This week's post is a guest post written by photography comrade Russel Klimas.
What’s up fam. My name is Russell Klimas and today we are going to talk about light painting photography. I like to consider myself an expert in this field of photography as I’ve been published with BBC, Fox, and the Daily UK. I’ve also given a Tedx Talk on the subject. I hope you enjoy learning a little bit of what I love so much.
Let’s start with what is light painting photography, it’s a style of long exposure photography where you use lights to create an image in your camera. You’ve most likely seen some basic light painting photos with car lights, star trails or people writing their names with sparklers. We are going to go WAY deeper than that today. You might be wondering with the niche of light painting (which you might have never heard of) why do I, Russell Klimas, like it so much? To me capturing seemingly impossible images in camera gets me so excited. It pushes me to increase my skill to become better at photography and share this world with everyone. I never get tired of seeing people’s faces when they see what we created together on the back of a camera, it feels like real life magic.
So today I’m going share some of my techniques with you, discuss the tools that I use, and show you the pictures that came out of using those tools.
In this picture I used a fluorescent safety tube which you can get from Home Depot for $3.50, some wax paper, to diffuse the light, and a flashlight inside the tube. I also had a sparkler attached to the end. ISO 400, F 2.8, Shutter Speed 1 second. This was all created in camera, how cool is that?
To create your own tube watch my youtube tutorial here. To specifically create this effect you can either use a wireless trigger to perfectly time and control your shot or you can put your camera on a timer and set your shutter speed between 1 second to 30 seconds on most cameras. I normally use a trigger so I can be behind the model light the firework turn on the flashlight and spin around the tube and then end the exposure with the trigger. You can’t see me because I’m behind her and she is wearing a dress to hide my feet.
Next up we have a fiber optic whip. You can get all sorts of different versions of these, but I personally get mine from Ants On A Melon. With the whip and flashlight I also use a Universal Connector from Light Painting Brushes to allow for ease of use. ISO 500, F4, Shutter Speed 17 seconds. I also used a Portrait Light from Light Painting Brushes to light her and the rocks around her. It’s basically a diffused light bar similar to an ice light but is powered by a flashlight instead. Once I had my model get in a comfortable position I simply shook the fiber optic whip around until I was satisfied then hid it behind the rock and lit my model with the Portrait Light. The Portrait Light is a scanning type tool I use to scan my model after the creative light painting and shape the light in my environment.
For this last image I used a plexiglass blade which comes from Light Painting Brushes and a flashlight on strobe mode. Examples flashlights can be found here and here. This image was taken right outside Las Vegas and I used the city’s ambient light to expose my scene. At the same time I made similar movements on both sides of my models body to create these plume feather wings. ISO 4000, F 2.8, Shutter Speed 17 seconds.
These are only some examples of the possibilities that you can do with light painting. If you don’t want to have people be your subjects it works great on cars, products, and even houses! If you want to get really creative you can do stuff with drones too. The sky is the limit when it comes to light painting in my opinion and nothing beats the feeling of nailing a picture in camera. If you haven’t tried light painting before or have some experience I would love to see your work, or if you have a comment or question please share and I’m happy to entertain either one.
One thing I, and so many other artists, sometimes struggle with is: how to find inspiration? When you’ve got the urge to create something awesome, but are running dry on ideas, it can be super frustrating! But below I have some tips that should help you build up a well of ideas to keep you going on and on!
Present, Past and Future
Lot’s of people look toward the past for inspiration. This can be great, as there are so many great photogs who’ve come before us. It’s important to know what’s contemporary as well. Find people who are currently guiding the conversation around photography, and whose work you admire. Follow them closely!
Find inspiration in other mediums. 2D art, film, graphic design (personally I love looking at packaging) and consider how these could influence or coincide with photographic elements.
Go to museums. This helps with #1 by exposing you to examples of both past and contemporary photographic artists, trends and movements. It also helps with #2 since many museums house works of art spanning many different mediums.
Many major museums have a wing or gallery dedicated to photographic art. See the bottom of this post for a list of some museums dedicated specifically to photography.
The Outside World
Leave your house, and while you’re out there, keep your eyes open and aware. Try to keep your primary camera with you at all times. If that’s your cell phone, great! If it’s your DSLR/Mirrorless, avoid the temptation to leave it behind thinking it’s too cumbersome or that you’re not likely to see something that catches your eye. The key is to be always prepared to get the shot!
