Thursday, September 15, 2011

How to... light-painted domes

Scientists, IT consultants, mathematicians, doctors, my gran and a geologist. Nope, not the invite list for Party of The Year- it's a cross section of the hundreds, maybe even thousands of people around the world who've been amazed, intrigued and puzzled by The Dome since it first hit flickr in May 2010. And they're going to be even more, erm, cross when they find out just how straightforward the technique is. Well, not my gran if I'm honest - she's all over it. But all the others are true.

Let me say this. I've enjoyed the buzz - who wouldn't? The emails I get every day bear witness to the interest it's created. I think my favourite thing is seeing comments from light painters who've been inspired to reverse engineer the tool and are rightfully proud of achieving that.

But alas, just as numerous dome artists are now springing up around the globe, sooner or later someone's gonna want to get their name in lights with a tutorial about how it's done - so I'm getting in first.

Before I spill the beans though, I need to get out what a relief it is for it not to be under wraps any more. In trying to keep people guessing, I ended up stifling my own creativity for fear of giving out too many clues. For instance - you've never seen me produce a multicolour dome, or a dome with deliberate large gaps. In my mind, both of those would have opened the tool up to close scrutiny so remained on my to-do list for when the shape became as commonplace as the orb. In reality, both have now been done by others (and done well, for the record) and still light junkies en masse are none the wiser.

There's a lesson in there - be motivated for the right reasons.

So, without further delay, let me introduce you to The Dome and tell you not only how to make your own but how to wield it like a pro.

All you need

  • 1 bike wheel. Any regular circle will do but bike wheels are essentially hollow and that see-throughness helps with the 3D illusion 
  • 1 set of 20 or so festive lights from your seasonal surplus superstore
  • An axle, cut to the length of the wheel's radius 

What you do
1) Evenly space the lights around the rim of the wheel.
  • The further out you go, the more the bottom of your dome shape will appear as a point, not a curve. 
  • In the early sessions I spent forever doing running repairs as LEDs would get knocked out of position or whatever - this idea for fixing using tiny zip ties comes from flickr's own LED Eddie who, coincidentally, was the first to demonstrate he'd work out the dome technique. 
2) Fix the axle firmly to the wheel's hub.
  • When the tool is in its primed position, the highest point of the wheel rim should be directly above the pivot point. 
3) Switch the lights on and roll the wheel around smoothly and at a steady pace.
  • In this shot I've set up the tool ready to go and lit it so it's visible in the shot. Then I created a dome that looks overlaid on top of the tool. 
  • I fitted cable extensions and push-to-make switches to my lights so I can get them on and off without hassle. 
  • Always start with the lights facing you - any stutters/ overlap or underlap will appear at the rear of the shape away from the camera. 
4) Amaze your friends

So there it is. Go forth lightly.

Edit -

One thing I meant to reference in the original post is how because of the whole rolling round thing, domes always appear on a surface... which is why I was particularly proud of this- the first (and so far only) levitating dome

Click for "Another Level" on flickr


  1. it was going to happen sooner or later, respect to getting in there first with the tutorial, I think you've truly earned that right!

  2. Glad it was you and not the resident LJ arrogant arse. Thanks again for the inspirations.

  3. been trying to work this out for ages now.
    thanks for finally sharing :)

    sh0wtime :)

  4. thank you so much, I've been look it for that .. for long time ago ..

    but the I have a question, how will I roll it ?!

    thanks ..

  5. Hello, A very insightful post. Thanks for the info. Its great that if our default settings are giving us messy or stringy builds, this dialog can probably help.Thanks for the information.

  6. Thanks for sharing. I would like to try something like this, I have a question what do you use for a power supply or where can I go to learn what to do?

  7. Thanks a lot for finally sharing the tip
    You should submit this to
    Think the world soon gonna face a dome invasion

  8. i hv the same led light, but how to convert it to run on batteries? so that outdoor can use like urs..

  9. hey im looking for a good idea for the dome for my photography class..............any ideas to make it look beast?

  10. Thanks for sharing. I've just started trying the odd bit of light painting and was beginning to wonder how these domes were created.

  11. How do you go about spinning the wheel to create the dome effect?

  12. It's a wheel - just give it a little nudge and let inertia do its thing. Keep the wheel between you and the camera though or you'll interrupt the light's passage.

  13. How are you powering the lights, I can't imagine you were able to plug a switch in anywhere whilst on that car park.

  14. Thanks for sharing, spinning the wheel isn't as easy as it may seam, the battery pack gets in the way, not sure why most batter operated lights have such a short wire before the first light (ugh). I find that my wheel likes to go in reverse which screws things up.... darn gravity. :)

    Do you allow your wheel to go around more than once?


  15. Chandler: battery lights - see next response

    Anon: check the daylight pics of my wheel, should see the extended cables on my light set. Not sure I follow your comment about the wheel going in reverse - I just keep it under control and roll it whichever way is easiest for the location.

  16. Love the whole concept, And very well done to you. Looking forward to making a dome wheel very soon.

  17. i'm having trouble finding something suitable for an axle! I've got the wheel ready to go, just need something to attach to the axle! Any ideas what to use? preferably something that is usually in a house.

  18. Saw it in action demonstrated by yourself tonight at Solent Camera Club.
    Thanks for sharing.

  19. Thanks for sharing this with everone

  20. awesome, i was wondering how people did this!!

  21. Tnx for the inspiration man! Already started to tweek on the idea so I can "take it to the next level". Btw. In a couple of days or so the second "flying dome" is going to appear on flickr ;))

  22. Thank you Dome made cant wait to get out & about and try it

  23. I found this video to help explain what was written here.

  24. Great TUT, thank you very much. -how about the levitation orb? how'd you accomplish that?

  25. hi Andrew An earlier post (as in 2 years earlier) asked a question about the axle - and what you found to fit a bike wheel. I've tried a couple of places for suggestions (a very good hardware shop in Twickenham in particular) and neither could suggest a solution. The thread size is 10mm on the bike wheels I'm planning to use. Best wishes Philip. Click Photography Workshops. Hampton Wick

    1. For me my hubby replaced the spindle with a threaded bar from a hardware store, putting a bolt either side of the wheel to hold in place :)

  26. I think this is an informative post and it is very useful and knowledgeable. therefore, I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article.