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Light Up the Northwest: Shining bright into 2021

While scrolling through the Blackpool Social Club Instagram feed, we noticed some striking images of Blackpool that appeared to come straight from sci-fi film.  Jill caught up with Matt from Light Up the Northwest to find out more about his illuminating work.

What’s your creative background?

My brother Chris (Light Painting the Night) and I don’t really have a creative background, but art and creativity has always had a strong influence on us both throughout our childhood, largely inspired by Neil Buchanan’s ‘Art Attack’. We both have no formal photography training or qualifications, we’ve taught ourselves through a combination of trial and error, YouTube videos, and books.

  

How long have you been a photographer and is it your main occupation?

I’m a carer for my sister so it’s hobby for me but I would like to make a career of it. My journey with photography began about two years ago after I first started doing beach cleans to cope with the pressure and isolation I was feeling at the time. I was caring for my grandmother who had dementia; it took up most of my time and left me feeling mentally drained so I needed a way to switch off from the pressure and stress that was beginning to overwhelm me. Getting involved with and helping protect something I’m passionate about allowed me time to unwind and take a step back to refocus myself by reconnecting with nature and doing something positive to contribute toward tackling plastic pollution.

At the time, I was using my phone camera to document and share my beach clean finds on Instagram through my page @thebeachwomble in the hope of inspiring others to get involved and take notice of the impact and scale of the plastic pollution on our beaches.

I bought my first camera to be able to take better photos and experiment with macro photography to try to draw people’s attention by highlighting plastic pollution in a more thought provoking way.

We have some great beach scenery and amazing views on the Fylde coast, to me, spending half an hour or so litter picking before I get my camera out seems like a fair trade for the incredible sights and shots right on our doorstep!

Chris started with photography a few years ago while working for an estate agent taking photos of houses and his passion for it grew from there until he decided to take the plunge and start his own business as a self-employed photographer last April.

Is your work mainly based around doing the night captures and light painting, or is this just one aspect of it, that’s featured on IG?

My brother and I work together for night captures and light painting, we both have other photography interests, but we are mainly focusing on night captures and light painting for now. Winter is a great time for it, the wet weather does make it trickier but also makes for some great reflections too!

Matt's favourite image - Light up the Northwest
Chris' favourite image - Light up the Northwest

When did you start doing these particular shoots?

We started experimenting with light painting in December 2018, it was something my brother discovered by accident. Initially we used whatever we could get our hands on, sparklers, battery powered fairy lights, and a whisk on a rope for steel wool spinning.  We eventually started to experiment more by making our own steel wool spinning rigs with RGB LED strips and later bought Light Painting Brushes’ tools and strobing torch to be able to create better light painting shots.

What we love about light painting is that it doesn’t have to be a single instant, you can capture a whole event in a much more creative way.

 

Do you have a favourite image?

Matt: A red and yellow plexiglass orb in Stanley Park’s skate park, this was created during a collaboration with Donna and Paul Eaves who were demonstrating their incredible DIY light painting tools! It was created using a rectangular length of plexiglass attached to a piece of pipe with a strobing torch inserted and then moving it around in an arcing motion at arm’s length. I creatively edited it in Lightroom to desaturate the background, leaving just the red, orange, and yellow to make the orb stand out more against a monochrome background.

Chris: A shot of Dan Kitchener’s graffiti art light painted with a torch and Blackpool Tower in the background. Its two separate exposures, one short exposure for the Tower, and a longer exposure to allow time for the graffiti to be illuminated with a torch. The two images were then merged in Adobe Photoshop to create the final image.

 

Are you influenced by any artists or photographers?

Dana Maltby, one of the most creative individuals in the light painting world! He’s created several of his own tools and techniques and as well as his imagery, he’s known for his willingness to give away his secrets on how he creates his images. I think it’s a great attitude to have because it really makes light painting much more accessible to people who are just starting out.

Jason D. Page, the founder of LightPaintingPhotography.com and the inventor of the Light Painting Brushes, a system of universal and easy to use Light Painting tools. These tools are great, they make it so much easier to create light painting images, he has his own YouTube channel where he posts tutorials and guides which is a great resource for anyone wanting to try light painting photography.

Tell us a bit about how you create these images

To create them a tripod is essential, the camera needs to stay as still as possible while shooting, a remote shutter release is a great advantage too! One of the first things we do is to figure out where we’re going to shoot, dark places away from the orange glow of the street lamps are usually best but some ambient light can be helpful. When we set up the cameras, we use autofocus to focus on the place we’re going to use as our focal point, then we switch the lenses to manual focus so they don’t try to refocus when we’re ready to shoot.Taking a test shot helps us gauge what settings to use which depends on how dark the area is; we generally use f7.1-f11, ISO 100 or 200 if it’s very dark, and 10-30 seconds or longer using bulb so we have control over the exposure time.

We use a range of techniques to create the effects like steel wool spinning, sparklers, and various light painting tools to create interesting visuals. The hardest part about light painting is trying to visualise it in your mind and finding your stuff in the dark!

It’s always better to be safe than sorry so we’re very careful about when and where we use steel wool. We take precautions to make sure we don’t accidentally cause damage or a fire and we try to leave locations exactly as we found them.

If you do try steel wool spinning be careful about where you do it, it burns very hot and the force from spinning it can fling sparks a long way, you don’t want to be responsible for starting a fire. Wait until after heavy rain, you’ll get reflections on the ground or in puddles that’ll make your shots look even better!

Top tip for steel wool spinning! Keep the rest of your steel wool in a plastic bag while you’re spinning or you risk igniting it all with a stray spark accidentally!

The most important thing to remember is to not be too critical of your work, have fun with it, it doesn’t always turn out the way you had in mind but just because you’re not keen on how it looks doesn’t mean that someone else won’t love it!

What’s your go-to camera/lens? 

 

Matt:

 

Chris:

Canon EOS 250D
Sony α7 III
Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM (pancake lens)
Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS

Do you work across the whole of the North West?

We do try to explore and showcase as much of the North West as we can, there’s so many great places to see and explore around Blackpool and Wyre alone but it’s always nice to have a wander around Lancaster, Liverpool, and Manchester! We’re sticking to the covid restrictions and staying local at the moment though. 

 

Has lockdown affected/influenced your work in any way?

It has, some good and some not so good ways. Light trails from cars were pretty much out of the question with lockdown transforming Blackpool into a seemingly lifeless ghost town but in other ways it presented unique opportunities in the form of uncharacteristically empty streets that would normally be overflowing with drunks. 

It’s also afforded us more time to get out and shoot together that we otherwise might not have had, which has really helped us both keep busy and keep on top of our mental health while we come to terms with the loss of our mum in April. 

 

Have you had or are you planning any exhibitions?

We haven’t, it isn’t something we’ve thought about, but we are trying to connect with other local photographers interested in night shots and light painting through our Facebook group 

We want to create a friendly and supportive community where people can share their photos, learn, find inspiration, and connect with other photographers who share a passion for light painting. 

Stanley Park, Light up the North West.
Links

If anyone would like to learn more about light painting and long exposure photography, you’re welcome to join the Light Painting the Night Facebook group.

Make sure that you take a look at:

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