“Light painting is an expression of our true selves. It’s about the trace we create and leave behind. It enhances your imagination, wakes up your intuition, and reflects who you are and where you are at. It is a mirror of the soul.” –Patrick Rochon
“Light painting,” explains artist Patrick Rochon, “is a photography-based art form where the creator moves handheld lights in the dark during a long exposure.” First developed in 1889, the art of light painting illumination through long exposure was popularized by the iconic Man Ray, who used the technique for his 1935 Space Writing series. “I always loved Man Ray’s path as a photographer,” Rochon says.
Rochon studied photography in college, and at first was more a practitioner of ubiquitous photography than of a specific or dominant genre. Curiosity ignited his exploration of the intricacies and creativity inherent within the photographic art form. It was that thirst for a singular creative expression that influenced his study of light painting. “When I first saw a black and white picture of a plant another student had made, each leaf lit with a stroke of light, I saw the creative potential; that was the spark, the trigger. In something simple, I saw a world of possibilities,” he says. This decision was fortified for Rochon when, on a trip to Tokyo, he realized that his mindset was totally captured with the art of light painting. It was a life-changing and art-changing epiphany that allowed him to free himself from what he felt were the restrictions of traditional photography and instead let him pursue a path of open-ended creative freedom through light painting. “It’s the magic that comes out of it,” Rochon says, “the unexpected results, the surprises and the synchronicities that occur while creating that get me excited. These moments are teaching me, guiding me towards new directions, opening doors I could not see before.”
Rochon’s techniques include 360-degree bullet time and light painting kata. Light painting kata is free-form light painting in which Rochon uses motion to create free flow movement of a light. He uses light swords called Liteblades and works with music in synergy with movements. “The goal is to become one with the tool and the light and to go beyond my own control by doing natural, spontaneous motions.” The Liteblades are tools that leave 3D traces that can be seen at every angle, no matter how you move in front of the camera. This opens up many possibilities to practise freestyle light painting katas. They are also used to create light textures, “decoration,” or backgrounds for posing models. Rochon says, “I personally use one, two, or even sometimes three Liteblades at a time. I also love pushing colour combinations by mixing them up on the same source. I pre-cut single colours and combos in circles [so they are] ready to add to the light. I leave openings, one on each the side of the Liteblades, to create highlights and bright splashes of light when pointing towards the lens. They can be adjusted, like an iris, with black tape: the bigger the opening, the bigger the splash of light. Also, by leaving those open, it throws random light on your backgrounds and surroundings. I personally find this interesting since it visually connects the light painting with what’s around it. I love modifying the Liteblades with various materials like tapes, fabrics, plastics, and colour gels to create different textures and effects.”
One of the captivating and surreal ways that Rochon uses light painting is in his portraiture series, a rare specialty in light painting. It is an art that can “reveal the thousand faces of the subject, transforming it completely. Each portrait is original, colourful, intimate, and magical. It is a true manifestation of the imagination.” To prepare for a light painting portrait shoot, Rochon relies on the connection he develops with his models and the ambiance and experience he creates for the location shoot, including a high level of comfort, music, and an integral level of respect, all intricate factors in making the experience better and the final results brilliant. The Liteblades are mounted on Klarus lights, the RS11 and XT12, both with an output of 930 lumens. This is as strong as a car’s headlight. Klarus are super strong, shockproof, and waterresistant up to two metres. They come with a battery-operated, rechargeable USB magnetic cable. So, you don’t need a charger. The main difference is the button position and the memory function on the RS11. The RS11 restarts at the last setting you used. The XT12 always restarts at full power. So both styles have advantages. Rochon prefers the RS11 and for freestyle the XT12. Rochon’s passion is for the creative process, much more so than the technical aspects of the art. “This art is intuitive. By happening in the dark, it boycotts the intellect and gets you back to your senses and connects you to your imagination. This sets you outside your comfort zone, directing you back towards your essence and spirit,” Rochon says. To get into his creative zone, a state of unconscious where he hears his inner self whisper the hints that guide his ideas and insights, he goes through a process of pauses and letting go, releasing any blockages that stand in the way of his intuition and the subtleties of the self, the insights and the guidance.
The 360-degree bullet time technique is quite challenging, requiring complete darkness. The result is a video animation clip. “In light painting, a tiny bit of light in the room usually doesn’t show up on the results, but in this case, since you have a ring of cameras pointing in every direction, while doing long exposures, all leaks will appear. As such, it has to be 100-percent darkness all around. We work with 24 to 48 cameras all connected to a series of computers, which run special software designed to trigger and adjust all the cameras. The software also allows me to view the results in sequence, as a clip, immediately after I am done exposing. It is a very challenging type of light painting, but the results are great.” Other explorations by Rochon include experiments painting with light at night in nature, working with dancers, creating light shows as live events, and working with advertisers on commercial projects. Rochon has had some excellent commercial success working with advertisers to integrate light painting into their ad campaigns, many of which have gone viral. The Toyota Altezza campaign (1999) was his first big commercial project; the Red Bull + Snap! Orlando project (2013), an experimental undertaking that paired sports and technology together, was a major success that went viral, quickly garnering 6.6 million views.
Another commercial art project with TBWA and INFINITI Middle East was shot in Dubai. Rochon states, “We transformed three cars into moving light painting brushes to create a new kind of dynamic image.” Innovation, self-growth, discovery, exploration, becoming more intuitive, tapping into greater creative powers, utilizing imagination, and an enhanced connection to one’s mind-body soul are all benefits that Rochon feels photographers can garner from the practice of light painting. His advice for new photographers who are interested in light painting is to become process-oriented instead of result-oriented. “If you are just result-oriented, you have a greater chance of getting very frustrated ordiscouraged,” he says. “The journey of discovery is an adventure that contains challenges you won’t expect. The process shows you the way. It directs you in the present moment as to what you have to focus on and take part in. One step at a time, you find solutions and creative ideas, which cumulate in the end result. If you do every step with care, to the best of your abilities, all the pieces will come together.” For advanced photographers, Rochon’s advice, while simple, can be challenging to those who like to have control. “Give yourself the chance to step out of your own boundaries. Break your own rules and re-invent yourself. Times are changing; it’s up to us to adapt or not.”
Check out more of Rochon’s inspired light painting projects: