My name is Tom Hill, I’m 43 years old and live in Newcastle, in the North East of England where I work as the technical director for a software firm I started 15 years ago.
In my spare time I do a lot of light painting and I’m also a big fan of languages – primarily Spanish but hoping to improve my French over the next few years.
How did you get started in light painting?
There were two people who were important in getting me involved in light painting.
The first was Ian Hobson, who was one of the earliest light painters I know of in the UK. He was friends with my girlfriend through work and so I’d seen some of his stuff through her.
The second was a friend of mine called Mike Ridley who I met through a group of local landscape photographers. As well as being an excellent astrophotographer, Mike was a fantastic light painter, doing very cool things with fireworks and wire wool. One night, when we were out taking photos of the milky way, he showed me some stuff – I loved it and asked to go out with him one night and ever since then I have been hooked.
What do you like most about light painting? And least?
What I like most about light painting is the community. Nowadays I know that no matter where I am in the world, I can put a message on Facebook and meet up with a local light painter to play around with lights and see some cool locations. From experience, light painters tend to be a very chilled out bunch and very easy to get on with.
In terms of the least, due to where I live, probably the problems with location / weather. Where I live it isn’t dark until 11pm in summer and in winter it is regularly below zero, so I have the choice of frozen fingers or no sleep!
What has been your biggest photographic challenge or the photo which was hardest for you to acheive?
That’s a really tricky one to answer as every photo is a challenge until you achieve it, at which point you can generally repeat it without any problems. In terms of the technique which took me the most attempts to get right, it would probably be one of the orb designs with “holes” in – it is surprisingly difficult to leave a hole in the right place when you can’t see what you are doing. I reckon it probably took me 20-30 attempts before I got it right.
Nowadays, the thing that I find hardest is probably light calligraphy, as creating something which is both complex and also “clean” takes a lot of practice.
Which 3 tools do you always take with you?
I generally use a relatively small set of equipment which I know really well.
Firstly, for orbs and “light flowers” I tend to use the Light Painting Paradise plexy tubes, connected to the Lightpainter flashlight using their all in one adaptor. That gives me a nice light system with flexible strobe modes and the ability to control the flashlight using the side button. Equally, using their adaptors I can connect other things to the end to create interesting combinations.
For my calligraphy work, I use the Scanner DKL Pro from Frodo Alvarez and the Lightbar from Luis Lafuente Medina, as well as using the bubble rods from Light Painting Paradise – depending on the effect I want to achieve.
I also use a magilight with their 30cm bar for creating complex patterns such as runes.
Finally I have some stuff for “special effects”. Camera rotation head, lasers, prism filters etc
If you could only keep one photograph, what would it be and why?
Very difficult question as there are some where I am super happy with the technique but they don’t “mean” anything to me and others which are technically very simple but have a story behind them.
I think at the moment, my favourite is this one as it is probably the most technically complex shot I’ve done in terms of number of elements and came out perfectly first time. I was very happy when I saw it on the back of the camera!
Which photographers, light painters and / or other artists have influenced you?
Too many to mention honestly and for different reasons.
In terms of my current focus on trying to focus on my calligraphy, I am inspired by Sam Mass Huezé, Cisco Lightpainting, Fella Malou and Julien Breton (Kalaam).
From the perspective of the more “technical” side of light painting – lens swaps, camera rotation, stencils etc – it is difficult to beat my good friends from the UK: Tim Gamble, Chris Thompson, Mart Barras, Phill Fisher and Lace Light.
Then you have the people I admire for what they have done / are doing to promote the scene – the energy of people like Frodo Alvarez and Denis Smith is insane as is the effort put in by tool makers such as Ivan Barco and Luis Lafuente Medina.
Can you tell us any funny stories which have happened whilst you have been light painting?
Several, but the one I remember best was at a light painting meet up in the peak district. We had all arranged to meet up as Denis Smith was coming over from Australia. In the end, for technical reasons, he had his visa declined so we had to hold the meet up without him. Anyway, there were probably about 10 light painters in an abandoned mine in the middle of the peak district. I was there, in the middle of creating an orb and some bloke walked into my shot with a torch on. Obviously I said “Oi mate, I’m in the middle of a shot here – turn the *** torch off”. Turned out it was the police who had seen the flashing lights and thought we were having a rave….
Where would you most like to be able to do a light painting session?
It’s not so much a location, but a combination of location and people. Before COVID I had started to make a list of light painters I wanted to collab with in their own country. So Pala Teth in the mines in Belgium, Cisco Lightpainting in the dunes of Algeria, the French light painters in the Catacombs of Paris, etc.
What advice would you give to new light painters?
Your first attempt at anything will be awful. Don’t worry – that will be the case even after years of light painting. Keep practicing and you’ll get it.
Also, when you start, it is more important to work out what you’re trying to achieve (i.e. your own style) than to be able to achieve it.