Subscribe to magazines. That way you can do some finding inside the house as well! And it’s so easy, they come right to your door! And if you love treats and surprises like I do, coming home and finding the next issue in your mailbox is a nice way to pepper a little joy into your routine. I like to take them straight to my big chair and sit with some sticky tabs and mark the pages that feature photos that inspire me, so I can easily refer back to them later on. Sometimes I even cut the page out and add it to a vision board!
Magazine subs are super cheap (here’s a link to some for just $2!) and will expose you to a lot of contemporary commercial work (i.e. what today’s photogs are being paid to do!) I totally believe that there need be no starving artists, so learning how to tap into commercial work and sell your unique artistic vision is a big big plus. Also, a lot of commercial work is very innovative and artistic, don’t write it off!
Bensusan Museum and Library of Photography / Johannesburg
Maison de la Photographie / Marrakech
National Photography Museum / Rabat
Lianzhou Museum of Photography / Lianzhou
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography / Tokyo
MAP / Bangalore (coming soon!)
Foam / Amsterdam
Fotografiska / New York, Stockholm, Tallinn
Fotomuseum Winterthur / Winterthur
Les Douches Gallerie / Paris
The Photographers’ Gallery / London
Portuguese Center of Photography / Porto
Thessaloniki Museum of Photography / Thessaloniki
Fotografiska / New York City, Stockholm, Tallinn
International Center of Photography / New York City
The George Eastman Museum / Rochester, New York
Florida Museum of Photographic Arts / Tampa
Southeast Museum of Photography / Daytona Beach
California Museum of Photography / Riverside
Museum of Photographic Arts / San Diego
Museum of Contemporary Photography / Chicago
International Photography Hall of Fame / Oklahoma City
Center for Creative Photography / Tucson
Griffin Museum of Photography / Winchester, Massachusetts
Street and travel are genres of photography that are near and dear to me, as they’re where my photographic journey began. And I continue to derive so much joy and excitement out of photography through these mediums.
Travel photography is, in a sense, simply street photography in another location. So in this article I’ll be treating them as largely the same.
ETHICS IN STREET/TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY
When you’re out in the world, you’re photographing people, places and things that you aren’t necessarily personally connected to. So I think it’s helpful for us as photographers and observers to think of ourselves as guests. We should be thankful to the places we’re in and consider it an honor and privilege to photograph them. As such, it’s important we treat our subjects with utmost respect.
Here are a few things to keep in mind in order to do so:
The golden rule, one I would drill into every single photographer’s head if I could, is: always get permission before photographing someone! It should be second nature. I especially hate when people (usually white) approach and photograph children (usually Black or brown) who they don’t know and whose parents they haven’t asked for permission. Would you photograph random children playing in your home town/country? How would you feel as a parent if you looked outside and saw an adult stranger taking pictures of your kids without your knowledge/consent? Don’t do it! This doesn't only go for children however, it should be standard practice with pretty much everyone.
Exceptions to this rule include:
ofConsider how you photograph different locations
If you’re lucky enough I travel a lot, do your photos from France look different from those you took in Morocco or Cambodia? How and why? How are the notions you arrived in a particular country with affecting how you choose to depict this country? As someone traveling and documenting, and presumably sharing your photographs with folks back home, how are you affirming or challenging stereotypes? Photographing what you see isn’t a problem, and of course two different places will look different from each other. But how you chose to portray a place, and what things you choose to emphasize, is something to pay attention to and challenge.
If you search google images for Europe photos, you get monuments, churches and bridges, Africa photos, and you get animals landscapes and large groups of people. Is Africa devoid of impressive architecture? Is Europe devoid of wildlife? Again, there’s nothing wrong with photographing Notre Dame in Paris or a lion in Tanzania. However, especially if you’re a photographer with some sort of wider-reaching platform, consider how else you might choose to depict these places. Both to challenge our established notions/assumptions/associations, and to avoid being a cliché!
As an example, National Geographic, is sort of the bible for travel photographers. And it has been sharing photos of faraway people and places with western audiences for over 100 years. This magazine has been extensively criticized for the stark contrast in how it portrays different places and people. In fact, I even had a textbook in college, Reading National Geographic, which delved deeply into the magazine’s affect on visual anthropology in our society. The magazine did eventually acknowledge its racism in a 2018 statement, where their editor in chief, Susan Goldberg (the first woman and first Jewish person to hold the role), held no punches in decrying their history of not only what they did publish “happy hunters, noble savages—every type of cliché”, but also what they didn’t “There are no voices of black South Africans. That absence is as important as what is in there. The only black people are doing exotic dances … servants or workers. It’s bizarre, actually, to consider what the editors, writers, and photographers had to consciously not see.”
