LPWA PNW 2017 Meetup
Over the weekend of July 21-23, 2017 a group of light painters converged upon Mount St Helens, the site of the most destructive volcanic eruption in American human history, for a Light Painting World Alliance Meet-Up. The vast majority of attendees were American, followed in count by Canadians from nearby British Columbia, many of whom had recently attended the LPWA BC Meetup. Other countries represented were Lithuania, Ireland, and England!
My only previous experience with meet-ups that I did not myself organize was the one in Rome earlier this year. Rome brought together even more countries and a whole slew of languages. English ended up being the common denominator although a significant number of the attendees were far more comfortable in their native languages of Italian or Spanish. For this meet-up, every participant save one claimed English as their first language.
The Team and Location
Heading up the meet-up was Chris Bauer. Chris had his girlfriend Kristen Schlecht and co-creator Bill Burk as part of his core team. For this particular meet-up, the challenges involved finding a couple good places to shoot, claiming a campsite, coordinating one or more group images, and then helping people make arrangements to get there.
The locations at the Rome meet-up I attended were pretty ancient and epic with its ancient structures and history. This meetup has a different take on “epic”. The volcano last erupted in 1980 and for many of us it was the first time seeing this legendary geologic presence. Nancy and I had driven in past Mount Hood and didn’t get to the Mount Rainier, although people arriving from the northwest would have.
Chris went up to the camp location a week early to both claim the campsite and to clean it up. There is no cell signal or internet up there and occasionally he would head 20-30 minutes down the mountain to check in. Slowly people started to drift in. As in Rome, there were a lot of first-time connections made coupled with a lot of reunions. Many people who had attended the nearby BC meet-up were there. Myself, the only people I knew were the ones I’d previously met in Colorado and, in one other case, Rome.
Tents spanned the area around a central campfire. Parking was a little tight, trees often getting in the way of conveniently being able to turn around, but everyone managed. The weather was gorgeous and the bugs weren’t bad at all.
The event was technically running from Friday the 21st through Sunday the 23rd but a few people arrived on Tuesday, and even more arrived on Wednesday. We didn’t arrive until Thursday but I’d be lying to say that I wasn’t experiencing some serious FOMO that previous night. Mack Murdoc, Paul Burns, Skylar Keck joined up with Chris, Kristen, Bill, and Bill’s wife Beth on Wednesday to get the party started.
Arrival, and the Tunnel
Mountain roads and maps can be tricky. We came up the east side and got to within ten minutes of our destination, per our mapped route. The last leg, however, turned out to be a very bumpy gravel road (with large rocks on it) that was actually closed down. This resulted in over an hour detour for us. Eventually, we made it, we set up camp, and that night the entire group walked a mere 100 yards down the road to the first amazing destination: The Tunnel.
From the road, you wouldn’t bat an eye or know what lay underneath, but Chris and Kristen once had time to kill and stumbled upon this location, a ten foot tall corrugated metal tunnel that ran down a mountain run-off and beneath the road. The run-off itself was scenic with rocks lining most of the way, sand in places, and large rocks on the side, but the tunnel itself was the main attraction. It lent itself to many spins of burning steel wool as well as other forms of light painting.
On a personal note, this night was actually my first time spinning steel wool. After sending Mack running and spinning over and around my 360 camera he talked me into giving it a go. I’d resisted this staple of light painting as I had seen a lot of images that looked very similar but having actually tried it I can say that even if it a shot ends up looking similar to another that came before it, it’s still a lot fun!! I cast aside my doubts and let the 360 aspect of what we were doing inspire me to try it and I’m glad I did.
The tunnel would be a destination for people on each of the remaining nights.
Down the road the opposite way from camp was a parking area near an open field, then a little farther was a bridge. After the tunnel, on Thursday night, we all went out that way to shoot. Nancy and I followed Bill into the open area and shot some 360 degree shots. Bill rejoined the group and by the time we realized that we weren’t actually at our destination we were separated. The short of it is that we got some great field/star shots and everyone else enjoyed the bridge.
Chris had initially greeted us at the camp by showing us a shot from the bridge the previous night. He had created a neat shot and then there was a streak of light that didn’t fit with the rest of the image. That was Chris fleeing the scene as he was attacked by bats!
The rest of the group created shots, Skylar Keck stayed still like a mannequin, and much light was thrown.
Nancy and I didn’t make it to the bridge but while looking for that part of the crew we bumped into a few people on the road doing a combination of astrophotography and light painting. We got to share some ideas and experience and more art was made.
Lava Flow Hike and Friday
Nature is a beast. Chris and Bill led us on a hike to an area down the mountain that had been cleared by lava flow from the 1980 eruption. It was a short hike, but a stark visual reminder of what can happen on this planet that humans can’t control. We hung out by a winding creek amidst the rocks and had a pretty chill social time.
Afterwards we had a relaxed time at camp as more people drifted in. Chris and Bill and Mack spent time working with Paul on how to turn him into the Mountain King the next day. Some of the group returned to the tunnel.
We had initially conceived of doing a large-scale shot in an open field area but that didn’t manifest. The other group shot opportunity was to be the next day, and we were all set to start the hike at 10am the next morning.
