Pablo brings light painting to a phone with live preview, lighting tools

Hillary Grigonis

The electronic shutter on smartphones typically makes it tough to shoot a long exposure, which is necessary for creating light paintings. But one new app is introducing light painting to mobile photographers. Pablo, a free app developed by professional light painters, releases today in the Apple App Store, with an Android version currently in development.

Light painting combines a slow shutter speed with the motion of a light source — anything from sparklers and flashlights to traffic or fireworks — to create patterns in photographs. The problem is that smartphone cameras don’t use a physical shutter, but instead use a surge of electricity that triggers the photo capture (called an electronic shutter). That shutter design makes it difficult for a smartphone camera to achieve a shutter speed slow enough for the light-painting technique.

Related: Add a spotlight to a drone to create dramatic lighting effects

While some apps like Slow Shutter work around that limitation by merging multiple photos to create a similar look, Pablo uses a proprietarty algorithm that creates a live video, which means users end up with both a still and a video.

According to its developers, Pablo is the only dedicated light-painting app designed by professional light painters, and is among the minority as an app that uses technique over filters. Pablo is a new company, formed as a joint venture between LightBomber, a professional light-painting company based in Brooklyn, New York, and Imperial Creation, an app development company based in Cairo, Egypt.

Pablo, like shooting a light painting with a DSLR, requires a tripod for the best results. Unlike shooting with a DSLR, however, the app also offers a live preview of how the completed photo may look. After starting a recording using the app, users move lights in front of the camera to create a design, and then stop the recording. The app then produces both a high-resolution video and a still photo from the footage.

Pablo’s software can also create a light painting from an existing video. Uploading a video to the app will freeze any light trails and create a still photograph.

The platform also includes a built-in delay so users can create selfie-style light paintings.

Pablo is available for a free download on the App Store.