This week i was lucky enough to get to interview one of my favorite Light Painters: Hannu Huhtamo. Hannu is a highly creative Light Painter with a very unique and interesting style. Over the years he has developed a whole set of skills that allow him to produce some very atmospherical and meaningful images.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about you?
I’m an Helsinki based photographer and musician.
2. How did you get started with Photography, especially Light Painting Photography?
Actually it all started from long exposure experiments. My good friend Janne Parviainen, who is also a maniac Light Painter, showed me some of his Light Drawings and I was immediately blown away about the whole concept. It was something more than photography, the use of Light as a pencil gave me so much ideas that I had to buy my first DSLR right away. Although Janne did his first light paintings with a small compact camera and you wouldn’t believe how awesome things he could draw in 15 seconds.
3. Did you ever think that photography could become something more than a hobby, and how did you make that transition?
At first no, but lately I’ve been thinking about it a lot. At the moment photography is my secondary work, I have two children and Finland is a quite expensive country to live. I’m also part of a light art group “Valopaja” (Light workshop in English). We do Live Light Painting performances and arrange light workshops for children and disabled people. And what’s more I also study visual arts, so there’s plenty of things for me to handle.
4. You are part of a nice documentary called “Light Painted Reality”. Can you tell is a little bit about this experience?
It was great, I mean at that time there wasn’t so many interviews or documentaries about Light Painting. The director Nico wanted to offer a closer look to our work and show people how we do it. I like the way he did it, intimate and realistic approach.
5. Do you often go out and shoot with other people? Why?
Yes I do. Usually the locations are a bit hazardous. Old abandoned factories, torn down buildings, construction areas, etc. It’s good to have somebody to help with the lights and compositions. Stellar collaborations might come up also…
6. Light Painting requires some creative use of gear. Could you tell us what gear do you use and how?
Well, at the moment I have Canon 5DmkIII and 17-40mm lens on it. I usually shoot in narrow places so wide angle lens is quite useful. Almost all of my light tools are self made, nothing fancy electronically controlled stuff, only modified LED-flashlights and El-Wire which I use for my light flowers and light sculptures. I draw everything with free hand.
7. What about non photography gear. Is there anything that you always take with you when you go out shooting?
If I’m not driving I might take a couple of beers during the session. I have to admit that I should be more prepared for the trips, but maybe some day.
8. Your photos often have a very “dream like” feel to it. Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process? Do you have an image on your mind and then look for the right place for it, or do you look for a nice place and that let yourself be influenced by what you feel there?
I get plenty of ideas all the time, but a very few are possible to execute. The Hardest part is to find a proper location with ambient light dim enough to work with EL-Wire. Occasionally, I might draw something on paper, some sketches and plans. Location tells me what to do and how to fit my light figures there. I improvise a lot.
9. Lightpainting has evolved a lot in the last years. How do you see its future?
Indeed it has. It’s more popular than ever. Photography communities like Flickr have a wide range on LP-groups where you can find tutorials and tips how to do different kinds of effects. When I started, there was only few active groups. I just developed my own way to do things, learning through mistakes. Nowdays you really have to push your way to the top and you have to have something special instead of repeating the same the others are doing. Live light painting might become more popular in the future, people want to see the process in real time. I think it will be recognized as a form of art and light painting will get rid of the technique-centered way of thinking. Hopefully pictures get deeper meanings and better stories.
10. Living in Finland, do you have any problems with going out and shooting in winter, when you can have really low temperatures? How do you deal with this problems?
Yeah, it can get very cold sometimes. Light tools and camera batteries don’t like it very much. El wire brakes immediately in that kind of temperatures. Two years ago I froze my toes and fingers badly, it was -25°C degrees, strong wind and I was without proper clothing. My feet got wet and at some point I realized that I couldn’t feel my toes anymore. When I got back home I put my feet into hot water, but it lasted almost two hours to get the sense back. That scared the hell out of me! They never recovered completely and after that I’ve been oversensitive to cold. But still nothing beats the snowy forest and clear starry skies, I just have to do it wherever it’s possible.
11. Could you name some people that have influenced the way you shoot and see photography?
There’s so many inspiring photographers, but in light painting it would be Eric Staller. He’s such an innovative artist in every level.
12. What advice/ tips would you give to other photographers who want to get into Lightpainting Photography?
Just open the shutter and try everything what comes to your mind. Let your mind flow and when you find something that feels special, focus on that. Be original and try to tell good stories. These are the things that I try to remember, sometimes I succeed, sometimes not.
13. Do you make your own Lightpainting materials or do you buy them?
I combine things like recycled plastic bags for colored filters. What I have to buy is LED-lights and el wire
14. Do you have some plans / goals for the close future that you can share with us?
At the moment my most important goal is to get my ass out and take more photos. It feels that this is the busiest period in my life, family things, studying and work. We’re developing Valopaja’s live performances and some interesting collaborations with other artists might come along the next year.
15. Where can we find your work?
The best place to check out my work is on my Flickr page.
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We would love to ear what you think about Hannu’s photos, technics and ideas, so please leave us a comment with any thoughts you might have.