Using a Google Pixel for Artistic Light Painting

Do you want to try something incredibly fun at night that’s one part part art and one part exercise? Then, light drawing might just be for you!

(That was a completely cheesy pitch, so moving on…)

Blue Light Painting Around a Campfire and RV
Blue light painting around the campfire | © Jason Takacs

I’ve been playing around with one part of light painting called light drawing for quite some time now both on the road when RVing and also in my backyard and local park. I’ve found it to be l one of the more creative things to do at night with my phone. In this article, I’ll share some of the things I’ve learned from practicing with my Google Pixel 6. 

Wait. Pause for a minute and read this:

Hopefully you just came from one of these two articles: Pixel 6 astrophotography tips or light painting with a phone camera. If not, check them out if you are unclear of the basics on photographing with a phone like the Google Pixel at night. Then, come right back and see what I’ve discovered in this article.

Let’s start with a little definition.

What is Light Drawing?

Also called light graffiti, light drawing has been around since the late 1880s when Étienne-Jules Marey and Georges Demeny were creating some pretty amazing images in France. It is essentially the art of using light to draw a shape or pattern using a camera’s long exposure in an image. Light drawings can be added to both black and white or color pictures, and it works on both film or in digital form. Your creativity is the only real limit in this art since it allows for experimentation with not only purchased equipment but lots of common do-it-yourself tools found around the home.

What Do You Need to Light Draw?


Just like with light painting or any other type of long exposure photography, you’ll want to start with a tripod. Depending on your budget, you can start with something fancy and expensive, or you can just go with something cheap like I do. I’ve used lots of tripods, and I’m currently shooting with my Pixel 6 using a super cheap one. You can also just lean your phone against a rock if you don’t have a tripod. It works fine.

The reason why you’ll need a tripod is for stability. Since your camera will capture an image with the Pixel 6 for at least 16 seconds, it needs to stay very still…that is until we get to kinetic light painting or drawing.

Hold that thought. 

Just grab a tripod and a camera holder like this one (or whatever you like) and your phone, and get ready to shoot.  


Just get a Google Pixel and move on. It will make your life easier if you shoot at night. Trust me.

If you are interested in getting a Pixel, Google was cool enough to give me a special affiliate code so we can get some cash. When you buy a Pixel 6a, Pixel 7, or Pixel 7 Pro we’ll both get a $100 Google Store credit! Simply copy this code Z247HR6ISKC61LF0ZLP4BPB at checkout to save money in the Google store if you buy it before 6/30/2023. Sweet!

Ok. Sales pitch over…

Red Light Flashlight

Just like we covered in the phone camera astrophotography article, make sure to bring a red flashlight when light drawing at night. Red lights are easier on your eyes at night, and they help you keep your night vision. Many flashlights have a red setting, so simply click the on/off button a few times or hold it to see if there is a different mode. You’ll use this flashlight flashlight to see where you are going in the dark and not necessarily light draw with it.

Choosing Your Light Source for Painting

Type of Light

Before you can actually shoot though, you should have in mind the image you would like to create. Think about the role the light will have in the scene. Is it to emphasize and object? Are you trying to create a movement in the picture? Are you telling a particular story? Is it simply an abstract image with interesting designs?

Glow in the dark bocce ball light painting lines
Glow-in-the-dark bocce balls |
© Jason Takacs

Whatever your reason for adding additional light to the painting, the type of light you use will also greatly impact how you draw and what ends up in your image. You can experiment with different kinds of flashlights with varying colors and shapes to see what works best for your image.

I have tried many different light sources from white flashlights and red headlamps to multi-colored mini stick lights and yellow lanterns. If you have a place at home to experiment with various types of lights, I recommend just getting a bunch of them together and testing them out. One summer, I spent hours each night learning which lights I liked best in different situations.

It’s just fun to experiment with!

Intensity of Light Source

The amount of light your flashlight gives off can greatly impact your image. For example, if you choose a large and bright light, your light drawing might be blown out. So, you might not be able to see any interesting designs. If you correctly control the amount of light your source gives off, you will better be able to control both the color you want to add and the design pattern it creates. Play around with dimming your light if it has the capability to be dimmed, and also try pointing it towards the camera, away from the camera, and all directions in-between. Experimentation with the intensity of light is a very important part in the light drawing process.

Diffusion of Light

If the light source you are using is too intense, this is where a diffuser will come in. This is another area where you can be creative. I’ve put lights inside frosted water bottles and milk cartons to reduce diffuse the light. I’ve also tested different types of paper of varying thickness and textures like wax paper, construction paper, cardstock, and parchment paper to see what impact it has on my light painting images. I recommend you play around for yourself and see what works best for the lights you want to use.

Blown out light drawing in backyard
Blown out light drawing with light stick | © Jason Takacs

Here are two light drawing examples in our backyard with a light stick Alison and I use for some photography work.

