Dennis Calvert

Light Painting, Photography, and Other Creative Endeavors

Shaping EL Wire

Electroluminescent wire (el wire for short) has been used by light painting artists for several years. It’s most common use is creating a glowing smokey effect (ex. 1). A less common use is mounting it onto objects and creating defined shapes and patterns (ex 2).


ex 1 : For this photo, blue el wire was taped onto a long stick to get the plumes of light so far above the head of the subject. It was also shot under a full moon which helped light up the environment. A flash light was also used to light behind the subject and the limbs in the center top of the composition.

Out of the Ether

ex 2 : El wire was taped onto a diy rig I fashioned that spun on a tilted axis to create the 3-D effects. It’s the same light source as the above image, just a different application. This was shot on a moonless night and a small flash light was used to light the trees behind the subject.*

Below is the rig used to create the shapes in ex 2. It’s an old bike wheel mounted on an old tripod.

  • A : el wire taped onto bare copper wire. I used clear scotch tape so the light would be visible in the taped areas. The copper wire attached to the wheel by twisting it around the spokes . It’s important to make sure the “arms” are very secure and don’t wobble.

  • B : PVC pipe wrapped with black electrical tape. The el wire was wrapped around the pipe so it would be visible as the rig turned 360 degrees. Again, clear tape was used to hold the el wire in place.

  • C : A bike wheel. I removed the tire from it and painted it black with spray paint.

  • D : An old aluminum tripod painted black. I fastened the wheel to the head of it.


You know I'm not dead Uncropped version

And here’s the final product. The eyes were lit with a string of battery operated LEDs stuffed into the gas mask. The only environment lighting was a canon speedlite 430ex II fired through the window directly into the subject’s back. There was enough bounced light from the interior of the building to add some fill to the front of the subject. If you look carefully, you can see the faint blue lines below the light shape which were the tripod legs reflecting the light from the el wire. Perfection is so elusive


In addition to creating 3-D shapes with el wire, you can also make some pretty cool 2-D patterns. I taped el wire onto a piece of foamboard and then attached it to my circle maker. I then moved the board around in consistent increments, holding each position for a second or two to burn in the el wire pattern.

Untitled Here’s an example of the rig. It’s not the exact pattern I used for the photos below, but you get the idea.

Untitled Test shot in the yard.

Luna End result