For some time, the art of creating a Light ORB has been an unintentional secret. There were no tutorials on Youtube, no articles online and many people scratching their heads working out how it is done.
There were many attempts to think it though and create Orbs, but the results whilst OK, were not as good as those they were trying to copy.
The ultimate way to create an Orb, is expensive. You need something like a Telescope equatorial mount with a motor (maybe a drill on slow speed) attached to long wires (maybe 1 meter) or a pole, which attaches a small battery source to a light source and can spin so that the extended swinging lights always pass over the ground in the same spot. This will give a perfect sphere and spin the lights at a constant rate, with the right mount programming.
You need the mount to be thin and move so it does not appear in the image. A long exposure should remove it from the image and the bright light hide it. (Especially if it is black). Spinning the orb far enough from the camera should hide any imperfections.
Set your camera for a long exposure and set your rig running. In reality, you only need about 180 degrees in the right direction to get a sphere.
If you expose long enough, the surrounding will come out in your photo, and a sphere.
You want your photo to start after the device is spinning at a constant rate so you do not see any odd light marks on the photo.
I have often heard that people have built their own machines to make orbs. I have yet to actually see one. I am just guessing how to put one together.
Update: After reading this, you might like to watch http://youtu.be/e9xhhs5qg6w (It is a low quality video I knocked together to show some friends how I do these things).
Orb machine version 1
So, the cheap alternative, is what I started with. It creates a wobbly orb and relies on my steady hand.
I have an LED light on the end of some wire which I spin over a single location on the ground (Marked with a coin) as I turn my body.
The photo starts after I start spinning (Timer or 2nd person) and have the light going at a constant rate and I try and have my hand that holds the centre of the Orb in place, at the same place at all times. I wear black and try and not appear in the image. (Avoid doing this in a strong Wind).
My spinning is not accurate and the LED’s do not always pass over the coin, my hand moves to keep the momentum happening and I don’t turn at a constant rate.
The pictures look ok, but I need to practice more to get a good image.
I started with 1 LED and a 3.3 v button cell battery but that was useless. I needed something brighter.
ORB setup version 1.1
To make this new setup, you need to know the basics of using a soldering iron. (Don’t do anything silly, know how to “tin” your leads and don’t burn yourself).
You need to know how to use solder.
- 15 LED’s (white .. or your favourite colour). I used 3.2 volt units.
- Suitable Resistors for LEDs
- A length of 2 core cable (around 2 metres) .. Car audio cable is good
- Insulation (Electrical) Tape (Black and non reflective)
- 2 x 9v Battery’s (18v)
- 2 x 9v Battery Connector’s (To be connected in Series)
- Push-to-Make (Momentary push) Switch
- Small yogurt container
- A coin (To spin over)
- Soldering Iron, wire strippers and Solder
- Solder Shrink
- Fishing sinker or weight (Use large bolts ?)
Understanding how LED’s work, I joined 5 x LED’s in series (Note the LED’s have short and long legs, join a short leg from one, to a long leg of the next).
Once I had three sets of 5 LED’s in series (Which I will call “runs”), I eventually joined the groups so that the three “runs” of LED’s were now in Parallel (But that is a few steps ahead).
Depending on your power source (I will have 2 x 9 volt wired in Series giving 18 Volts) you can add a resister to each of the runs, to make sure you don’t blow your LED’s. (attach the resister to the last LED in the run)
To help you decide how many LEDs you will be using and calculate what resistor will be needed, you can use this resource (LED Series/Parallel Array Wizard) which will work out the resistor required for you and provide you with a circuit diagram. http://led.linear1.org/led.wiz
After you have wired each “run”, make sure the LEDs are the right way round. Now it’s time to solder the LED’s in the “Run” and the resister, to make the connections secure (The forces in spinning the rig could make them come apart). Use the soldering iron to apply heat to the underside of the twisted parts and push the end of the solder onto the top. The solder will melt and coat the twist.
I then used Solder shrink tubing to melt over the LED’s legs. You don’t want any of the legs to touch each other (except where we have joined them) as this will cause a short-circuit. I also covered over the resister in the run.
I left the first leg of the run and the last lead of the resister free.
I take the three runs and join the first legs together and the least lead from the resisters to join all the runs in parallel.
I now solder all of these twisted legs to make it rigid and secure.
Now strip back a length of your cable and slide some solder shrink around it. This cable will go to the battery and switch so should be a good length, around 1.5 to 2 metres would be good. Twist one wire onto the positive wires from your orb tool, and twist the other wire onto the resistors. Solder them all into place, and remember which colour wire is positive and which is negative.
Shrink the solder shrink into place.
To hold it all together, wrap all the LEDs in tape. Try to position the LEDs so they point in the right direction. (And when you spin this try not to bash them into the ground).
