Experimenting with Uncommon Light Sources in Night Photography – by Matt Hill

National Parks at Night

Matt HillMatt Hill is an agent of change. His tools include photography, cut paper, storytelling, thinking and conversations. He creates art to satisfy himself. He teaches so that others can find this ability and purpose within themselves. Since everything is only temporary, Matt doesn’t put too much emphasis on the past or future – it’s all about the present, and how to extend it.

When Matt practices night photography, he is present and complete – until the shutter closes. All of his efforts are results from attempts to understand and master time and intent with media. Matt found himself in a state of wonder when visiting Yosemite–his first National Park. The simple and overwhelming beauty unlocked a passion to explore and document that helped drive him to co-found National Parks at Night with Gabriel Biderman. Now, their wonder can be yours. Explore Matt’s arts and workshops at MattHillArt.com.

One of the joys we have as night photographers is having extra time to make more deliberate choices about lighting for our imagery. Our common tools include flashlights, speedlites and larger flashes. But it certainly isn’t limited to the usual, right?

Let’s explore some alternate lighting experiments I’ve conducted:

Night Photography

Adjacent to Sand Arch in Arches National Park, Utah © Matt Hill

The above image combines me choosing to record another photographer’s light painting while adding my own twist: toy LED “Rocket Copters.” I had thrown them in my bag, knowing that I would be able to make some UFO-like descending lights.

Night Photography

Central Park in January © Matt Hill

Point light sources, such as battery-operated Christmas lights, are often used to make glowing orbs, but they are also fun to drag along the ground to illuminate and write with light simultaneously. This aided this photo in becoming an obvious long exposure. Without it, the only clue was the rising fog in the rear left.

Night Photography

Toy sword inside crashed plane in northern Arizona.

At a trade show in Las Vegas, someone left a toy sword in our booth that lit up green. The kid in me was like, “YEAH!” The photographer in me was like, “I’m gonna use that for tonight’s shoot.” And I did.

Toys with cheap, colored LEDs in them can sit well in small places and provide that perfect color glow to make a scene.

Night Photography

Arches National Park © Matt Hill

A tablet is also a gorgeous source of light, with both very consistent and controllable output. On my iPad mini I have an app called Rave Magnet. It cycles through all chroma as you wave it around, making beautiful color gradients. The effect is excellent for light writing and painting.

Night Photography

Downtown Denver

Sometimes the tools you have can be repurposed. The above was my two flashlights in plastic bags, dragged along underwater.

Night Photography

This was the most exercise I’d gotten in weeks. My friend and I threw this light back and forth for eight minutes while the camera popped off sequential exposures. Stacked in post.

Have fun. Look at the world of light-emitting objects in a new way: How can I make cool new photos with that?

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