Light Painting

DECO3200 Assignment 1

Light Painting is one of the more abstract forms of mark making. It is captured using the photographic technique of long-exposure, which allows the path light makes to be seen, rather than an instance of it, which is what a normal photograph consists of. I have chosen to focus my assignment of this as I believe there is a lot of unexplored potential for interaction between human and computers in a creative way.


Light painting has existed since photography was created but only truly became a reality in the early 1820s with the creation of permanent “photo-etching” devices. There are many arguments as to who was the developer of the technology, with some historians like Gernsheim (150th Anniversiarty of Photography, 1977) giving the credit to Nicéphore Niépce for his inventing of ‘heliography’ while others, like Marien (Photography: A Cultural History, 2002), give credit to Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre and his camera called the ‘Daguerreotype’. Both early inventions required a long exposure time so that the image was made permanent on whatever photosensitive material they were using, allowing light painting to become a reality.

The first appearances of light painting, as we know it, started to appear in the late 1800s where photographers would capture paths of light as a study of movement like with Etiene-Jules Marey and his photograph of Georges Demeny where they attached light bulbs to his body and took a long-exposure shot to trace his movement.

Etiene-Jules Marey, image from: t

Other notable artists were Nathan Lerner who captured traces of car lights in the early 1900s and Gjon Mili who photographed the movement of the figure skater Carol Lynne in 1945 for LIFE magazine.

Light painting as an art developed with the improvement of camera capabilities, such as the introduction of colour photography in the mid 1800s and the development of the digital camera in the 1980s.

Concept 1

One interesting device I came across in my research was Luxo. Luxo is a little robot that consists of a mechanical arm with a LED light connected to it. The robotic arm moves in accordance to the software created in Processing and using an Arduino to control the motors in the arm and the colour of the LED light.

Light Painting by Luxo, image from:

Light Painting by Luxo, image from:

Go here for a video of it in motion:

Applying this to human-computer interaction, a similar robot could be built that could take in an image, like a person’s face, and trace out a light painting based on the image. A camera could take in the image and send it to Processing that would translate the image to a set of instructions for the motorized arm holding the light source, to trace out another image to be captured by a camera set to long exposure. The resulting image could be varied depending on a certain set of conditions, like the colour of the LED light could change based on the pixel values within the image i.e. red pixel colour in the face could translate to a red LED light trace and so on. Another idea could be the number of objects or faces detected within the image could translate to different colours or patterns being drawn to represent the different objects detected, though the result drawing would be something more abstract than a simple outline of a face.



Concept 2

When researching the history of light painting, I came across many artists who provided me with inspiration. One was the fashion photographer, Aurora Crowley who uses light as a means of illustrating his models and highlighting the concept he is photographing.

Aurora Crowley, image from:

Aurora Crowley, image from:

Go here to see his work in action:

Another artist who provided a great deal of inspiration for me was Eric Staller. His work of photographing areas of New York, setting up a camera on long exposure and moving around a space using various different light sources, created some interesting environments, which would be fun to recreate.

In terms of human-computer interaction, I feel it would be an interesting concept to create if a user could somehow create a shape or line using a light and it be generated to create a space like the cube in Staller’s image or the multi-coloured lines that cover Crowley’s models. The main creativity would be left to the machine and the algorithm it runs on, taking a motion or shape from the user and translating it into an environment around the user, which would show up in the result image.







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