So……. we actually left camp around noon, piling into cars and driving to a parking area a few miles away. The hosts knew what lay before us but the rest of us had either glossed over or downplayed Chris’s words of warning that this was going to be a rough hike. We soon learned that fact firsthand.
A normal three-mile walk isn’t that bad. A three-mile hike, where more than half of it is through the woods on a ‘not really a path’, whilc carrying camera gear is a lot harder than that. I think that was the fact that most of us overlooked. Bill and Beth had gone on ahead to mark the cave entrance and by the time we had arrived at the close cave entrance everyone was pooped.
Bill, however, wasn’t there waiting for us. After enjoying a respite from the hot sun in the cooling breeze coming out of the cave, Chris went off in search of Bill. You can predict the script from here, as Bill returned shortly thereafter with no sign of Chris. We waited a while longer, nobody was complaining about the extra rest, and then we decided to head to the other entrance. Chris returned after we left to find nobody there, and eventually we all met up at the other entrance near where we were going to shoot.
We were drenched in sweat, and stepping into the cool cave was heavenly. The ground underneath was jagged, sometimes it was dry and sometimes damp. Many of us had never been in a full-on underground cave before and we took it all in. Twenty people, along with our gear, made our way into the lava tube.
Hall of the Mountain King
The moment had arrived and we got to work. Kristen had created three headpieces for us to create silhouettes of goblins. Paul, with his long beard, was a natural for the Mountain King. Sergey Churkin had conceived of the original shot but was unable to attend this meetup. Nevertheless, we wanted to nail the shot in his absence.
It took a while for everyone to get situated. There was room to move around but it got a little crowded once 8-10 tripods were set up. Aaron Schoenherr got ready to record the shot on Pablo, I set up my prism.
Usually we don’t shoot in absolute pitch black, usually there is the slightest amount of light from… somewhere. This time was going to be different. When all of the flashlights were off it was more than black. It was BLACK black. The shot was going to require a couple of mid-shot lens covers in order for us to turn on a light for people to get to the places they needed to be, otherwise it was going to be quite dangerous.
The scene was choreographed and we were ready to start. The first take was executed and clocked in around ten and a half minutes. It was really well done! The only thing we wanted to change was to bring out more of the cave itself. We then did a second shot, better choreographed to only require one lens covering instead of two, and the flow was much better. This time we lit more of the cave but we ended up liking the composition of the first shot more. This one was around ten minutes as well. We decided that one of those two shots would work.
Here are two captures of that scene:
Hall of the Mountain King 360
I previously mentioned the time it took to execute the shot because the next thing to happen was to create a 360 degree light painting shot of the same elements. 360 cameras aren’t as customizable as normal cameras yet and they pretty much don’t have bulb mode. When I announced “Let’s do the 360 shot now, and we only have 32 seconds to execute it” the words hung in the air, much in the way that bricks don’t.
The dynamic of the shot had changed though, in ways that were going to help the shot. While the Mountain King was in front of the camera, the goblins were no longer between the King and the camera and were instead on the other side facing the second lens. We could all light simultaneously and we didn’t need any lens-capping. The biggest challenge was going to be for Mack and Bill to light our Mountain King, Paul, in a fraction of the time they previously used.
We succeeded. See it here as a 360 image or below as a 2d version of it!
I was part of the last third of the group to make our way through the cave, back to the first entrance we’d seen. Most of the way was comfortable but there were stretches that were too low to stand, or even really crouch if you’re tall, and especially if you’re carrying a camera bag, a light bag, and a tripod. On the way out, and while the first part of the group was awaiting the latter part of the group, more pictures were taken, but not by me. Here are a couple:
The hike back was also rough, but at least this time we knew what we were in for. We made it back to the cars, then drove back to camp and collapsed for a bit.
To prepare for the trip I had purchased a generator with the sole purpose of being able to bring LightMonster to the forest gathering. Later that evening we set up a projector and a laptop and got to experiment with the live light painting system I’ve been working on. It was fun lighting and being lit, and eventually the evening turned into a light painting version of Pictionary! If you don’t know the game it’s basically where you have to get people to draw clues until the answer is guessed. It’s kind of hard resuming an air-drawing once you’ve stopped the initial draw but a lot of fun was had.
Other participants returned to the tunnel after that and pretty much stayed up all night. Some of their images are displayed above in the Tunnel section.
Roll the Credits
Sunday morning rolled around and we said our goodbyes, winding our way back to destinations in four countries.
A big shoutout to Chris Bauer and his team for making this happen. Here are the credits for the Mountain King shot:
Additional PNW Team-
Jeri Lynn (WA, USA), Derek Lawrence (Canada, BC), Adriana Michima (OR, USA), Joe Salmans (OR, USA) Andrius Sprindys (Lithuania) , Dan Whitaker (UK), Kyle Wirkkala(WA, USA), Patrick Collier (OR, USA), Sarah LaFleur (OR, USA), Jonathan Lloyd (WA, USA), Christina Vasquez (KS, USA).
Kristen Schlecht (WA, USA)
Sergey B. Churkin (Russia)