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Pixelstick Kickstarter Simplifies Light Painting

By Norman Chan

But it's still not going to be as easy as it looks.

Light painting is one of the most fun tricks you can do with any modern camera that lets you change exposure time (shutter speed). The concept is pretty simple: the longer the shutter is open, the more light the camera sensor receives in its frame. Long exposures are traditionally used to bright out the illumination in a very dark scene, for example a cityscape at night. But when the light sources in the frame move during that exposure time, that light creates a ghosting effect that can look very cool in the resulting image. Light painting tools, like flashlights or novel lighting gadgets have let photographers experiment with long exposure tricks, and a new Kickstarted product aims to make the technique even easier.

Pixelstick is a special LED light bar created by Brooklyn-based Bitbanger Labs, designed to let photographers create elaborate long exposure light paintings. Mounted on an aluminum rail are almost 200 RGB LEDs (which we know are not cheap), that are hidden behind a light diffusing material. At the end of the rail is a small box that houses the brains of the Pixelstick, with an SD card reader for transferring images from a computer. The LEDs each correspond to a single pixel, meaning users can import images up to 198 pixels tall, but indefinitely wide. The width of the image is determined by the speed at which you move the Pixelstick through space during the long exposure, with the control box changing the LED lights according to predetermined settings. So the rate at which you move the stick across the camera's image sensor determines how compressed or stretched out the light image will look. Having tried some light photography before, I can confirm that getting a consistent movement during a long exposure isn't easy without some kind of dolly rig or other mechanical assistance. My bet is that Pixelstick will require some practice before you're able to draw the same kind of 8-bit sprites shown on its Kickstarter page.

But with practice, Pixelstick's potential is pretty amazing. There's opportunity to use it not only to create psychedelic long exposures, but to stitch multiple shots together to create surreal stop-motion/time-lapse animations. That adds a whole other level of complexity, which hopefully Bitbanger will guide users through when Pixelstick ships next May. It's also not cheap at $300, which is why I'm holding back on investing in one until early adopters work out its potential kinks. Check out Pixelstick's Kickstarter video below to see what kind of images and animations they claim you'll be able to make.