North Texas Daily

Light painter glows bright through niche art

Light painter glows bright through niche art

Light painter glows bright through niche art
February 26
20:44 2019

Kirk Edwards rolls a large trunk into his studio and begins sorting through its contents. He passes up the fancier tube lights and fiber optic brushes with colored gels, settling on a blue plastic lightsaber.

Edwards, an audio engineer from Arlington, doubles as a photographer with a very specific niche. He is a light painter. He uses a long exposure on his camera and light tools like his child’s toy lightsaber to create photos, each one different from the last.

“A million people can take a picture of the Grand Canyon or the little Horseshoe Bend thing, [and] it’s all been done,” Edwards said. “Anything that a light painter does is going to be original and unrepeatable. You can kind of copy, but it’s really hard to get a light to do the exact same thing.”

Photographer Kirk Edwards discusses his experience with light painting photography at Tiny Space Studio. Edwards will be teaching a class on light painting at Fort Worth Foto Fest in May. Image by: Paige Bruneman

Light painting, Edwards said, involves using a dark or dimly lit space and leaving the camera shutter open for a long exposure. The length of time the shutter is open could be as short as two seconds or as long as a minute or more. While the shutter is open, he “paints” the light by pointing the light source at the lens. These photos can be with or without a subject, but Edwards often paints the light onto or around a person.

Part of what makes light painting fascinating, he said, is that he is not actually behind the camera. Instead, Edwards appears in every single photo he takes “as a ghost,” painting the light around his subjects. However, wearing dark clothing ensures he is unseen in the final image.

Edwards’ journey with light painting began around two years ago, as he needed a creative outlet outside of his full-time job. With a wife and kids, he knew he needed to find a quiet nighttime hobby that he could practice after work, so he started experimenting with waving flashlights around in pictures. Now, he has an arsenal stocked with items that emit light, ranging from professional gear to everyday items.

“My kid’s birthday or Christmas comes along and I’m kind of zooming in on and taking his toys,” Edwards said.

Edwards has learned his craft through other light painters as well as by simply getting out the camera and experimenting with various light sources. Earlier in his photography career, Edwards met Carissa Laitinen-Kniss and Khristen Stanley Pahler, co-owners of Twisted Bodies Denton, through a mutual friend. Shooting photos with them on hoops and poles helped Edwards enter the aerial arts community, where he was able to shoot at the International Pole Convention in 2018 for pole artists who booked sessions with him. He will be shooting again at this year’s convention in June.

Laitinen-Kniss said she had no idea what light painting was before meeting Edwards, but his collaboration with her and Stanley Pahler on the artistic vision of the photos from start to finish made the process so much more enjoyable.

“We always look forward to working with him on any project because he’s built a great amount of trust and respect,” Laitinen-Kniss said.

Photographer Kirk Edwards prepares a light painting demonstration at Tiny Space Studio. Edwards will be teaching a class on light painting at Fort Worth Foto Fest in May. Image by: Paige Bruneman

Edwards said with light painting, models have the hardest job. Stanley Pahler agrees. During the photo-taking process, she has to keep perfectly still in her poses on the hoop and the pole in order to prevent appearing blurry in the finished picture. Because of this, she said, she enjoys the artistic challenge it provides. 

“When I look at the photos, I see the light as a visual representation of the energy of the pose,” Stanley Pahler said. “I feel like a superhero exuding all of my power for those to see.”

In addition to shooting aerial arts, Edwards has also been invited to demo a light painting class at the Fort Worth Foto Fest in May. While he does not personally know many light painters in the local community, classes like these give him exposure and could introduce him to potential future collaborators.

Edwards is in the process of transitioning his photography to being his full-time gig. However, he said, it is challenging for him to find time to shoot and edit while maintaining a career and taking care of a family. He said it will be difficult for him to leave a stable job until he has a steady income from light painting, a photography niche that is not as well-known as others.

Financially, light painting can be a costly hobby. Equipment like tripods, cameras that allow for a long exposure and trigger releases make up the bulk of his investments. However, Edwards said the actual light painting tools can be made for cheap, as anything that emits light can be a source.

“I would feel more confident trying to [photograph full time] babies or weddings, but it just doesn’t move the meter for me,” Edwards said. “I could do it, but I wouldn’t be happy doing it.”

For now, Edwards said he is just trying to learn as much as he can by practicing with a variety of light sources. While some light painters, like Eric Pare and Zach Alan, consistently use a specific type of light, Edwards is still experimenting.

“I just play with all of it because it’s all cool to me,” Edwards said. “Along the way, I’ll hopefully find my own style. I think I’m getting close.”

Featured Image: Photographer Kirk Edwards demonstrates light painting on a subject at Tiny Space Studio. Edwards began photography two years ago as his creative outlet.
Image by:
Paige Bruneman 

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Haley Arnold

Haley Arnold

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  1. Nathan
    Nathan February 28, 13:42

    So… no examples of his work?

    Reply to this comment
    • Kirk
      Kirk March 13, 13:10

      You can follow me on Instagram @_kirkae. For some reason the paper doesn’t like to use reference photos that were not taken by themselves, which doesn’t make sense.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Aunt Peg
    Aunt Peg February 28, 14:55

    Couldn’t be more proud of you. Smart and creative guy.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Gabeiel
    Gabeiel March 13, 07:11

    Congrats Kirk, big fans of your creative work! The article is severely lacking by not showing any examples of your light paintings! Check it out here:

    Reply to this comment

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