That conscious not seeing is a very nefarious thing for all of us to be aware of and avoid.
As protests around the country and the globe continue, street photography blends with journalism as professional and citizen photographers take to the streets to record what is happening. So, in these and all instances where power institutionalized power is at play (ie at all times and in all places) I ask all photographers to carefully examine both what they are seeing, and what they consciously are not.
TIPS FOR COMPELLING STREET/TRAVEL PHOTO IMAGES
Every photographer has their own style, and their own sense of what subject matter interests them. That said, there are a few techniques you can employ to elevate your photography if you’re feeling stuck, or if you just want to try something out!
Look for something that intrigues you
For me, one of these things is apartment building exteriors. I grew up in an apartment in a small city in Massachusetts. I think the idea of a shared living space, where one building contains many lives, experiences and stories that are affected by each other, holds a certain level of romance and intrigue for me. I also just think they look cool aesthetically. So personally I know building façades are something I look for when I’m out traveling or doing street photography in my neighborhood. This is just one example of something that intrigues me, there are plenty of other things, and everyone will have their own set of scenes that catch their eye. Pay attention to yours and soon you’ll develop a voice all your own! As you build up a collection of photos under a unified theme, you may even be able to start developing a series, and eventually host a show, how grand!
Try new angles and get close
If you feel like your photos lack a certain something, playing with angles is the easiest and most surefire way to spice things up. Think about it, if you stand upright, bring your camera to your eyes, and then click, you’re showing people things from a perspective they see the world from every single day. Whereas if you get low, or high, you start to distort and show people another way of seeing otherwise mundane/everyday things.
For example, when I was in Taipei I was exploring the neighborhoods along the MRT’s Wenhu line. Walking along the street, a saw an arch. And underneath it was a wooden staircase leading up into some woods. I had to check it out! So I climbed the stairs and after ascending about 300 yards through the trees I arrived to a clearing with a brick courtyard in front of a small building. The courtyard was covered with hundreds of little white flowers that had fallen from the tree above. The scene was so magical I had to photograph it. So I took some photos but was really disappointed that I wasn’t evoking the feeling of the place, but then I had an idea. I placed my camera on the ground, face-to-face with the flowers, and pressed the shutter from above. The result is the image below.
Explore negative space
Negative space is the area in an image that is “empty”, so to speak. Leaving some negative space inspires the viewer to draw their own conclusions on what’s outside of the frame, and what the spirit of the image says to them. With my images of apartment buildings, I’ll often frame a few with just the edge of the building visible, and taking up less than 25% of the frame, leaving the rest as open sky. This strikes an almost musical note for me, and really evokes the feeling I myself feel when I’m witnessing these scenes through my lens. Negative space can be sky, a solid wall, or any plain background really. See my images below for some examples of how to employ negative space in your work.
Symmetry in your photos can be a great thing to play with. Either try to achieve it or try to break it with an asymmetrical composition. Our eyes are acutely aware of symmetry, so it can be a powerful tool to manipulate!
Don’t be afraid of dark photos. I think recently there’s a tendency for photographers to shoot hyper-bright images. Darkness can be great! If you took a photo at night, let it look like you took it at night! Avoid the urge to brighten up your images in post production. Darkness can create some really cool moods in your photos and it’s something to learn how to wield, just as much as brightness is!
While capturing a whole scene is great, honing in on smaller details can result in some captivating images as well. Look for fine details in the scenes your shooting, or even a small segment of the overall scene that might stand well on its own. You can get some really intriguing stuff that way.
I hope these tips offer some novel ideas for how you may approach your own photography. There are as many photography styles as there are photographers, so in addition to trying some of these, be confident in forging your own path! If you have any ideas or techniques that you’ve had success with, please share in the comments, I’d love to hear them!
As a photographer and video producer, my camera is what I have to offer.
So I feel compelled to record images at protests. I do this both for history and to create images which capture and stir emotions during this crucial movement. But I especially do this to create some level of police accountability.
