Light Painting with Glow Sticks



This past weekend we spend time with Rebecca’s lab and her grad students (and 1 undergrad) at the UT Field Research Station in the Smokies. The Smokies may be closed, but areas around are open and we walked up into Greenbrier without any problem. Night time was fun because I brought along some glow sticks and let the students just express themselves for the camera.



A few lessons on using glow sticks for light painting.

  • If you are on Aperture priority, set the exposure compensation down at least minus 2 stops. This creates a darker “canvas” to light paint on.
  • Green and Blue glow sticks record better than red and orange and yellow. For white light, just use your flashlight and point it at the camera.
  • When outlining a person from behind, make sure the camera can see your flashlight all the time.
  • You can practice drawing and then refine what you want to do by looking at the image on the camera.
  • An exposure time of 8- 30 seconds is usually needed to give time to accomplish the “painting” you desire.
  • Lower your ISO until you can get a long exposure.
  • Use Manual Focus, pre focus on the area that your subject will be by having someone standing there and shine a bright flashlight on them.

In these campfire images, the first was done with random tosses of the glow stick around the campfire, from person to person.. Fortunately, no glow sticks landed in the fire.


In this image, the glow sticks were tossed back and forth between the same person, most of the time (for science grad students, following directions seemed to come difficultly and much randomness ensued).


Digital has been a great boon to light painting, as in film days you had no idea how it was going to come out. But, when it did and you got back a slide that looked fabulous, it was like opening presents on Christmas Day.. Now we can play and adjust and play some more.


Go grab some light sticks (find them at your camping/ hiking store or in the outdoor department of your favorite big chain store). Remember that Blue and Green look best, but maybe my red ones were just faded because they were older.. All were bought the same time, but probably 1-2 years ago..

One Response to “Light Painting with Glow Sticks”

  1. This is one of their most widely known uses in popular culture, as they are frequently used for entertainment at parties (in particular raves ), concerts , and dance clubs . They are used by marching band conductors for evening performances; glow sticks are also used in festivals and celebrations around the world. Glow sticks also serve multiple functions as toys, readily visible night-time warnings to motorists, and luminous markings that enable parents to keep track of their children. Yet another use is for balloon-carried light effects . Glow sticks are also used to create special effects in low light photography and film.

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