How to Create a Perfect, Risk-Free Light Painting Circle


A few months ago I gave a masterclass on how to create colorful portraits. One of the configurations was a single portrait with a model “trapped” inside a light painted circle. I wanted to share how I created this portrait using a drill, a found garden hose, and some KYU-6 LED lights.

You might hear me say “don’t try this at home” a few times. If you decide to challenge me, please use soft materials like a garden hose and KYU-6 soft lights. (vs, say, a broomstick).

I’ve set up the video above to start working from 1:28 for the proper setup, but I encourage you to watch the full video for some other great setups and tips.

Setting up for light painting

The secret to getting that perfect circle is to use something that spins with a constant radius. I know DIYP shared a painter pole tutorial for perfect light painting circles. But for this configuration it would not work. In addition to Sophie, the model, we had Sam and I in the studio, and attaching a painter’s pole to a high-speed drill didn’t seem like a good idea.

Instead, I used a much softer material – a garden hose. A small divider in the middle of the pipe will give the drill something to lock into. From both ends I placed two KYU-6 lights. What I like about this configuration is that it is soft.

Thus, the drill will rotate the pipe with the two LEDs at a constant speed and at a constant distance from the center, creating the perfect circle around Sophie.

As always, I’ll be using my trusted Olympus, taking pictures tethered and displayed on a BenQ 27″ monitor, which is an absolute pleasure to watch. For color accuracy, I’ll be using a ColorChecker, and you can see why (and how) it provides better color accuracy in the first part of the video.

Exposure adjustment

This photo will have two elements – a light paint element surrounding the model and, of course, a model. Let’s start by setting the exposure for light painting. How long do we need to expose to complete a full circle? Let’s find out.

Here is the circle we get from an exposure of 1/10:

Going to 1/4 second creates a fuller circle:

It’s better, but the backdrop is way too bright. And that makes sense because we have the lights on, so a longer exposure means a brighter image. Turn off the lights:

light painting with KYU-6 at 1/4 second

If you look at the spinning lights, they look a bit like this (note how much I turn away from the spinning lights):

For the final image, I added an Elinchrom flash with a gridded softbox at about 45 degrees to the model. This will give her a touch of light to freeze her in the photo.

This is the final setup, adding some smoke.

And here is the final image:

Post treatment

In this video I show how I post-process images in photoshop and some other tricks. As before, I set the video to start at 56:49. To see how I edit the first portraits, just go to the beginning of the video.

About the Author

Gavin Hoey is a freelance photographer, writer and photography educator. His work is regularly featured in photography magazines, websites and videos. Gavin has a real passion for sharing his knowledge of photography and Photoshop. You can see more of his videos on his Youtube channel and see more of his photos on @thegavinhoey.

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