10 QUESTIONS TO TOM HILL
Next part of the lightpainting interview series. In this series I would like to introduce you to light painting artists who inspire me and impress me again and again with their works. Today Tom Hill gives us the honor, Mister Perfection himself. Hardly any other light painter works with such high precision, and mostly he paints everything by hand without any turning aids or the like. In addition, Tom is one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life. Have fun reading.
Please introduce yourself shortly. Name, Age and where you from etc.
Hi. I’m Tom Hill, I’m 42 and I currently live in Newcastle in the North East of England.
Q1. How and why did you start Light Painting
I first started taking photography seriously about 12 years ago when I saw a local landscape artist called Steve Boote who was taking amazing photographs of the local coastline. He’d started up a really friendly Flickr group (some of whom I still see to this day) for landscape photographers so I got myself a DSLR and started taking photographs of the area around me.
Through that group I met a few people who were interested in astro-photography, as we have really nice dark skies in Northumberland, including a good friend of mine, Mike Ridley. As well as being a great astrophotographer, Mike happened to be a fan of light painting and showed me a few images. These were the first shots I’d seen which weren’t just a wire wool spin and I was immediately interested.
About 4 years ago, I went out with Mike, he showed me some basic stuff with orbs and I’ve been hooked since then. My other half was also friends with Ian Hobson (one of the originators of UK light painting) which has also helped as a massive source of inspiration over the years.
Q2. What means light painting for you? What is your motivation? What drives you?
For me, there are two parts to light painting. I always tend to plan out my images in advance, and for that part of it I really enjoy the creative aspect and the technical challenge of working out how to achieve a shot. I always try to do everything by hand (not sure why!) so there is always a challenge trying to work out how to draw a complex pattern without any aids.
Then, when it comes to the actual shooting itself, for me it is the perfect way to de-stress. When I am out with a bunch of lights, I have to concentrate completely on what I’m doing if the forms are going to come out right and that means there is no room in my head for anything which is worrying or annoying me.
Q3. What gear do you always carry with you?
Camera wise I don’t use anything spectacular. I shoot with a Canon 80d APS-C DSLR and normally either a Sigma 10-20mm or a Samyang 16mm F2.0 manual lens.
In terms of light painting tools, I’m an ambassador for Light Painting Paradise as I find their tools incredibly useful, so I tend to have a bunch of their stuff with me. In particular I use their torch adapters with embedded colour filters, along with the plexy rods / plexy tubes, for pretty much all the organic “flower” designs I do, as it gives me a light weight and controllable rod for drawing. I also use their filter holders / colour filters for lighting up the background of all my shots.
For orbs, I always carry an LED umbrella and a bunch of finger lights and for calligraphic work I have a bunch of home-made calligraphy tools. Finally, I generally have an orb tool (which I use for creating spirals rather than orbs) and a magilight (for including more complex digital patterns into my shots).
Finally, for flashlights, I am currently using a prototype of the LightPainter flashlight from LightPainting Paradise / Ryu’s Lightworks which has a custom firmware designed for light painters and I couldn’t imagine going back to any other flashlight!
Q4. What is your most memorable Lightpainting expirience, event or moment? Tell us a little bit about it?
Oh, so many stories! Light Up Berlin was a cool experience and the time I went down to the peak district for Denis Smith’s aborted UK tour only to be interrupted mid shot by a policeman who thought the flashing lights were a rave…
However, in terms of memories, I think the one which will stay with me was probably my first meet up in Spain. I was over in Madrid on a course learning Spanish and I dropped Riders of Light a message through Facebook to see if they wanted to go out and shoot. I was super-nervous as it was the first time I’d done an international light painting meet-up and I had no idea whether my Spanish was good enough, whether we’d be able to understand each other, whether we’d get on etc.
In the end Ivan and Javi from Riders picked me up and we met up with some of their friends. We all entered into an abandoned shopping centre at which point they started to pull out cheese, ham, bread, beer and cakes we all sat down for an hour, chatting and eating together before spending all night light painting. I probably understood 30% of what was going on and it was a seriously surreal experience, but from there I have made some really close friends and it started my love of Spanish culture and a desire to meet up with more international light painters.
