How to Shoot Lightpainting Timelapse

Florian Bemmann
Dec 30, 2018 · 6 min read

What is a Lightpainting Timelapse?

Lightpainting Timelapses combine drawing colorful lines into an image with the fast and interesting movement of Timelapse videos. In a Lightpainting video you can watch the „light lines“ drawed by moving lights in a dark scene growing with the time. All lights that are moving through your video pull a bright line behind them.
Lightpainting photos are awesome — but Lightpainting videos let you watch the light-lines growing! While Lightpainting photos „compress“ the happenings of a timerange into one single image, Lightpainting videos capture each moment separately. This allows a wide range of creative editing possibilities!

What do I need to shoot Lightpainting videos?

  • a camera that allows you to set exposure time manually in video mode
  • tripod
  • a video editing software like Adobe Premiere (a simple one like Magix Movie Maker should work as well)
  • additional software to create the Lightpainting effect. As a software developer I built one on my own, I provide it to everyone for free here on my GitHub page

The Basic Workflow: Lightpainting Video at normal speed

Taking the footage
Mount your camera on the tripod. Possible settings:

  • 25 fps
  • exposure time as close to 1/25s as possible!
  • set ISO and aperture so that the lights appear bright but not completely white. The background and other objects should be dark, but still clearly visible. Most important: There has to be a clear difference between the brightness of lights and other objects in the image (for pros: the darkest part of the lights must be brighter than the brighter points of all other objects and the background

Now start recording your scene. The camera mustn’t move while shooting!

Post Processing

possible settings for post processing in OEV
  • Import the clip into your editing software
  • cut start and end so that the scene has the length you want
  • export it as png sequence (file naming does not matter since version 1.4.0)
  • launch my software OEV: by double click on the jar file
    (if that doesn’t work use the command prompt window. E.g. if the jar file called oev-1.4.4-all.jar is saved on your Desktop (and you’re called Florian
  • ) then call java -jar C:\Users\Florian\Desktop\oev-1.4.4-all.jar )
  • in OEV select all PNG source files
  • as destination select a empty folder where the output files shall be saved in later
  • set the mode to Lightpainting Video
  • click Start and wait until the finish message appears
  • go back to your video editing software and import the result1.png,result2.png,… files (you find in the destination folder which you have set in OEV) as image sequence

When you now play this image sequence video you can watch the result! The Lightpainting effect should be visible.

The Advanced Workflow: Lightpainting with Timelapse speed

Here are some tips and additions to the basic workflow to improve your Lightpainting Timelapse:

Taking the footage

To make a Timelapse instead of normal speed video you just have to set a lower framerate (e.g. 0.5fps). When afterwards playing back this at 25fps, your scene moves 50 times faster as usual.
I use a Canon DSLR running with Magic Lantern Firmware. Why? Remember the basic workflow. I said you should set the exposure time as close to 1/25s as possible. Mathematically (and framerate independent) we could say: the product framerate * exposure time should be as close to 1 as possible. If it is 1, I call it „gap-less recording“. Because when this product is smaller than 1 (my Canon can shoot at maximum with 1/33s at 25fps => 1/33 *25 = 0.76), your camera does not record every moment of your scene. It takes an 1/33s long image 25 times per seconds -> between each frame the camera waits 0.0096 seconds. Sounds not much, but results in gaps in the light lines in the final video.
Magic Lantern has two main advantages when shooting Lightpainting timelapse:

zscreenshot of my Canon DSLR running Magic Lantern firmware: my favorite settings
  • You can set the frame rate to less than 25fps (=Timelapse)
  • when shooting with 6fps or less, you can shoot nearly gapless. Selecting 1/6s exposure time is possible at 6fps (the real framerate it shoots is around 5.882fps, that’s why I have to say nearly). Calculating the product again we get 0.98. That’s very close to 1, especially compared to 0.76 what is the maximum using Canon’s original firmware.

coming to a conclusion about Magic Lantern (I could write about lots of other awesome features as well…):

  • use it!!
  • set a framerate of 6fps or less, depending on your scene. A faster object requires faster framerates.
  • set the exposure time fitting to the framerate. At 6fps set 1/6s ; 0.5fps = 2s ; and so on
  • in very slow scenes you can use photo mode instead of video mode (continuous burst shooting). Main advantage: you can produce footage in full sensor resolution and uncompressed RAW quality; and you can benefit from the post processing power of tools like Adobe Lightroom!

Post Processing

Do some brightness corrections before processing in OEV. I am still experimenting with how to get the most out of my OEV software. But I think the most important is to have a clear separation between lights and other objects/background. So what I usually do in Adobe Premiere before processing the footage in OEV, is some color corrections. Lights should not be to bright, but clearly brighter than everything else in the image.

If you launched the OEV software, maybe you recognized that there 3 modes can be selected. I recommend you to try the mode Lighttrailing Video as well. What it does: The light lines get a maximum length. When selecting Lighttrailing Video you have to set the value light-trail length as well. This defines how long the lines should be (in frames). E.g. setting an light-trail length of 50, in each image lines will be created out of the last 50 frames. This is nice for longer scenes with multiple fast moving objects, because in the Lightpainting Video mode the image gets brighter and brighter with the time, until it is completely bright and you can’t see anything. However in Lighttrailing Video mode each light line ends after a certain time and there is space for new ones.
You can see some samples for each mode on the OEV Github Readme. (When using Lighttrailing Videomode don’t wonder if there doesn’t happen anything in OEV after starting, this mode needs a lot of time (higher light-trail length -> more time). Maybe in the future I will do some performance improvements to this mode.)

That’s it!

There are a lot more things you can do with Lightpainting video than I described here. I am always about to develop new workflows for new result effects. I think in addition with some advanced Adobe After Effects knowledge might be possible a lot.
If you tried this and created some Lightpainting video or Timelapse, it was great if you could let me know an send me your YouTube link! I’m always interested in what you can do with this tool or workflow! So if you have any questions, ideas, bugs, or great results feel free to contact me or use the comments!

Flo’s Photography

Learn how to shoot lightpainting timelapse videos…

Flo’s Photography

Learn how to shoot lightpainting timelapse videos, combining drawing colorful lines into an image with the dynamic of Timelapse videos.

Florian Bemmann

Written by

PhD student in HCI at LMU Munich, working on Mobile Sensing research tools to facilitate interdisciplinary research in the wild.

Flo’s Photography

Learn how to shoot lightpainting timelapse videos, combining drawing colorful lines into an image with the dynamic of Timelapse videos.