Spinning this will be easier if the wires are taught. I wired a fishing sinker to my LED’s and then wrapped insulation tape around my creation.
I then grabbed an old yogurt container. This will be a container to hold my 2 x 9v batteries, the on off switch and I cut two slits in the sides so I could slide my belt through. I found the belt holding my pants up is at the perfect height to have the power switch and the excess cable.
I made a hole in the end of the yogurt container, slipped my switch though and tighten the plastic but to hold it in place. I took the 2 x 9v power connectors and joined in series. Wired the black lead from one connector to the red of the second one. Connected the live (red) wire (from the 9v connectors in series) into one of the terminals on the switch and soldered it in place.
Strip back the other end of the cable that goes to your orb tool. Remember which colour was connected to the positive legs of the LEDs. Connect it to the other switch terminal (switch leads will be assessable inside the yogurt container) and solder in place.
Twist the remaining wire from the cable onto the negative (black) wire from the battery connectors in series. Solder them together. (Again the wiring is done so that it can poke into the yogurt container)
Now add the batteries and test it. The light should come on.
At the end, the length of swinging cable from the LED’s to the batteries is 1.9 m
If everything is working, insulate the connection in the wires and the switch terminals to ensure nothing can short-out. Just wrap some electrical tape around them.
Now tuck your battery’s and connectors into the yogurt container.
Spinning your first ORB
So, you have your orb tool but now need to use it.
- Find a great location with very little light (Except the moon)
- Have a camera capable of long exposures and maybe a remote release (or use a timer)
- A good Tripod (Be sure not to trip over it)
- Black clothes (maybe a beanie to cover your hair)
- A torch and a bag to carry the odds and ends.
- A second person helps.
To create the light orb, you are spinning your light (Swung around on your wire) which has the lights at one end and your switch at the other. This setup will allow you to turn the lights on while they are being swung around.
I slide my belt through the yogurt container so that the switch and all the batteries are at my side, easy reach and don’t have to carry it as an extra item.
Find a dark space and set up your camera (use your torch to figure things out). Put your camera onto the tripod and compose your shot, ensuring your camera is focused properly. You will want to ensure your camera can see the entire orb so leave plenty of space in your frame at first.
If you have two people, wander out into the area and shine your torch, have the second person focus on the light. (Or drop the light out in the scene and focus yourself).
Pick your place carefully. Ideally, you are not going to light your path or start your photo until the orb has started, else you will get trailing lights.
Set your camera to Bulb mode if it’s available (Or I sometimes use 30 seconds on a 10 second timer if by myself) – Bulb mode allows you to open the shutter for an unlimited time. This will allow you to take as long as you need to create your orb. Most cameras require a shutter release cable or remote control to do this. If you don’t have bulb mode or a shutter release then set your exposure to the maximum time allowed, usually 30 seconds (like I mentioned) so you’ll have to be quick! Set your aperture to a mid way point to start with, around f/11 should do for now. If your lights are not very bright you can set your aperture a bit wider (lower number), or smaller (higher number) if it’s particularly bright. Go for a low ISO setting to avoid noise in your shot. ISO 100 or 200 are good.
Find a spot within your frame and place your marker on the ground. A coin makes a good marker as it’s shiny, but a stone, weed or any small object can work well too.
Hold the lights by your side in one hand and start swinging them in a circular motion. Try to get your circle directly above your marker. Once you have established a good swing you can turn your lights on.
Now comes the tricky part. You need to start turning yourself around while still swinging the lights in a circle. The circle must stay centred above your marker at all times. Start to shuffle your feet backwards and move slowly around your marker.
Don’t let your LED’s hit the ground. Keep a constant speed. If you feel your orb is not lined up, don’t try and make big corrections.
You need to move around 180 degrees to create an orb, or you can go round the full 360 degree circle to create a fuller orb.
Turn off your lights and then stop swinging. Get out of the frame. Close your shutter.
There are lot’s of tutorials for this online, now. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7k3yhicxYVw
Orb machine version 2
So, at this point, starts the project for my orb, version 2. This is an experiment and I have no idea if this will work.
I have started this with a very small LED as my light source as I am just testing.
I have collected together
- An LED
- 3.3 v button cell battery and holder
- 2 meters audio cable
- Zenith eye bolt
- Adhesive Teflon furniture slides/glides
- 2x 25mm x 2.5m black flyscreen frame (Note – Black)
- washers and nuts
- A cork
- Large long nail
- Fishing sinker
- Cloth tape (100 mile an hour tape) – Black and not reflective
- A drill with drill bits
- Soldering iron, solder and heat shrink
- Black permanent marker
I wanted to join the two flyscreen frames like a big pair of scissors. The plan was to hold one frame and spin the other through 360 degrees. (One becomes a walking stick touching the ground).
