Light artist of the night
“My mind thinks and dreams in light,” says JanLeonardo Woellert about his art. The light photographer and pyrotechnician is out and about almost every night.
Whether out in the wilds or in unusual buildings, he tirelessly seeks out spectacular subjects and transforms them by using a range of LED light sources and existing light. His choreographed movement patterns create new, mysterious worlds.
For JanLeonardo, the heritage-protected Beelitz-Heilstätten sanatorium complex near Berlin – familiar to many as a film set for Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, or also for Valkyrie featuring Tom Cruise – is a paradise for his light art. “Unfortunately, there have been a number of accidents there in recent years, and the owner now only rarely grants special permission to access the site,” Woellert says. The Orange World photograph shows a section of the entry to the facility’s bathhouse. Using just a single light source, the artist breathes new life into the empty space, with light and shadows coming from various directions. A yellow transparent sheet in front of an LED flashlight in combination with a high Kelvin setting on the camera create a warmth that elicits a convivial mood in the beholder. “The Distagon T* 2,8/21 proved to be the perfect tool for this. The detail and sharpness that extend right into the far corners of the picture – including on the full-format sensor of a 5D MK III – are outstanding,” says Woellert enthusiastically.
Choreographed photography, developed by Woellert a year ago in collaboration with Carl Zeiss and Canon, is all about planning and executing numerous steps in succession. All of the activities occur during a single exposure between the opening and closing of the shutter. The art lies in precisely anticipating and exploiting the various levels of sharpness and exposure, the rotation of the camera sensor level, and the control of the speed and light range. To generate the result, several light sources at various positions and with frequencies of varying strength are attached to the rotating body, which takes on the guise of the UFO. Filters are also used in front of the lamps and the camera.
The fireworks look as if they have been fired directly from the tower – yet that was not the case. “Flexible Light Control” is the name of a new technique that JanLeonardo Woellert has developed for a fireworks manufacturer. As the technique is still being developed, Woellert is keeping the more detailed tricks a closely guarded secret.
Woellert ignited the fireworks directly behind the castle to achieve a fanned-out, irregular pattern. In the second phase of the choreography, he illuminated the surroundings with an LED flashlight (achieving lighting ranges of up to 800 meters/2,600 ft). Here, the Distagon T* 2/35 captures every spark in sharp detail, right down to the tiniest detail in the sky and on the ground.
The cornstalks have a golden radiance and the tree’s rich green leaves glisten in the night. These fine details are clearly distinguishable, carefully crafted by the photographer’s skillful lighting and the outstanding imaging quality of the Distagon T* 2,8/21. JanLeonardo explains: “Illuminating and accentuating a scene means above all movement.” A mistake that novices often make, he says, is to stand behind the camera and light the entire scene — the trees, surfaces and backgrounds — from that position. But in slightly wet, misty or hazy conditions, this lighting method immediately produces “light trails” in the sky, like searchlights, and leads to overexposure. By constantly moving, however, and by quickly switching the LED flashlight on and off, there is never too much light on any one spot, and the sky remains clear. This technique, known as “tiptoeing,” was developed by Woellert some years ago. In very humid air or even in a snowfall, light and darkness alternate in the air and cancel each another out. By switching the lamps on and off alternately, no overexposure effects are produced in the air. In order to produce a uniform illumination of a tree, it must be illuminated in a semicircle, covering an angle of 180°. This prevents one-sided shadows, and the trunk and branches are then illuminated unevenly and naturally. The exposure time of this shot was around 15 minutes. The aperture was set to f/6.3 and the ISO value to 100. The glow on the horizon, which comes from the lights of the city of Bremen, become a bright orange in the picture due to the set color temperature of 8000K.
When it comes to the illumination of this limestone cave, you could be forgiven for thinking the light source emanates from the background of the entrance to the cave. But appearances deceive, which is what makes this shot so special. Woellert positioned several lights in the cave in such as way as to convey the impression of natural daylight. It was a stormy day, and waves crashed into the cave from outside – what appears as a white mist is, in fact, sea spray. The impression of mist is elicited by the long time exposure (3–4 minutes). The Distagon T*2,8/21 is entirely in its element here, accentuating the fine, algae-strewn rock textures in rich, colorful detail.
Belchite is a ghost town in the Spanish province of Saragossa. This photo illustrates the ruins of the San Martin church during weather such as the artist had never experienced before. There was neither a breath of wind nor a drop of rain, yet the thunder and lightning directly overhead unleashed a breathtaking spectacle in the night sky. The circumstances gave JanLeonardo the opportunity to exploit the virtues of the new Distagon T* 2,8/15 to the max. Thanks to the extreme angular view, he was able to capture the lightning’s full grandeur from a dramatic viewpoint as it stretched across the approximately 80-meter-260-feet-wide church ruins. A long exposure time, perfect lighting and cloud structures “frozen” by the lightning give the image the desired spatial depth.
About Jan Leonardo Woellert
JanLeonardo Woellert developed light art photography rather by chance from his penchant for night and long-exposure photography. Today, he is one of the world’s leading artists dedicated to what can be described as “painting with choreographed light.” With meticulousness and passion, the 42-year-old Bremen native has perfected the artistic application of a wide variety of light sources. He was awarded the “German Prize for Scientific Photography” at the end of 2008. His customers include companies such as fashion label Diesel, Nike, Mercedes-Benz and Japan Tobacco, and the rock band Coldplay. He is also a speaker, author and specialist writer, writing for Profi-Foto, the Fine Art Printer, c’t special, Digital Foto and Foto Magazin, among others.
Portrait of JanLeonardo Woellert on Deutsche Welle TV (German)