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Light Painting With an Illuminated Hoop

I enjoy photography and have been doing so professionally and independently for over 30 years.

Used by permission

Used by permission

Learn How to Light Paint

1. Select a Location

2. Choose A Skilled Model

3. Use Manual Mode

The Basics

  • Many of us grew up when the Hula Hoop, or what is commonly called a hoop, was a child's favorite plaything. These hollow plastic rings were fun to play with and kids really enjoyed them.
  • Today they are still used by some gymnasts in their Olympic routines and you can still get one fairly easy at most toy stores.
  • Because they are hollow and made from plastic, they can be suited to hold an LED light set in the inside. It is this LED set that produces the light that in turn leads to a photographic application.
  • You have heard of painting with light where you use a light source like a light pen, twirl it around, or pretend to write in the air.
  • When this is done in total darkness and you use a slow shutter speed, and assuming that there is no other light source that can compete with the lighting utensil, the camera captures nothing but the light. This in turn creates really astonishing and beautiful pictures.
  • Well, the same can be done with a hoop. Just insert a battery operated LED light set in its interior, have the model twirl it in the dark, set your camera on a tripod, and use a two to four-second shutter speed.
  • To insert the light, you do need to cut the hoop and tape the two ends together afterwards. Also, the light should be in color. Although a plain white light will work, color makes it more exciting and interesting.
  • An alternative would be to tape a fine LED strip to the outside of the hoop. It will work just as fine but inserting the lights into the hoop makes the project cleaner and professional looking.

Similar Results, Using a Pendulum Suspended in the Air

Keep In Mind

Now, if you do not want to go through the trouble of making you own illuminated hoop, you can get a FutureHoop. These are transparent hoops with LED lights that can be programmed to flash in different variations. Trust me, it's more fun to do on your own.

However, just getting a hoop, putting lights inside of it, and twirling it is not all that it takes to get really good images. There are other factors to take into account if you really want to explore the concept.

1. Select a Location

  • First, you need to select a location that is free from ambient light. It can be totally dark, which would be the best scenario. If there is some light, it should be minimal. Anything stronger might derail the project.
  • However, if you want part of the backdrop to be seen, then do the project right before the sun goes completely into the horizon. Twilight seems to be the best time to capture your model and to show some backdrop elements.
  • The location should also feature an interesting backdrop, preferably one that is solid and possesses a muted color palette. Stronger colors might interfere with the display from the hoop.
  • The beach is great but some caution is required so the model will not fall and hurt herself. I have noticed that some shopping centers or large retail outlets always have plenty of space in their back lot and these are usually very accessible.
  • Please let the management know before you try doing the project. It is private property in the first place and you could be cited if found there in the middle of the night doing some strange routine with lights.

2. Choose a Skilled Model

  • Choose a model who knows how to use a hoop. I mean someone that knows how to do acrobatic trails with it. Just twisting it might produce some nice photos but if you want the best results, the hoop should be handled by someone who can do more than just twirl it around their waist.
  • Cheerleaders are usually quite knowledgeable in the use of hoops and if you can secure the help of a gymnast, even an amateur, this would go a long way in completing the setup.
  • Your model should also wear dark clothing. The goal is for the model not to be readily seen in the images. She can show up but her presence should be minimal and not interfere with the main light show coming from the hoop.

3. Use Manual Mode

  • For the camera settings, you must use the manual mode. If you use the auto settings or leave anything to the sensor, it will become confused by the light display. This also helps keep your shots constant from one to the other.
  • If you have taken pictures of fireworks before or are familiar with the technique to photograph them, then this technique is very similar in its scope. Long or rather slow shutter speeds in a dark setting allows the light to be captured and creates blur patterns.
  • For the aperture, keep in mind that you are in the dark, so a large one might work best, but also keep in mind how much of the backdrop you want to show. A large aperture blurs the background and a small one allows more of it to show in sharp detail.
  • If your camera allows for you to set the white balance then set it to daylight. Do not allow the auto white balance to be set by the camera as it will create a color cast within the images.

© 2016 Luis E Gonzalez


Luis E Gonzalez (author) from Miami, Florida on August 09, 2016:

vocalcoach: Thank you!

Audrey Hunt from Pahrump NV on August 09, 2016:

Hi Luis

These photos with light painting are spectacular. I'm nowhere good enough with photography to experiment with this technique. (My cell phone camera is my only means of taking photos.)

I love the idea of using the hoop with led lights in a dark room. Thanks for all of your educational hubs on photography. You are truly the master!