Of the first of two frames, I measured up to 1.5 meters and bent it. I then marked about 15 cm from the bend and cut of the excess. I basically had a metal “walking stick”.
I cut the other piece of flyscreen frame to 2.06 meters and drilled a hole in the centre (1.03 m). I then drilled a hole in the walking stick, up near the bend and used the Zenith eye bolt to join the two. The long 2.06 piece is about 2 inches short of touching the ground as it spins around. Perfect. I have a walking stick to hold and an arm that rotates through 360 degrees.
On the flyscreen frame, there is a running trough where the fly screen is pressed in and secured. Into this I wedged a nail into the end of the “walking stick”.
It stuck out about 1 inch. As is was a big nail, it wedged into the trough, tightly.
This gives me a point to spin this contraption on it’s new axis (On the ground). I used the cork to make the nail blunt whist I was working on this and for transport.
On one end of the long section (2.06 m) I wedged the fishing weight (Sinker) in. This is to make the piece want to spin back to earth. I taped it over to hold it in, using black cloth tape.
Now, I pulled the centre bolt out. I fixed the adhesive Teflon furniture slides/glides (About 1 cm in diameter – round little buttons) between the two flyscreen frames and drilled through them. I ended up with a sandwich of Zenith eye bolt to washer, to Teflon glide outward facing, through the first frame, through the next Teflon glide inward facing to the next washer and spacers, then to the next Teflon glide facing in on the next flyscreen, through the next flyscreen, the next outward facing Teflon glide, a washer and some nuts. All of this to make these two flyscreens glide easily.
Now that this all spins easily, I ran the audio cable up the flyscreen trough to the end without the fishing sinker. I soldered an LED onto the cable and then wedged it in. I drilled a hole in the trough and poked some excess cable out and back into the trough so that I have excess to play with later.
At the other end, I soldered on the button cell battery holder and a switch.
I setup the switch and Battery on the outside of the swinging edge so that when the two flyscreens meet, they don’t make contact. I also made this arrangement stick to the swinging flyscreen with the cloth tape, at a comfortable height to find the switch to turn it on. All the cables were in the trough with tape over it.
Now I need to test this and fine tune it. Use the permanent marker pen to blacken out any scratches in the black fly screen.
To stop the two flyscreens banging into each other, I need to spin this slowly. This will mean with the camera, bulb will be best. I need to rotate this slowly and also need to rotate the whole arrangement on the nail, slowly.
I will post back and update when I try this. I will likely need bigger batteries and more light to make this work in the final version.
Update: My rig needs more light. I need to spin it slower. I need less vibration and I need a more complete orb. Here is my first test shot. Camera on ISO 50, BULB (90+ seconds), F/2.8, 10 sec timer.
Update: I am onto my 3rd Generation of the ORB tool.
I have added more power and more LED’s.
I have combined 3 x 6 Volt White LED’s in series and 2 x 9v batteries in Series (18v). I have added the 9v Batteries to one end of the spinning arm (rotor) and some fishing sinkers to the other as counterweights (I removed the original weight). I have cut a slot in the central spinning bolt and fitted an R clip to stop the nut undoing as I spin.
I am now working out the best swinging action and how far to be from the camera.
133 Seconds, 18mm, Manual focus, Bulb mode, ISO 50, F/4, remote trigger, Tripod and torch.
- 2 x 9 volt batteries
- 2 x 9 v connectors
- 3 x 6v white leds
- 2 x fishing sinkers
- Some black cable ties to fasten the batteries to the arm (rotor)
Update: I have added black Velcro to the end of the swinging arm, near the LED’s. I then cut some thin strips of clear plastic, folded and stuck different coloured cellophane into the hinge I had made. I stuck the other half of the Velcro to the clear plastic. Now I have different coloured Gel’s to put on and off during the long exposure.
I now have white, yellow, green, purple and red. I can change these between orbs.
I have also taken the various items I have made and attached some reflective tape so that they are easy to find if I drop them at night.
Now I can change colours quickly.
Update: I have built my new Orb tool. Generation 3.1
I now have three sets of LED’s I can turn on and off. I can also use the Gels to change their colours.
I have built an Identical frame and spinning device using Flyscreen extruded frame.
I have a three position switch to light up either 3 x 3v LED’s in series at one end or light up 3 x 3v LED’s part way down (to create an “inner orb”) and a 9 v battery.
At the other end I have 2 x 9v batteries in series and 3 x 6v leds in series and a switch.
Here is what it can do
Another light painting favourite is Fire Steel wool or Fire Wool spinning.
