Introduction: How to Make a Simple Dome Tool for Light Painting

About: I've been very interested in photography, robotics and electronics for over 30 years, and I love sharing my knowledge to help other people.

Domes. They’re beautiful. Would you like to know how they’re made, and how you can make your own easily?

All you need is a simple dome tool. This consists of a circular shape with lights around it, and an axle equal in length to the radius of the circle. That sounded complicated, didn’t it? How’s this: It’s basically a bicycle wheel with lights around it.

It doesn’t have to be a bicycle wheel, but they make the best example. Below, you’ll see two photos (front and side) of a quick little dome tool I made from one of my wife’s cross-stitching loops. I put some battery operated LED Christmas lights around it, added an “axle” that you can see in the side shot, and that’s all it took to make the picture above! It only took me about 15 minutes to assemble.

Step 1: Materials Needed

1. A circular framework. A bicycle tire works, but in this example I used one of my wife's cross-stitching circles.

2. A couple of pieces of wood or metal to make the crossbar and axle.

3. Battery operated LED holiday lights.

4. Some tie-wraps or tape to hold the lights and battery in place.

Step 2: Assembling the Tool

First, cut a piece of wood to fit inside the hoop. This is for strength, as well as giving you a place to mount lights, batteries, and an axle. My hoop was 9 inches in diameter. My support piece ended up being about 8 3/4 inches. I nailed it into place with a finish nail or two on each end. Screws would be fine too. My wood pieces were only 1/4 square, so I pre-drilled the holes for all of the nails to avoid splitting the wood.

Next, cut your axle and mount it to the center of the support you made in step 1. If you want the top of your dome to be perfectly sealed, the axle should be the same length as the radius of your hoop. My hoop diameter was 9 inches, radius is half that, so ideally my axle should have been 4.5 inches. I made mine a bit longer to leave the top of the dome open on purpose. Ideally though, the top of the wheel should be over the pivot point (the end) of the axle.

Third, string your lights around your hoop. If you're using a bicycle rim, you can string them along the sidewall of the tire or rim. In my tool shown here, I had to place the lights on the surface of the hoop, so I chose to put them in some 1/2 inch I.D. plastic tubing that I had laying around in my workshop. This helps diffuse the light a little bit, but also supports the weight of the tool and keeps the weight off the bulbs when I rotate the tool.

Attach the battery or battery holder to the axle near the hoop & support. Make sure the batteries or case won't hit the floor when you rotate this tool around the pivot point of the axle. Again, I used tie-wraps, but electrical or duct tape should work just as well.

Step 3: Taking the Picture

To get your dome created, simply mount your camera on a tripod in a darkened room, or outside at night. Use an exposure time of 15 or 30 seconds to start with…longer if you like.

Once the exposure is started, simply rotate the wheel around the axis of the pivot point (the end of the axle). It will tend to go in a circle, and that’s what makes your dome. Make your circle at least once. You’ll want to experiment with how many times you complete the circle. I usually use 3 or 4 complete revolutions because I like the effect of the denser dome.

I told you it was easy!

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