Night Photography and Light Painting: The Photography of Brian Rodriguez

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Brian Rodriguez  was born and raised in San Diego, California and later moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. Growing up he had an immense appreciating for nature and the mental and emotional effect it has. Photography began to happen as he developed creativity as a young adult and began taking photos on his phone. One day, during the madness of what’s known as Black Friday, he decided to buy his very first DSLR camera. He had no clue how to use it. He didn’t know a thing about the DSLR world. But the one thing he did know is that he wanted to try this thing called light painting and long exposures. Add to this his love for nature and hiking and you have a man with all the drive to capture landscapes and light painting.
He also does not consider himself a professional photographer; he is self-taught and everything he learned is thanks to Youtube, Google, personal experience and trial-and-error. Not a single photography class has been taken, albeit he has met many experienced photographers to learn from on his journey. Adobe Photoshop is never used, and most editing (including the occasional composites) take place via Snapseed.
Read on for our interview with Brian.
We are so captivated by the beauty and energy of your photos. You describe what you do as “light painting;” can you tell us what that is, and the process behind it?
Generally, “light painting” can refer to numerous concepts in the world of photography. There are many ways to perform it. The artist/photographer will generally have a light source and essentially “paint” or “draw” in the photo while the shutter is open. I wouldn’t say that advanced skill is required, but a good understanding of your camera and its settings, along with how it collects light in a photo is required. No, a $1,000 camera is not required. Many create these images on entry-level crop sensor cameras. In fact, I’ve done it with a GoPro Hero 4 (shown below).

Lets put how this works into perspective. As a child, my brother and I would sneak into my mom’s room on Saturday mornings to play games with her. One was “Guess This Figure.” We would draw something in the air with our index finger while my mom had to guess what it was. This is the same concept with light painting. Let’s say you attach a light source to your index finger (and become ET) and start making patterns in the air while having your camera facing you with an open shutter. The camera will collect all the movement of that light source on your finger and will bring it together to show that elephant, circle, letter, or whatever else you are drawing with your light source. This is the basic concept of light painting. Other things can become a factor, such as your own presence in the photo. Most of the time, you will either appear as a blurry object/human, or will not appear at all depending of where you are and what you are doing during the shot. This is important to have in mind depending on what you are going for.
What inspired you to pursue photography, and what keeps you constantly creating new content?
Honestly, photography sort of just fell into place. Not once in my life did I tell myself, “I want to be a photographer.” Photography came into play as I wanted to create art and photograph Earth’s beauty. Nature has always played a vital role in my photography conquest. It was the love for nature that made me want to learn to photograph the stars (this requires learning long exposures – a similar setting used for light painting).
Inspiration from others is a constant motivation. I’m the type that will see something cool and be like “Hey! I have to try that.” But I digress, my main motivation is getting out of this city life and recharge in nature, seeing what the world is really about when you set aside all the worries, selfish desires and chaos that happens in our daily TV.
What are your favorite shots and locations so far, and what are the stories behind them?
For anyone who follows me on Instagram, you’ll know Death Valley is BY FAR my most visited location due to its dark skies. One must realize that we are privileged in the USA; we have many “dark zones” where the sky experiences the least amount of light pollution at night. The Southwest is full of these dark spots and Death Valley is no exception. Granted, the USA is not the only country with these skies.
On my first visit to Death Valley, I was well aware of the stars that come out and play at this location so I had to see for myself… And I had to photograph them for myself. After we trekked through the Eureka Dunes for the leg workout of a lifetime and sand in every inch of our feet, we drove back to the campgrounds to settle in for a night of stargazing under the Milky Way – and some beers. This was the first time I photographed the Milky Way and instantly fell in love. I take multiple trips every year to capture these cosmos now. When 2019 came, I realized that I had gone to Death Valley a dozen times at night and only once during the day.
An honorable mention is Valley of Fire, Nevada. This site is closer to Las Vegas than Death Valley is, however, it’s prone to more light pollution. Regardless, it’s very versatile and well-suited for night photography and light painting. This shot took place there. To this date, it remains my favorite.
What are some of your big goals in photography?
Eventually I want to monetize my work. No, I currently do not get paid for doing what I do in terms of photography, traveling or hiking. To be frank, I think NOT being paid for it is what has made me enjoy it so much. Everything is done out of passion and fun and not for a paycheck. Regardless, monetizing it and focusing solely on that will keep me from going crazy and overwork myself (this may be a hobby but it does take a lot out of me at times).
Who are some of the people you look up to in the industry, and how do they inspire you and your work?
Eric Pare (@ericparephoto)!! The legend and originator of the tube light painting. Zach Alan (@zshtx), the originator of “fire painting”, Derek Culver (@derekvculver), a mad skilled astrophotographer and artist who is a constant source of inspiration and, finally, Kristopher Foot (@halogi) for his innovative light painting and genius light orb game. There are tons of others landscape and travel photographers that I follow as well as the light painting community as a whole – they all play a role in what I do.
Follow Brian on Instagram: @remy.montiel
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