Light painting means controlling the light that enters through the camera lens and that is used to "paint" on the photo. There are several techniques to do light painting, and in this interview, we will discover the secrets of Maria Saggese with this analogue art.
Hi Maria, welcome! Tell us about yourself, how are you and where are you from?
I'm Maria Saggese, I'm 28 years old and I'm a professional photographer specialized in the technique of Light Painting, a technique that allows me to combine photography and art. I was born and raised in a small town in the province of Salerno and I currently live in Rome where I work as a freelance photographer.
Tell us about your photography background. When did you start photographing?
Since I was little I loved art: I loved to draw and that's why I attended the Art Institute in my city. During those years I started studying photography and I realized that this was the path I wanted to take. So, immediately after graduation, I enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Naples where I could continue my artistic career. During those years I started to have a more creative approach towards photography. I enjoyed experimenting with various artistic techniques and breaking the rules of composition that I had learned and applied up to that moment.
When did you start getting into the light painting technique?
It all actually started by accident in 2013 when I was asked to create a project with the theme of light for an exam. I set out to find a technique that would allow me to combine photography, drawing, and light. It was then that I discovered the technique of Light Painting, literally painting with light. I was immediately fascinated by the works I saw from other artists and decided to give it a try! I looked around the house for some flashlights, but all I found was a small white LED, so I started experimenting with it. The first time I did Light Painting I was locked in my room for three hours in the dark. I couldn't believe that I could make visible what I imagined. To see a trail of light come to life with a simple brush stroke was truly magical.
So, for my exam, I decided to tell a fantastic story with the use of light. The main character of this story, the LightMan, had to face just like me obstacles with tenacity and stubbornness to reach his goal and find his inner light. When I told the story at the exam, everyone was amazed by the technique I used! From that moment I knew that if I could tell that story so effectively, I could tell anything with light. From that day on, I began experimenting to find my inner light.
What are the must-have accessories for this technique?
For Light Painting you need 3 basic accessories: first of all, a camera that has the B pose (Bulb) functionality and the remote shutter release to control the exposure at a distance; a tripod to avoid blurred images and have maximum stability and a light source to experiment with (any light source can be used for painting: a lighter, a laser, a flashlight, even the flash of your smartphone!).
Could reveal to our readers your photographic process and some tricks to achieve amazing effects with Light Painting?
Light Painting is a technique that may seem simple, however, it requires a lot of practice and experimentation. Usually, before each photo shoot, I already have a clear idea of the shots I want to take because I do extensive researches on the theme I want to represent. Then, when I start shooting, I get new ideas and I often start to distort the initial concept and create completely different images and effects that I had not experienced before using light tools that inspire me to create something completely new.
For several years I have also been using professional tools for light painting called Light Painting Brushes. The peculiarity of these tools is the use of a universal connector to which you can easily and quickly interchange the different light tools available in the market. In this way, you have the possibility to combine different effects and textures.
My advice is to use different light sources and experiment to see their results. Each light source has different characteristics and the magic of Light Painting lies in being able to use them to create different effects. Each image will therefore be truly unique and you'll just have to let yourself to be carried away by your creativity. The beauty of Light Painting is that there are no creative limits.
© Maria Saggese
For this series you used our Lomo'Instant Wide: how was your experience with it?
I have been following Lomography's world for quite some time now and I was very excited to try out the Lomo'Instant Wide! Over the past few months I've taken several images, mainly self-portraits, and have had a lot of fun with it. It was a great discovery for me and I must say it made the process of light painting even more magical. Using a long exposure you can never pre- visualize the final result until the shutter closes, and imagination plays a major role. In the digital world the vision of the image on the screen is immediate and moreover it is possible to make endless shots and attempts.
With film, on the other hand, you have to think carefully about the result you want to obtain because you only have a limited number of shoots available! Once you have finished shooting you have to wait for the image to come to life. The difficulty is certainly greater, but it allows you to make each image a unique work of art. I mainly used the B mode that allowed me to fully control the exposure and I had fun experimenting with the double exposure: I find absolutely brilliant the possibility to combine several images with long exposure in a single shot! So I recommend experimenting with multiple exposures using B and MX mode. The remote lens cap is also a real game-changer and is very useful for closing the shutter when you are far from the camera.
What's your favorite camera?
I don't have a favorite camera to shoot with, I like to test and use different cameras and lenses. I started out shooting with an analogue camera, switched to the digital world with an entry-level DSLR and then used a full-frame SLR from Nikon. So I experimented a lot with different cameras as well. Today, however, I mainly use a micro four-thirds camera. It was a big revolution because usually, a light painter has to carry with him bulky and heavy equipment such as a tripod, flashlights, light tools, etc..I prefer to carry a compact camera and light lenses, especially when I travel.
Is there a photographer you particularly like?
One of the photographers that has particularly inspired me is light painter Patrick Rochon, one of the first artists in the '90s to bring Light Painting as a form of art into the fashion world. When I started, he was a reference for me. After several years, I managed to meet him and I was also able to take an online class with him. It was really a satisfaction and an honor to meet one of the masters of Light Painting. Another great inspiration for me is the master of light and Italian fashion photographer Paolo Roversi with his unmistakable technique. He uses light to design his fashion shoots, his portraits or still life; for him, photography is not the representation of reality, but something deeper, that only through light is possible to reveal...As he always says: "[...] you can learn photography in an hour. What you don't learn, is the feeling of light [...]".
What camera do you always carry with you during your travels?
I love to carry cameras that are not too bulky, but without sacrificing image quality. I often carry my Olympus mirrorless, an Instax Mini, and from now on the Lomo'Instant Wide will always be with me!
Do you have any upcoming new photographic projects?
At the moment I'm working on my personal Light Painting projects, in particular self-portraits and portrait application, also for the fashion industry. My work has been published in several magazines and I will definitely continue on this path this year. I would like to collaborate with new magazines but also with other professionals such as stylists and designers. Another project that I will definitely continue is the online education through workshops and courses on light painting that I started to hold during the lockdown and it was really amazing to have students from all over the world as from America or India...I'm happy that, despite the difficult period, the hours and the distances that separate us, we managed to carry on this lessons.
What is the photograph you are most attached to? Can you tell us the story behind it?
One of the photos I'm most attached to is an almost surreal image I took for a Light Painting contest several years ago and that made me reach the finals. It's an image I particularly cherish, created in 2016 when I had just started creating my first silhouettes. At that time my model was my twin sister, who helped me a lot in my artistic journey, especially in the beginning. In the image, you can see a double silhouette, two figures that are intertwined but in opposite directions, and the light envelops them like fog. It was created during a single shot, with a "double exposure" technique in which I created a first silhouette and then, by moving the subject in the opposite direction, I created a second silhouette obtaining this effect of double exposure and evanescence. For me, Light Painting is a magical technique that allows me to go beyond what we see and make visible the invisible through light.