Mark O’Neill created the above simply perfect light painting to win the 1st International Light Painting Awards! I caught up with Mark after the win and though he was in a bit of shock and speechless he managed to pull it together long enough to answer some questions, including who he would have voted for…
LPP ∇ Mark first of all Congratulations on winning the 1st International Light Painting Awards, your winning image is a light painting masterpiece, simply perfect!
MO ∇ Thank you very much! I can’t even begin to tell you how proud I am to have been awarded first place in this great competition.
LPP ∇ Tell me a little about the image how long was the exposure time, what f-stop, etc…
MO ∇ My image was created using an exposure time of 60 seconds, ISO 500 at f6.3 This choice was a considered balance for all the elements of my image, so I could smooth the reflection, fill the chamber with enough light, and keep the scene sharp.
LPP ∇ What light tools did you use to create the image, anything custom?
MO ∇ Using minimal lighting in my image to keep things as simple as possible. I concentrated the lighting on a backlit silhouette of myself using a combination of three LED video lights, mounted on an extra tripod via an old flash bracket and some duct tape. This was positioned directly behind the figure as there weren’t enough human hands to do the job. With barn doors on the lights I was able to funnel the light far down the length of the tunnel. We experimented with a variety of compositions and lighting combinations but in the end I settled for the simplest of them. Remotely triggered speed lights would have been a better choice, to keep the silhouette sharp but that wasn’t an option at the time.
LPP ∇ Did you use any post production at all, crop, stamp, adjustments or is the image SOOC?
MO ∇ As with all my images I like to judge the final product in a controlled environment, on a large screen to make small adjustments. Working in raw, I applied some basic tonal adjustments to decrease contrast and even out the lighting across the frame. This was followed by a curve to add impact and then localised adjustments, mainly to pull up the detail in the corners and control highlights. White balance was already set to tungsten from the previous escapade and I felt the cool tones added to this image so I avoided warming it up too much. Thankfully, there were no flares or spots to hide but a slight crop was necessary to straighten the image perfectly.
LPP ∇ The location is EPIC! Where and what is this place? How did you find it?
MO ∇ ‘Megatron’ is definitely epic! All you have to do is shine a light inside to make it look amazing. A wide culvert section over the River Sheaf, it is on the bucket list of many urban explorers and photographers; recognised as one of those ‘must do’ locations by much of the UK scene. This is one part of a large culvert system underneath Sheffield, in a beautiful display of Victorian engineering which extends for more than a mile.
I’ve always been keen to get in there and wade underneath the city of Sheffield myself, after seeing images from people such as Robbie Shone. I finally got the chance to cast my own light on it recently whilst showing my favourite light painting partner, Xiao Yang (Inhiu) around the country for a week.
LPP ∇ Is it a difficult place to access? Any strange stories about working in this location?
MO ∇ Haha, yes! A wrong step near the culvert’s entrance led to some torn ligaments in my knee and a quick swim. My waders weren’t designed for swimming but luckily my dry bag was so the camera gear survived. It would have been a soggy, miserable disaster had anything important got wet.
A long, wet limp back through the town centre to our hotel, and a while later we were warm, dry and laughing as we returned to spend the rest of the night underground with the bats and the fish.
Access is not particularly difficult to anyone but me it seems, however, as with all culverts and drains you have to have respect for your surroundings and this visit was a good example of why you shouldn’t let your guard down when you’re somewhere like this. I’m still limping, three weeks later.
Carrying plenty of expensive equipment, the stakes are high so you have to be careful and it’s a good idea to double check everything you do before you do it. Visits during wet weather should be avoided for obvious reasons, a culvert wouldn’t be a nice place to meet your maker.
LPP ∇ Good advice… How long have you been light painting, and how did you make your discovery of the art form?
MO ∇ Night photography has always fascinated me, I’ve actively been light painting since I bought my first DSLR and started running around lighting up the local fields up with a friend in 2006 while he told me about a derelict hospital nearby. We were able to capture things that interested us in a different way. Coupled with my interest in the night sky, the hobby kind of took over, spreading from my back garden to places I could never imagine; sometimes for fun, sometimes as a form of escape.
It’s a great experience spending time in these locations, especially when you are under a dark, clear sky. The darkness provides a blank canvas, on which you can add your image, as you want it. A cheap torch from the supermarket becomes a tool of creation, capable of results you would usually expect of bulky, expensive lighting. Light painting gives a photographer a way of deeply engaging themselves in an image, and another way of looking at the world. That has me hooked.
LPP ∇ Where were you when you got word that you were the big winner?
MO ∇ Returning from seeing my brand new niece for the first time. I got a message from a friend congratulating me and I confusedly spent the next half hour trying to get enough signal on my phone to find out for myself. It was a tense time!
LPP ∇ What did you do when you found out you won?
MO ∇ Stared into the distance with my jaw wide open in disbelief, let out some yelps of excitement, then ate a considerable amount of good curry!
LPP ∇ How are you going to celebrate?
MO ∇ By spending much more time in dark places.
LPP ∇ Now the most difficult question, who would you have voted for to be the winner and you have to pick someone specific no politically correct answers…
MO ∇ You’re right, this is difficult. Every nominated image is capable of winning this competition, which makes me feel quite overwhelmed. I’ve stared at them all for quite a while now, but the one I keep going back to, and wish I’d taken myself, is Dana Maltby’s shot in third place. The composition and low key, high contrast lighting is spot on. The shapes and colour contrast make a great impact, and the flip would have taken a lot of brain power and time to perfect. It is a powerful idea, executed with perfection.
LPP ∇ Anything else you would like to add?
MO ∇ My grandfather passed away two days before I created my image. I wanted to go out and do something he would be proud of, and I’m pretty sure he would be pleased. I need to thank Jan Leonardo Wöllert and everyone involved in the competition. Also my family, friends, and my awesome photo buddy, Xiao Yang, who played a key part in creating this image.
LPP ∇ I am sure your grandfather has a huge smile on his face, your work is something to be proud of. Congratulations!
MO ∇ Thank you!
Below are a few more of Mark’s incredible images and for even more check out his website http://digitalnoisephotography.co.uk