NeoPixel painting with Adafruit

Light painting is is an artistic medium combining light, motion and long-exposure photography. As Adafruit’s Phillip Burgess notes, a single point of light in motion will create a continuous streak in the final photograph for as long as a camera’s shutter is open.

“Digital technology takes light painting to the next level. Dozens of point lights, with color and brightness individually under computer control, weave a swath of awesome across the completed frame. Adafruit’s NeoPixel strips, combined with an Atmel-based Arduino Uno microcontroller (ATmega328) and a supporting cast of parts, make highly refined digital light painting achievable,” Burgess explained in a recent Adafruit blog post.

“[However, it is important to] have some Arduino/crafting/hacking experience before this project – this is great  for someone who is comfortable with wiring, soldering, heat shrink, image conversion, etc. It’s not a good first project, as there are a lot of expensive components that need careful handiwork.”

Aside from the Atmel-based Arduino Uno, key project components include:

  • Adafruit Data Logging Shield
  • NeoPixel strip, sticks or pixels
  • UBEC DC-to-DC converter
  • 8xAA battery holder and AA cells (NiMH rechargeable recommended)
  • SD card (or microSD with adapter), FAT-formatted
  • Camera with a long-exposure mode, plus a tripod
  • Imaging editing software to output 24-bit BMP files (e.g. Photoshop, GIMP, Pixelmator)
  • Wire: 22 gauge (approximate)
  • Soldering iron and related equipment
  • Optional: JST connectors, power blocks, etc.
  • 3/4″ square pine molding support frame or aluminum extrusion

Three primary software components are required to kick off the project: Adafruit NeoPixel (library), SDFat (library) for reading/writing SD cards and the Arduino light painting sketch. On the hardware side, Makers can begin by prepping their Adafruit Assembled Data Logging Shield.

“[This is] the most affordable and trouble-free way to add an SD card reader to an Arduino, and the combined board stack is slim enough to fit inside a popular mint tin. [Yes], there are other shields with SD (or microSD) card slots in addition to other features,” Burgess continued.

“Most can work just fine as a card reader for this project. Some may have a display or buttons, but our example software doesn’t support these, nor will thicker shields fit inside the mint tin.”

Next up? Solder the included male pin headers to the shield following the directions in the Adafruit Data Logger Shield guide. Stacking headers are not recommended for this project, as they won’t fit inside the mint tin. Then plug the shield into an Arduino Uno, subsequently connecting a USB cable between the board and a PC.

“The green PWR led on the shield should light up. If it does not (and especially if the computer complains about a USB device drawing too much power), there’s probably a solder bridge between pins. Unplug USB, remove the shield and look it over for any soldering mistakes,” Burgess added.

Interested in learning more about Adafruit’s NeoPixel painting project? You can check out the detailed tutorial here.

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