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Russell Klimas

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Russell Klimas (@lightnlense) is a celebrated light painter both in the sky and on the ground. Russell's work has been published around the globe. Most recently, he gave us an inside look at his light painting techniques on the TedX Talks stage. He has reimaged what is possible with drone light painting, creating some of the largest drone light painted images we have ever seen.

Light painting with Russell Klimas

Q: What made you want to become a photographer? 

A: I hesitate to even call myself a photographer. I don’t think I’m good enough to be called that yet. I was doing videography for a while but wanted more content for Instagram then video could provide in the same amount of time so switched to pursuing photography.


Q: You drone light paint extremely intricate objects and images in the sky, where did you get the inspiration to do that? 

A: That’s a bit of a story. Traditionally I like to use models and other light painting tools to create my images, but as I live in Colorado it gets cold in fall and winter at night and didn’t want my models to freeze so I needed to find another solution to scratch my itch to light paint.

I’d seen Phill Fisher’s work where he did intricate shapes manually and wanted to get into that as well but I didn’t have time to practice to learn how to fly manually. I wanted to do fan art for Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee that was coming out in a couple of months and needed to get good FAST. So I spent one morning on Google and found that combing Google Earth and Litchi would let me achieve just that.


Q: How and why are you using Lume Cubes in your work?

A: I use Lume Cubes in two ways.


1. I use the Lume Cube Strobe on my DJI Mavic Pro to light paint with it. This allows for a minimum weight and still providing bright light. Prior to this I gaff taped a Lume Cube to the back of the drone to achieve the same effect, and it kept the drone balanced.


2. I recently started to incorporate fashion more into my light paintings, specifically parachute dresses. I wanted to be able to have the dress be splayed out and light it from underneath. Thus I place 4 Lume Cubes that I control with my phone to turn on and off for only a second to light up the dress. This allows the dress to not have wires, easier to clean up and keeps everything safer for a simple light-up effect.

I use Lume Cubes as when I was researching lights for drones they were the only option at the time. I continue to use them because they are reliable and the customer service I receive from Lume Cube is top-notch.


Q: What is your go-to camera?

A: Currently it depends on what I’m shooting! With traditional light paintings and other styles of photography, I use my Sony A7riii. Currently, I’ve been using an Olympus Em-10 for my drone light paintings as it makes light pollution a none issue with Live Composite.


Q: Any advice for new drone owners and photographers?

A: The best piece of advice I can give you for new drone owners is safety first! The last thing we want is to be a bother. So make sure you check the rules in your area and learn the rules the FAA sets in place for drones, it only takes one bad apple to ruin it for everyone and we all want to enjoy it.

As for photographers, try everything! Just because you think you’ll be interested in one style of photography doesn’t mean you’ll actually like it once you get into it, and that’s ok. Constantly try different styles and learn from them to apply them to the styles you end up pursuing and remember you’re not going to be good automatically. It takes TIME. So don’t be discouraged. Everyone sucks at the beginning.


Q: What is your preferred editing software?

A: I use Adobe products.


Q: You work with a ton of models and light painting around them in AMAZING ways, do you have a vision before starting or do you let the scene set itself?

A: Sometimes I have a vision. Other times, not at all. If I’m out somewhere in nature I only use tubes, blades, and whips generally, and I know what I’m doing for those through lots of practice and will experiment later into the shoot. In the studio, I have a lot more at my disposal and am more free form and don’t generally have concrete ideas. This also varies on if my camera is on the ceiling or on a tripod.


Q: What is the best part of your day? 

A: Hmmm, probably waking up because I have so much to do and accomplish!


Q: Coffee or tea? 

A: Tea. I like the taste, and caffeine doesn’t affect me.


Q: What’s your favorite photo you’ve taken and why? 

A: Man that’s a tough one. I’m very critical of my work on what is good enough. Currently, it’s an image I created with my friend Hannah in a river here in Colorado. I feel like the image is well balanced and is pleasing to the eye. There are other little details that add to the picture that make it even more magical once you know what they are.

Light Painting and Long Exposure Photography

Q: You just finished up your Ted Talk, congratulations by the way, how did it feel being recognized and being invited to talk about light painting on such a public stage? Were you nervous?

A: I was definitely nervous. I had performed on stages for a few years before but it’s different speaking. I was mostly excited that I got to share my love of light painting with other people and inspire others to try something new. It lets us experience magic in this mundane world.


Q: What is your favorite thing about drone Photography? 

A: Probably the unique perspectives it provides and doors that it opens with creativity.


Q: What is your least favorite thing about drone Photography?

A: With what I do? Sitting on the ground in literal freezing temperatures. I hate the cold.


Q: What is the next shape, word, object that you plan on drone light painting in the sky?

A: My current project is using math to streamline creating 3D stop motion animation drone light paintings. 


Q: If you could invite one person (dead or alive)  to lunch and pick their brain, who would it be?

A: Nikola Tesla. Hands down. Huge fan.