Here are some examples of mine https://www.flickr.com/photos/mickyj_photos/sets/72157644233719551
Disclaimer: Wear three layers of clothing. Wear glasses, a beanie for your head. Wear welding gloves and have no skin showing. Realise that this is dangerous. If you do this unprepared you can burn, blind, or set fire to yourself. A burning shard of metal can burn through the three layers of clothes in seconds.
Wear welding gloves, have a fire extinguisher and a person on standby. Do it near/over water. Don’t do it in a fire danger season. Check the area for danger before doing this and hang about afterwards and make sure nothing ignites.
Be very sensible and limit people hanging about watching.
Ok, so what are we doing? We are spinning a cage holding steel wool. We are not doing an ORB, just a circle. The steel wool will catch fire and ignite when air flows over it after applying heat from a lighter or a short created by a 9v battery.
Be aware that banging the cage into an object might send shards your way. The cage I made may melt and large chunks might get out.
What I like to do is ask myself before performing this shot, “Is there anything nearby that could catch on fire?” When I say nearby, I mean within 150 feet. Spinning steel wool as fast as you can will shoot chunks of flaming wool in multiple directions. Unsure whether it’s safe? Then don’t.
I have seen this made with a whisk but I like this cage idea.
- Roughly 120 – 130 cm (4 feet) of 1/16″ steel cable (which will spin)
- Chicken wire or wire mesh (Thicker wire will last longer but be heaver to spin and retain heat longer)
- 1″ x 4″ Pipe (Becomes your handle to spin this and if you pull the cable through it, can create vortex photos)
- Dog Leash Buckle
- Sleeve Stop wire crimps (holds metal wires together)
- Extra Wire
- Wire Cutters and Needle Nose Pliers
- #0000 / fine steel wool
Cut the wire mesh in the shape of a squashed box. This will be bent into the shape of a box. Cut the mesh so that the tabs on the sides are sticking out to be used to hold the structure together. This wire cage will be about 3″ wide on each side, but only about 1.5″ tall.
Bend the sides up and start making the box
Use the protruding wire tabs to bend around the sides to hold together. The step requires a bit of patience and it can help to have your needle nose pliers to help twist the tabs around the support wire on the corners. Make sure not to stick yourself with the wires. Repeat on all for corners.
Cut out a separate top piece with one row extra on one side and bend that down. This will be the lid, and the extra row bent down helps keep the lid in place when closed. (It will overlap with the box)
Use the extra wire to make a hinge by wrapping it around the opposite side from the bend, and secure the lid.
Take the steel cable and string through the front opening and the lid. Create a big enough loop so the you can open the lid far enough to put steel wool inside the cage.
The cable will pull on the box and lid and due to the forces whilst spinning, will keep it all closed and the wool inside it.
String the cable through the pipe, and crimp the dog leash buckle on the other end.
You hold the buckle in your left hand, and the pipe in your right. This allows you to change the radius of the fire wool by just letting cable in or out as you spin it.
The cage it is re-usable in a quick fashion to set up the next shot. Replacing the steel takes only a few seconds. Be aware that the wire cage can be hot, so it is a great idea to give it a few seconds, or dip it in water before reloading.
If you hit the cage against anything or it melts, it can be dangerous so please check your cage.
Camera with Manual Mode
- Wear a hoodie, beanie or hat, long sleeves, and pants. Dark clothing, and goggles/glasses.
- Steel Wool (#0000)
- Lighter or 9V Battery (to light or short out the steel wool)
- Fire Extinguisher
- Spinning Wool Rig
This is where having a second person will help. I don’t ever recommend doing this shot without a second person. Wherever you plan on standing to spin the wool, have your friend shine a flashlight on their face so you can set the focus manually. On Canon cameras, you turn on Live View and zoom in to set the focus with the help of the LCD screen. Remember, that most likely it will be dark out, so having a flashlight will help in more ways that just being able to set focus.
You don’t want the sparks to fly at the camera, or other people, so stand perpendicular to the camera when spinning the wool. Chunks of flaming steel wool will be flying out of the spinning cage. The faster you spin, the farther the flaming sparks are able to fly.
Camera Settings (Manual Mode)
- To reduce the amount of noise, set the ISO to around 200
- Your exposure should be set to 20 to 30 seconds. You can have wool last the entire 30 seconds if you don’t spin too fast.
- I’ve experimented with different f-stops(f/9 – F/11 recommended)
- Some cameras have long exposure noise reduction settings
- Lock the shutter open to minimize camera shake.
- Set the camera to include a 10 second delay or use a remote release
When you light it, don’t panic, it will not catch fire. It looks like it’s smouldering when you first light the steel wool. You don’t get fire until you spin it, causing oxygen to fuel the fire.
Use a wide angle lens or fish eye, to capture everything
Hang around after taking the photos and look for anything that is burning. Also check your clothes.
Make sure any remaining steel wool in the holder goes out.