Welcome to the world of glowing art!

Paint with Light

Use the world as your canvas and make it glow! Light up and paint the sky, with LED wands, glowing fireflies, kaleidoscopes, and even with your name in lights. Learn basics of photography, electricity, and LEDs, as you make many different glowing creations to use in your light painting. Tinker with other photography techniques and light projects, from stop-motion animation to rainbow spectroscopes and pinhole cameras.

Start Making with Illuminated Wands and Photography

Let’s explore simple circuits and long-exposure photography. Build different types of glowing wands with LEDs (light-emitting diodes) and use them to make light paintings, capturing images with a digital camera (with a long-exposure setting). Tinker with materials and circuit designs to change the size, shape, and effects of the light sources.


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  • Digital cameras with longexposure settings, or smart phones with an app installed that allows for long-exposure photography (such as Slow Shutter Cam or LongExpo)
  • Tripod (if available)
  • Single-color LED lights
  • Blinking RGB (tricolor) LED lights
  • CR2032 (coin) batteries
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Clear tape
  • Straws or craft sticks
  • Translucent materials, such as wax paper, glass jars, pingpong balls, drinking cups, and glue sticks
  • Conductive materials to extend the circuit, such as copper tape or wire
  • Additional light sources such as flashlights, toys with moving lights, cell phone screens, or electroluminescent (EL) wire (optional)

Light Painting Starter Project

Create simple LED wands and then use them to make light paintings, capturing images with a digital camera (with a long-exposure setting).

Space and Tools Setup

Set up a light and a dark space. Ideally, this activity uses two rooms or spaces: 1) a well-lit space for building light wands, and 2) a darkened room for taking photos of the lights in motion.

If you don’t have two separate spaces, you can start by making the wands and then darken the room to take photos.

In the well-lit room, arrange the craft and electronic supplies for building wands.

In the darkened room, set up one or more digital cameras on a tripod or table.

Adjust the camera settings. Adjust the camera settings so that the exposure remains open. The camera should remain steady and not move, so you will need to set the long exposure setting (sometimes labeled “shutter priority” or “bulb”) to longer settings (between 2 and 10 seconds).

Start by turning off the flash. Later, you can get some interesting effects if you turn the flash on again to get a pop of light to capture images of people.

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Troubleshooting Tips

  • Take a few experimental shots and then adjust settings as needed.
  • To keep the camera steady, use a tripod and a remote trigger or a self-timer.
  • Explore advanced camera settings (such as high aperture, low ISO, manual focus, RAW format, no image stabilizer, and bulb mode).
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Long-Exposure Photography

To make a light painting, you leave the camera’s shutter open for a few seconds or more. This is known as long-exposure photography. By leaving the shutter open, you can capture the movement of light over time.

Exposure refers to the amount of light that comes into the camera for a photograph. The exposure is determined by how long the shutter is open, how wide the lens opening (aperture) is, and how much light is in the space.

1. Make a simple LED wand.

Choose an LED. Use clear tape to attach the LED to a coin battery. Attach the longer leg of the LED to the positive side of the battery, and the shorter leg to the negative side. The LED should light up. (If the battery is flipped, it won’t light up.) Wrap the battery and legs in tape so that they are secure and none of the metal is exposed.

Add a pipe cleaner as a handle for your light wand. Wrap the pipe cleaner around the battery, and extend it so you have a long wand to hold the light. (Because pipe cleaners have metal inside, make sure that the pipe cleaner only touches the tape and not the metal battery or LED legs.)

Wrap the pipe cleaner firmly so the light doesn’t fly off when you wave it. You can add tape to make it more secure.

You can also use other materials to make wands, such as craft sticks, pencils, or straws. You can also decorate your wand with craft materials.

2. Try light painting.

After making the light wands, experiment with light painting in the dark space. Arrange for someone to manage the camera and take the photos. Have the photographer press the shutter release button while the painter draws simple shapes in front of the camera.

Taking It Further

Now that campers understand the basics of light painting, they can begin to explore more techniques and effects.

Exploring Light Effects

Show the group examples of light paintings that use more advanced effects and techniques, such as drawing silhouettes, using multiple colors, or writing a word.

Here are some additional ideas for light paintings:

  • Draw sketches, words, or symbols.


  • Trace objects or add to items already in the frame, such as by drawing hats or wings on a person who is standing still.


  • Make group projects where each person draws a part of the drawing.


  • Create an animation by taking a series of photos.



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Sharing and Reflecting

We recommend making time to gather everyone into one group so they can reflect together. You can ask the campers to share how they tinkered with their light wands, how they achieved different effects, and how they were influenced by each other’s ideas.


Please Note

Your safety is your own responsibility, including proper use of equipment and safety gear, and determining whether you have adequate skill and experience. Power tools, electricity, and other resources used for these projects are dangerous, unless used properly and with adequate precautions, including safety gear and adult supervision. Some illustrative photos do not depict safety precautions or equipment, in order to show the project steps more clearly. Use of the instructions and suggestions found in Maker Camp is at your own risk. Maker Media, Inc., disclaims all responsibility for any resulting damage, injury, or expense.

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