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Light Painting Inspiration Is Easily Found Says Nikolay Trebukhin

“When an artist is recognized by style, it is like a business card,” says surreal light painter Nikolay Trebukhin. A man of few words who lets his work speak for itself, Nikolay finds inspiration in almost everything for his nighttime creations. Switching to an Olympus (now rebranded as the OM System) camera has greatly aided his photography.

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The newer OM System micro four-thirds cameras have a lot of features many full-frame cameras don’t. One of these is their Live Composite feature. This fantastic setting is helpful for long exposure photographers, whereby only newer, bright light sources are added onto the exposure. With this mode set on, the problem of overexposure of the frame gets taken care of. Think of it as an in-camera composite, with all the bright portions of the frame overlaying neatly over the dark areas. This is an absolute lifesaver for light painting photographers. I first learned about it from my friend Prakash. Despite being a Nikon user, he prefers to borrow a colleague’s OM-D E-M1 Mark III as it greatly reduces his time to make light painting exposures. Nikolay concurs with this, and he uses Live Composite almost exclusively in all his surreal light painting images after switching to the OM System.

The Essential Photo Gear Used by Nikolay Trebukhin

Nikolay told us:

I found out that Olympus cameras have a special “live composite” mode, which allows you to see what is happening in the frame in real time. I purchased such a camera. This is the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with a 12-40 2.8 lens. This radically changes everything, you can fix it or start over if something went wrong. Accordingly, the time for creating a drawing has decreased and there are more chances to do something else besides the planned one.

The Phoblographer: Hi Nikolay. Please tell us about yourself and how you got into photography.

Nikolay Trebukhin: Hi. Photography was not my main hobby. But I always liked it. In 2014, on the Internet, I saw several photos made using the technique of drawing with light. I wondered how it was done. I began to look for information and, based on it, try to do something similar. I succeeded, and I began to develop it further.

The Phoblographer: Your light painting images are diverse in appearance. Where do you look for inspiration for each image. How quickly do these ideas come to you?

Nikolay Trebukhin: Ideas are just floating around. I am constantly generating something. Basically, these are fantasies that will not come to fruition. But some of this is embodied in the light. Any picture, video, film, advertisement, and the like provide food for thought.

The Phoblographer: Light leakage must be such a headache in these images. What do you do to minimise this phenomenon?

Nikolay Trebukhin: The advantage of the “live composite” mode is that only the light that is brighter than the first frame gets to the sensor. Therefore, a passing car or a sudden flash of light can disrupt the frame.

The Phoblographer: Apart from flashlights, you’re also not averse to using accessories such as smoke machines and light grenades. Have you had unforeseen incidents while using these any time?

Nikolay Trebukhin: When using smoke, grenades, fireworks and open fire, the main thing is not to get carried away. And observe safety precautions. I’m alive; small burns do not count.

The Phoblographer: It’s an art for sure, but have you developed a signature style of your own that is instantly recognisable? Do you consider this to be an important characteristic for artists?

Nikolay Trebukhin: I think yes; judging by the reviews, many people recognize me without looking at the attribution…but nothing prevents you from deviating from the direction and experimenting.

The Phoblographer: Especially when a lot of external factors are involved, what do you do to change things around if your initial few exposures don’t result in the kind of image you’re looking for?

Nikolay Trebukhin: Usually, I know in advance where I will do the drawing. And these are familiar places to me. Sometimes I come to a location at night to understand how everything will look like. There is no point in wasting time arriving in an unfamiliar place without knowing the main characteristics. But if I go to an unfamiliar place only because of its exclusivity, then it is already decided on the spot whether there will be a result or not.

The Phoblographer: Are most of these images shot alone, or do you have help available when needed? How important is collaboration when it comes to personal growth in photography?

Nikolay Trebukhin: I usually do it alone. My friend is sometimes my model, she also helps with filming. I welcome cooperation. It gives new knowledge and expands the horizons of creativity. It’s always nice to learn something new.


The Phoblographer: When you’re against a dark background and you swirl your light tools around, you’re bound to produce something that looks interesting. But what helps you decide which ones are keepers and which ones need to be deleted?

Nikolay Trebukhin: I usually come with some intentions to make certain drawings. But more often, everything is decided on the spot. Since I see the result immediately after shooting, I can decide on the spot what to delete. But more often, I carry everything home, and there I already decide what to leave. Sometimes you can cut out a piece, and it will look great, although the whole picture is not very good.

The Phoblographer: You’re very active with uploads of your work of Reddit. Has there been significant feedback on your work via this platform?

Nikolay Trebukhin: These are usually positive comments.

Any camera just captures what you are doing. And my creativity is shown in front of the lens. So use whatever device you can use to stop time.

The Phoblographer: I see significant influences from music in your light painting. What’s the background behind these pictures?

Nikolay Trebukhin: I like modern electronic music. And I try to put energy and rhythm into my work.

The Phoblographer: What’s the craziest tool you’ve ever used for light painting?

Nikolay Trebukhin: I think that the most insane in terms of dangerous use is steel wool. It can set you or everyone on fire. Especially indoors or in strong winds.

All images by Nikolay Trebukhin. Used with permission. Visit his Instagram and Facebook pages to see more of his work.

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