Having documentation of police brutality is one of the few tools we have to protect ourselves from an escalation of police violence. And when that violence does occur, to hold police accountable. Both within the context of these protests and everyday, recording the police can save a life. So as photographers/videographers at protests, our work carries immense power.
Many times at protests this week I witnessed police getting aggressive and ran over with my camera. And when I did, the situation immediately de-escalated. I think my whiteness also had something to do with that. But the truth remains that police might alter their behavior when they realize they may be held accountable. Documenting their behavior is the best tool we have to avoid brutality. While some police will not be deterred, as evidenced by the countless horrific incidents we do have on film, it is important we do all we can.
If you feel nervous about this, or an officer tells you to stop recording, remember:
“The First Amendment generally protects filming and audio recording of government officials engaged in their duties in a public place, including police officers performing their responsibilities (during a protest or otherwise). Although the Supreme Court has not addressed the issue, six federal appellate courts have recognized this constitutional right to record, reflecting a growing consensus on the matter. Reflecting the dramatic increase in citizen journalism, these cases have also recognized that the right to gather news and access information, which form the basis for the right to record, applies to private citizens as well as Journalists.” Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
With this responsibility to record, it is also crucial we, as those documenting these incidents, make every effort to protect the civilians participating in these protests.
It’s been reported that both police and individuals use images from protests to identify and track down participants. With Ferguson specifically reporting several mysterious deaths of people who were photographed while demonstrating.
Here are some things you can do to help protect the safety of protestors when recording demonstrations:
Record police interactions, anytime you see a police officer engaged with a civilian, keep an eye and a lens on them. Especially if the civilian is Black or POC. Police can get violent in an instant, so even if it seems relatively calm for the time being, be ready to record.
Avoid photographing/videoing protestors’ faces, and also keep in mind other potentially identifying marks such as tattoos. Blurring faces after the fact in photoshop isn’t enough, as the metadata can be taken and used to undo any blurring you’ve done. See the below slideshow from digital media professional and self-proclaimed “weird image curator” PizzaLawyer420 for advice on how to obscure faces more safely:
Carefully consider what photos/videos you take and publish. Focusing your camera on protestors who are breaking things or behaving in “unruly” ways puts emphasis on that, making it easy for people to scapegoat and write off the movement based of the actions of a few. This can skew public perception against justice and what is really important. A photo of someone running off with sneakers or a stereo allows people to say “see, they’re just looters” and distracts from the main issues at hand, when the emphasis should really be on the movement that the protest is about.
So, use your camera for good
Below are some examples of photos I took at photos this week. I believe these accomplish the goals of documenting these demonstrations while protecting protestors' identities. If you notice anything I may have missed, please call me out on it!
For all photographers/videographers, do what you can to stay safe while recording demonstrations. While also not prioritizing your own comfort if you’re white. Police in New York shot a photojournalist with rubber bullets, blinding her in one eye (thankfully not her right eye, the one she uses to shoot). Other journalists were arrested while simply standing and reporting on what was going on. So while it’s immensely important that we show up, especially those of us who are white and therefore are safer in police encounters, it’s important to remain aware of and alert to police presence.
I’d encourage any white folks attending protests to place themselves on the frontlines between the police and Black people and other people of color, but the extent to which you participate in the protest is ultimately up to you. Whatever you do you must avoid getting in protestors’ way or putting them in any danger at all costs, don’t prioritize “getting the shot” over someone’s safety. If you’re filming someone being detained, ask them to state their full name on video and ask if there’s someone you can contact on their behalf to let them know what’s happening and to check in on them. See the list below for some numbers you can call to help someone being arrested.
Additionally, keep in mind that you will be walking a lot, and will need to maneuver through crowds of people often packed together tightly. For that reason, keep your gear as compact as possible. One camera body and one good lens you feel nimble with should suffice. A flash for nighttime demonstrations is a good idea as well.
Below is a list of helpful resources for those attending protests. If you have additional resources you think would be helpful, please contact me! I will continue adding to this post as much as is needed.
Wired - How to Protest Safely in the Age of Surveillance
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press - Police, Protesters and the Press
Journalists with additional questions or in need of assistance finding a lawyer should contact the Reporters Committee’s hotline at 800-336-4243
If you or a loved one has been arrested in NYC, call 1-833-3-GOODCALL (1-833-346-6322) for free legal support 24/7
A list of nationwide bail funds