In one picture, I tested it without any diffusion.

You can see even on the lowest setting, it was too bright for all of the colors to show up in the picture. So, I wrapped a white pillowcase around it a few times. The colors have been drawn in the image much better than without the diffusion, right?

I suggest you test different materials combined with your flashlights or other light sources to get the best results.

Light drawing with light stick
Pillowcase covering light stick | © Jason Takacs

Reflective Surfaces

Along with diffused light, reflective Surfaces can really impact the way light looks in your image. You can test out any number of household items to get a different look. Light bouncing off of iridescent wrapping paper and holographic scrap paper can give you some very unique colors and patterns in your images. Grab whatever looks interesting to you and reflects light for a little DIY fun.

Different Color Light

Pick a color of light you want to test or any color of light you think looks good. You can get technical and look at a color wheel to determine complementary colors or just pick what  combinations you like and test them out. It’s that simple.

Green flashlight light painting circles
Green light circles | © Jason Takacs
Blue flashlight light painting circles
Blue light circles | © Jason Takacs
Yellow flashlight light painting circles
Yellow light circles | @ Jason Takacs
Yellow flashlight light painting squiggles on a Google Pixel
Red light squiggles | © Jason Takacs

If you are just using a flashlight to light draw, think about either getting on with multiple colors, or buy some cheap gels to put over the front. I have both because I like to experiment. There are lots of cheap multi-colored flashlights sold online you can test out, but gels are even less expensive. Just walk down the craft or greeting card aisle at any Walmart or Target, and you should easily find some cellophane transparency sheets. Once you bring the sheets back home, cut them up and tape them to your flashlight or flashlights.

Camera Tips

ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture

Since Google Pixel phones handle exposure and Shutter speed on their own, don’t worry about this section. If you use another type of phone, just remember to go for a lower ISO like 100, a shutter speed close to 30 seconds if possible, and an aperture or F-stop above 8. Honestly, I don’t worry about any of this because my phone does this all for me. Seriously, get a phone that makes your photography life easier.

Use the Phone Camera Timer

With a DSLR or mirrorless camera, you typically use a remote shutter to activate your camera trigger and start the light drawing process. With a phone, I like just using the built in phone camera timer. Typically, I’ll go for the longest setting on my Pixel, which is 10 seconds, because it can take some time to get into position to light paint. If you need more time to get to your spot, you might want to invest in a remote trigger. I honestly haven’t needed one for my phone yet.

General Tips

Household Objects

Light Drawing with Green Poop Bag Circles
Abstract poop bag light drawing |
© Jason Takacs

I mentioned items like water bottles and milk jugs in the “Diffusion of Light” section because this is one part of what makes this hobby so fun. Light drawing can really bring out your resourcefulness. You can grab all kinds of household items to change the color of the light like green dog poop bags, clear blue Tupperware lids, Plexiglass that has been drawn on with makers, balled up Saran Wrap, or whatever else your imagination leads you to. 

Sure, there are companies that sell light painting or drawing kits you can buy, which is a good thing to consider if you want to do this professionally. But, if you are just doing this just for fun, try experimenting with homemade gear at first before taking the plunge before shelling out a bunch of cash.

I mentioned items like water bottles and milk jugs in the “Diffusion of Light” section because this is one part of what makes this hobby so fun. Light drawing can really bring out your resourcefulness. You can grab all kinds of household items to change the color of the light like green dog poop bags, clear blue Tupperware lids, Plexiglass that has been drawn on with makers, balled up Saran Wrap, or whatever else your imagination leads you to. 

Sure, there are companies that sell light painting or drawing kits you can buy, which is a good thing to consider if you want to do this professionally. But, if you are just doing this just for fun, try experimenting with homemade gear at first before taking the plunge before shelling out a bunch of cash.

Dark Clothes

Multicolor Light Painting with human ghostly figure
Check out my visible sandals and legs |
© Jason Takacs

At first when I started light drawing, I didn’t think clothing color would make a big difference. After trying out different clothing colors, I learned it definitely does. In a couple of my early tests when I was wearing white T-shirts and other light colors, I would partially show up in my pictures.

The basic rule is to wear darker colors. Black tends to be the least reflective, so try to get some comfortable dark clothes when doing this kind of artistic light painting.

You can see in this example where I didn’t wear dark clothes, and my legs were completely visible. I ended up with a ghostly figure. Actually, it was several figures.

Also, moved very slowly through the frame, which is what the next section is all about…

Speed Moving

It’s time for a little exercise. Besides the creativity this hobby requires, it also can take a little bit of fitness to get the desired result. Not much…just some. 

With the Google Pixel, I simply push the astrophotography button and start walking or running. The speed at which I move through the camera frame determines how much light I add to my final image. With the Pixel 6, I know I have 16 seconds to make it through my shot drawing along the way. Since I like to light draw over a larger area and not just one spot, this means I have to move pretty fast to get the look I want. Sometimes I even sprint. This can get tricky in an unknown area (see the next section below).

