. The EL wire was wrapped around the pipe so it would be visible as the rig turned 360 degrees. Again, clear tape was used to hold the EL wire in place.

C: A bike wheel. I removed the tire from it and painted it black with spray paint.

D: An old aluminum tripod painted black. I fastened the wheel to the head of it.

Uncropped version of the above image.

EL wire light painting

And here’s the final product. The eyes were lit with a string of battery operated LEDs stuffed into the gas mask. The only environment lighting was a canon speedlite 430ex II fired through the window directly into the subject’s back.

There was enough bounced light from the interior of the building to add some fill to the front of the
subject. If you look carefully, you can see the faint blue lines below the light shape which were the tripod legs reflecting the light from the EL wire. Perfection is so elusive

EL wire light painting

In addition to creating 3-D shapes with EL wire, you can also make some pretty cool 2-D patterns. I taped EL wire onto a piece of foamboard and then attached it to my circle maker. I then moved the board around in consistent increments, holding each position for a second or two to burn in the EL wire pattern.

Here’s an example of the rig. It’s not the exact pattern I used for the photos below, but you get the idea.

EL wire Light Painting

Test shot in the yard.

EL wire Light Painting

And Here is the end result

EL wire Light Painting

This is RAD, I Want More!

Dennis wrote a few other awesome light painting tutorials for DIYP. If you are seeking to go into light painting, here are a two excellent tutorials by Dennis

About The Author

Dennis Calvert is a photographer and a light painting artist based in Cullman, Alabama. All of Dennis’s photography is straight out of the camera with no digital manipulation whatsoever. The effects are all created in camera during the exposure. To find out more, check out, Dennis’s Facebook or Flickr. This post was originally published here.

  • sam

    Pretty awesome.Thansk for sharing this. Now, off to the car shop

    • Dennis Calvert

      Glad you enjoyed it!

  • 1Tanker

    Excellent stuff! :)
    What kind of exposure times.. the “typical” 30-ish seconds?

    • Filip Kacała

      1Tanker – You can use 30sec or a B mode on a DSLR. You block the shutter for long as You want – I did even few hours,

    • Dennis Calvert

      All of these photos were somewhere around three minutes.

  • JanLeonardo

    ohhhh man … why you do that?
    why you Show your great light-Tools?
    i don’t like that.

    best janleonardo

  • Jamie Rabold

    Thank you Dennis for sharing your info and techniques. Your work is awesome and even knowing how you do it does not mean that anyone can just jump in and copy your work!! Thanks again your shots are some of the coolest I have ever seen!!

  • Sita Carolina

    Whoa this is awesome – I’m starting to get into light painting photography right now!

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