Adorama Learning Center
German light painting duo, Electrical Movements in the Dark, have managed to create some awe-inspiring photo art using high-powered flashlights, lasers, and el-wire – and absolutely no Photoshop. Consisting of Heinz-Jörg Wurzbacher and Garry Krätz, EMD intricately plan their light designs around their indoor and outdoor sets with epic results. Adorama had the chance to chat with Wurzbacher about EMD’s work, what goes into creating a light painting, and any advice he had for aspiring light painters.
Q: When did you first discover light painting and how did this become your signature style of art?
A: The first “light paintings“ I ever saw were stuff like hearts or things like “I love you,” painted with some torches in the dark. But this was not right the kind of light painting, it was too simple for me. Then I discovered the light paintings from Jan Leonardo Woellert’s first light project “LAPP-Pro“ in 2008 – he now works alone as “Jan Leonardo.” They made the right stuff – not only moving lights in the dark but also illuminating the scene. So, their pictures told stories – orbs, circles and persons wearing light suits. Their pictures were taken out in the fields or in lost places. So I was watching their pictures for more than two years to find out how to do this stuff.
Q: Do you ever use someone else to hold the light rig or is this creative partnership between the two of you exclusive?
A: Soon I found out that I could not realize most of my ideas alone, so I was searching for someone who was able to work with me and with the lights. In 2011, Garry Krätz joined my light art photography project called “Electrical Movements in the Dark (EMD).” He illuminates buildings, monuments, and events with lights, so he was the right one for my ideas. Since then we do most of our light artwork together, sometimes we collaborate with other light painters or talented photographers.
Q: How much time goes into planning the design before you execute it? What gear do you use?
A: The main thing about our light artwork is that we shoot the whole scene in one long exposure, no Photoshop trickery! Therefore, we have to plan how to build up the scenery, to set the environmental lights and the performance with lights. Most of it must be done step by step, only a few things can be done at the same time. So we use the lens capping as our working method. One of us has to be behind the camera, the other one is doing the performance – but often, the one behind the camera has to work both the torches while shooting the scene! Sometimes two people are not enough for the whole performance, so the one behind the camera has to walk to the right and left with torches to illuminate the scene.
But it is also a question of the right location. Indoor or outdoor – what would be the best for the light stuff we want to use? Some lights – light lasers – are only good indoor. When you work with a laser, you need to visualize the light ray, therefore, it is useful to work indoor with a fogger or with smoke. That is what we have to plan when we want to realize some new ideas. Light circles, or UFOs, for example, are best near some water where you will have reflections of the lights.
Mostly we use torches from Led Lenser. They have all types of torches – small, tiny ones, but also big ones like the X21R.2 with 3200 lumen (good for illumination of big areas). Some of them are covered with gels. We also use acrylic tubes and rods, EL-wire, led stripes and some fireworks, but also lasers (only indoor). We also build our own lights.
Q: Your work combines graphic design, light painting, and photography, but what kind of artists do you consider yourselves to be? Are you fine art photographers, do you take pictures full-time?
Well, the night is our canvas, we paint with lights and take photographs of it. We create forms out of light. So it is a kind of an artistic performance to move along with these lights and to tell a story with a picture or to create an illusion. We call ourselves light artists, but we are no Photoshop artists! And we are no full-time photographers.
Q: Who are some contemporary photographers that inspire you, and do you have any tips for photographers looking for creative inspiration?
A: The most inspiring one is Jan Leonardo Wöllert, but there are a lot of inspiring light art photographers around the world like Patrick Rochon, and Eric Paré from Canada, Pala Teth (Belgium), Patrick Scherer (France). There are also inspiring folks in UK, Spain, USA, and Asia! And for many other light painters we are an inspiration, too…
The main thing is – go out and try painting with lights. Soon you will realize how lights work, how to use your camera with the right settings, and you will get new ideas. Do not always copy the artwork of other light artists, find your own way. Be creative with lights and always try to test new materials. When you want to create light tools, keep it simple and smart. You do not need heavyweight torches, use the light ones! They are better to move – and to move precisely! Remember geometry at school – then you will have an idea to create light objects.
Get a DSLR camera like Canon, Nikon, Sony etc. and learn how to take pictures in the manual mode (M or BULB), of course, with a tripod! Always use ISO 100, and get familiar with the different aperture settings.