Maybe I'm the one who's most surprised that I've held a fascination with long-exposure painted-light photography for so many years, considering I go nuts if I'm not constantly contemporizing my life. Then again, this genre of photography offers an endless array of experimentation of imagery, so in that vein it makes more sense. My work has evolved accordingly. OK I admit it's getting weirder. Fun, right ?
Painted-light photography is technically an offshoot of "night photography" which is basically the use of light tools, such as flashlights and various things that light up, (inflatable pool dolphins, yeah !) to hand-create an image on a photographic canvas (a digital or film plane in the camera) during a long-exposure capture in low light. Long exposure is just that, a shutter speed roughly over 30 seconds and sometimes as long as about half an hour - for one image.
My latest work in painted-light photography represents the evolution of what I’ve been doing in night photography since my first long-exposure images in the late 1980's, although that evolution has mainly adhered to a move from primarily studio work, out into vast starry wilderness landscapes. I do not, nor did I ever produce anything post-production, or via Photoshop - Everything is created wholly at the time of exposure, at the scene.
Many of the images in my newest work challenge the elements of composition in traditional night photography. Moving beyond my previous approaches, my newest work uses greater experimentation with pre-dawn and post-dusk light, and the use of various light-conduction materials such as Lucite sheets of plastic and acrylic rods. I believe there is a ton of untapped compositional style in the world of night imagery, and I thoroughly enjoy the thrill of exploring new ideas in this genre of photography.
The advent of digital photography in my lifetime briefly spooked me away from photography for awhile, but I came to realize fairly early-on that the rapidly improving digital medium was a godsend to long-exposure photography, simply because of the ease of producing what previously had taken numerous hours and crossed fingers. Night photography was always a crapshoot in the days of film because the results then were unpredictable. They still are, but digital photography has taken a lot of the anguish away because one can see the results right after, and more recently, even during the shoot. (As opposed to 2 days later when crying over beer.) There are still things that spook me though. I admit I get creeped out by waaaaay too much attention on long-exposure photography as of late. I don't like crowds, (I refer you back to the first sentence), which then drives me to do new stuff. You could see this as good, or you could see why I will go insane, but I digress.
I put a ton of effort and forethought into the production of an image. And that's why I like it. Because I can. I can make the images. They don't just happen. It's the "slow-food" of photography. The more work I put into it, the reward is sweeter. Each image is slowly and wholly created by hand during the image capture process, which, as mentioned, can be as long as 30 minutes. And long, long long, before that anticipated moment, there is deliberate scheduling, moon-phase and sunset/sunrise charts to consider, daytime location research, light-tools to make or acquire, equipment and battery checks to do, and closed park gates, drugged-out squatters, furry fanged animals, and of course, golf-cart wielding night-security to consider. And before that, there is endless hours of "photographer's block" What the hell am I going to make now ? I make lists, and cross out lists, and refer back to them and erase the cross-outs. Sometimes a trip turns out to be a bust, a waste of 4 days, just delete the card, and sometimes, albeit rarely, the images turn out just like I had envisioned.
Cube #1, for example, was one of 12 or so takes on the last day of a Death Valley trip, taken under extreme fatigue, a lot of anguish and self-torture to convince myself to wake at 3:15, a lost shoot location in total darkness (new moon), and a huge amount of effort to get the 180 lb. cube assembled. But there it was. The image I saw in my head about two years back. (More or less).
The "more" part of "more or less" brings me to the other reason I love painted-light photography. You never really get the exact image you expect. I love the unexpected bonus good stuff ! There is a sort of rush that happens when the camera's LCD back fires up and the image explodes in all it's cathode-ray technicolor splendor. This is the point you get to see "what happened". You don't see this while you are painting light - light-painting is like spray painting in Snapchat. It's like invisible ink. Only the CMOS chip plate in the camera is recording the canvas as it is slowly created, and it won't reveal the result until the shutter releases. For this reason, there is PLENTY of variation in the result from the original vision, most of the time. So what I plan for is a general theme, and often it is not much more than a location I've chosen with some ideas for that location. Many times, the wow! images, the ones I actually end up displaying, are just side-trips that happen as I'm shooting something else.
It's for this reason, that I would argue that my best stuff really just follows the Nike principle. Just do it. When I don't go out = warm, sleeping, safe, and comfortable, nothing is produced. When I do go out = cold, tired, uncomfortable, frankly uneasy, and sometimes a bit freaked out, something can be produced, and sometimes something I really freaking like. Most of the time I have to force myself to put one foot in front of the other (or get into the car) and once "out there" in the dark, I get into the zone - it's a high of sorts really.
None of this helps me feel at ease once I'm out in the wilderness in the dark, of course. Imagine if someone actually saw me out in the desert foothills of Mt. San Jacinto, marching around in the dark by myself with a green light saber . ( See the Great Green Electric. ) Yeah, death by embarrassment. But then there are some real concerns. I'm impartial to being a mistaken buffalo-wing snack for animals that hunt at night, for example. Stepping on rattle snakes by accident might be a tad inconvenient.
Now I'm just rambling. Just click on this for the rest: Exhibits/Awards