Long Exposure

The best way to photograph the DotStar LEDs is to use a long exposure. Here are some settings, tips and tricks if you're looking to create some awesome photos.

  • Shoot In The Dark – The environment needs to be dark, so turn off the lights if you're in a room or pick a dark location if you're shooting outside.
  • Use The Flash – If your camera has a built-in flash feature, use it! This will help illuminate your surroundings and yourself or subject.
  • Use a Tripod – You'll want to keep the camera absolutely still to avoid blurry photos.
  • Camera Settings – These are settings we used
    • Shutter Speed: 4" – 8" of a second
    • ISO: (light sensitivity) 320
    • F-Stop: (aperture) 9.0

Shutter Speed

Playing with the shutter speed is the best way to get a desired effect. The longer the shutter speed, the longer the camera's aperture stays open, allowing more light to come in – This results in a "longer" stream of lights. The longer the shutter, the more light is introduced to your photo – If there's too much light, you'll get an overexposed photo. This is a balancing act!


Keeping the ISO values low allows the colors to come through more vividly. If you're looking to get more light intensity, try increasing the ISO values – But be careful not to over expose the photo!


A high F-Stop will result in a sharp photo where the background is more focused with the foreground. However, this minimizes the amount of light from coming through the aperture. A high F-Stop is best when using a flash.

DSLR Cameras

All of the photos in this project were taken using a Canon 5D MKIII with an external flash and a 24mm-70mm lens. To make capturing easier, we used an intervalometer remote with a interval of 4 seconds (with a 2-sec delay on the camera).

Focus The Camera

Is your awesome light painting out of focus? It's a good idea to focus the camera's lens while holding the DotStar strips still in place. You'll want to have a partner to do this! Avoid the Auto-Focus feature if your camera has that. 


Be aware of your surroundings. Are you shooting outside? Is your background interesting? Cluttered?Additional outdoor lighting such as street lights could potentially blow out the LEDs. Are there windows? Reflections on surfaces can potentially introduce unwanted lighting. Think about the composition of the photo. Do you want the light painting to be centered? Following the rule of thirds or looking for a golden ratio?

Mobile Phone Photography

The camera on mobile phones are pretty good but not ideal for long exposure photography. Although possible, it's more difficult to get a great photo with a mobile phone camera than a point-and-shot dedicated camera. Try looking for third-party photography apps that allow you to fine tune the camera's settings.

What About Video?

Most video camera will shot video at a 30FPS (frame per second) which isn't exactly great for long exposures. You can capture the effect on video, but it won't be as fully formed like in a photo. A great way to get around this is to combine a series of photos together to form a "stop motion" type of video. An intervalometer remote trigger is great for this!

This guide was first published on Nov 29, 2017. It was last updated on Jun 11, 2024.

This page (Photography) was last updated on Mar 08, 2024.

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