Q5. Who or what inspires you?
Outside of the light painting genre, I love street art – one of my current favourites is Dan Kitchener (Dank) from the UK and also Replete.
In the light painting scene, almost everyone has something in their work which inspires me
• On the calligraphic side, Sam Mass Heuzé and Cisco are inspirational for the quality of their work and how easy they make it look
• On the technical lens swapping / camera rotation side of things, the UK trio of Tim Gamble, Chris Thompson and Mart Barras are hard to beat
• When I think about portraits it would always by Iris Shyroii and Kim Von Coels
• Phill Fisher for his drone work and Dario Cuesta for his building illuminations
• For the energy and positivity they put into the scene, Denis Smith and Frodo Alvarez
Being honest though, almost every day I see something on my Facebook feed which makes me think “wow, cool” so I could make a list pages long and still not include everyone who has given me ideas.
Q6. What is going to be the next Light Painting Tool you build or buy?
I’m working on a calligraphic tool which is going to be a sort of “mini pixelstick”. The idea is to have something, 10cm long or so, where I can choose the pattern I want for the lights from my phone rather than having to use gels to setup the pattern. I’ve got all the bits ready, I just haven’t quite worked out how to make it comfortable to hold and easy to take apart again yet.
Q7. What is your workflow? Do you work more spontaneously or do you plan out every little detail of your art?
A lot of what I do revolves around symmetry and precision, so I tend to do a bunch of thinking in advance. Normally, I draw everything out in a little notebook beforehand and take it with me. Once on site though, things tend to get a mind of their own as you find out what works and what doesn’t.
Equally, some of the time I will go out with a specific tool and just spend an evening trying things to see how they come out. Unless you experiment randomly from time to time, you tend to just repeat the same things.
Q8. Do you have certain concept, idea, philosophy or theme for your Light Paintings?
I wouldn’t say I have a “concept” as such, but I definitely have a “style” which is to try to create photos which are clean and generally revolve around symmetry or geometric patterns. I have a scientific background rather than an artistic one and I think that leads me to aim for precision rather than having the more “free flowing” style that some light painters go for.
I’d also say I’m generally guided by where I am. If I’m working in beautiful landscapes I tend to try and make the lightpainting smaller and simpler so that the scenery can be the main focus, whereas in a more industrial location, I tend to make it bigger and more complex.
Q9. Do you have 3 Lightpainters you would like to / dream of, to have a collaboration with?
During my time in light painting I have been lucky enough to photograph with some of my favourite light painters, so I’ll stick to people I’ve never worked with
• Denis Smith – the guy is a legend, a super-nice guy to chat to and I’d love to have a photo with one of his orbs and one of mine in a cool landscape somewhere.
• Cisco Lightpainting (Francois Aenishanslin) – one of the best light painting calligraphers I know and Morocco just looks full of incredible locations.
• Mart Barras – I’ve been at meet-ups with Mart many times, and helped out on the odd shot, but I don’t think we’ve ever done an actual planned collaboration shot. Would love to get one of his circuit board, multi exposure shots with one my orbs in it.
Q10. What are your best or most favourite 3 pictures?
Always the hardest question to answer as I can see the flaws in all my shots as I know what I was hoping to achieve in the first place. At the moment I’d probably pick
One of the first properly complex orbs I ever did and still probably the design I find hardest to get right. Also taken in my “happy place” – a local tunnel I go to whenever I want to just try out new stuff – it isn’t particularly pretty but it is quiet, warm and dark – basically light painting heaven.
Again, I’ve chosen this one as it was a “first”. The first time I tried light painting in the blue hour when there is still enough light in the sky. I really wasn’t expecting this to work so it was an amazing surprise when I saw the back of the camera.
Lastly is a photo which represents what I want to achieve in light painting. For me, I love it when the light painting can be a part of a beautiful scene, rather than necessarily the main focus and in this case everything was perfect. A completely clear and still night, under a full moon, in an amazing location (Wadi Rum in Jordan) – the light painting is probably the simplest thing I’ve ever done, but anything else would have taken away from the amazing location.
Thank you for the interview Tom and I hope to see you again soon. Until then I wish you all the best.
Good light all the time