Through multiple experiments, you might find your light drawing looks best walking slowly through your shot. You might find that faster is better. The only way to really know what kind of picture you are going to get is to actually play around a bunch of times and learn through trial and error. One thing is for certain, you can get a pretty good workout if you experiment enough.

Watch Your Step

I can’t skip over this section and have a clear conscience. There’s no way I’m sending you out into the dark to do any light drawing without a warning of the “dangers” of this hobby. You can get hurt if you are not aware of your surroundings if you are light drawing outside.

When I shoot in my backyard or in the local park, I know exactly where everything is on the ground that I might step on. (Well, actually once I’ve stepped in dog stuff and another time I stepped in an ant pile, but neither time was really life threatening.) Shooting at a campsite or in an unknown landscape can potentially be a bit more dangerous. I highly recommend you scout an area in the daylight before shooting at night so you don’t trip over something on the ground like a spiky little bush, a rusty metal grill, or a sharp rock. 

Also, scout any nearby trees with a flashlight once it gets dark. Why? I learned this the hard way. I was running around our camper one night light painting, and I got close to some trees. Little did I know a big spider had been working hard right after sunset. I ran right into this massive web and was completely covered in the sticky thread. It freaked me out! I love spiders, but at night when you can’t see what’s going on, it’s not fun trying to figure out if there is an arachnid crawling on you while alone in the dark.

Angles for Creativity

When I’m light drawing, I like to play around with different angles. Sometimes I’ll test entering the frame from the left, sometimes the right. I’ll run around the phone camera and come out the other side. I’ll run straight away from the camera. I’ll walk close to the camera and sweep my light source from above or below. Basically, I’ll try a variety of angles and motions to see what looks best for the phone composition. 

There are no real rules for what angles work best when light painting, it’s another area you will have to test out when photographing. You might discover your picture looks best with a little light coming directly from the side of the camera, or it might look better with lots of painting in the foreground. 

This is a hobby more art than science, so play around until you get what you want.

Kinetic Light Painting

I have had no luck with kinetic light painting on my phone so far. Every time I have tried it, the picture turns out pretty bad. So, I’m skipping this section for now and will insert a link to another article if I ever figure out how to correctly do it on a phone.

Also, if you didn’t know, kinetic light painting is when you move the camera and not the light source. The lights blur and give the image a very active feel. I personally feel it looks best with multiple light sources like in an urban area, so I’ve only played around with this type of light painting a few times.

Painting Words

When light drawing, one of the earliest things you might want to try is painting different words or stick figures. It’s not just for elementary school kids. I have found it’s fun to use a multicolor light to add a more interesting vibe to the character or word. Just remember, you have very limited time to write or draw a word, so you better work quickly. It’s 16 seconds on the Google Pixel, which goes by really fast, so practice a bunch.

Check out what Alison made. It’s simple, but fun to try.

Light Painting Steps Using a Google Pixel

Holy cow! I just realized I’ve written over 2,400 words on this subject on tips and tricks, and I haven’t even mentioned how to shoot yet.

Here’s a quick walkthrough on how I light paint on my Google Pixel:

  1. Put the phone on a tripod.
  2. Push the camera app and go to settings.
  3. Set the timer for 10 seconds.
  4. Go into astrophotography mode on the Google Pixel (I hope you already read this article on smartphone astrophotography). 
  5. Click the button to take a picture.
  6. Start walking with a light source for 16 seconds or less.
  7. Return to the camera and see what was created.
  8. Repeat this dozens of times making adjustments since the first image rarely turns out as expected.

That’s it. There isn’t much more to the process. Now get out there and have fun experimenting like all the great light painting pioneers that came before you and make great art…or at least something interesting.

If you are still wondering why we only have to shoot for 16 seconds on the Pixel for this type of image and not the full 4 minutes and 2 seconds, please check out this article I wrote on that. (If there isn’t a link yet, I might still be working on it.) I actually ran some tests because it was really bugging me one night not understanding what was really going on with this camera. 

Thanks for reading! Please check out Alison and my other articles or social media channels if this one was helpful.

Multicolored light drawing in front of a playset
Multicolored light drawing in front of our playset | © Jason Takacs
Takacs Family in front of Jayco RV
The Takacs Family

About the Authors

We are avid stargazers Jason and Alison Takacs also known as Roadtrippin’ with Takacs. With our two boys Preston and Grayson, we seek out some of the darkest skies in the country while also going on many incredible hiking and other outdoor adventures. As part-time RVers, we try to see as much of this amazing world as possible in our spare time and hope you will join us through this blog on RWT Adventures and other forms of social media as we explore the night sky and other natural wonders as hardcore astrotourists.