June 19, 2009

David McAleavy's interview, by Jan Murphy

with David McAleavy (Scotland)

By Jan Murphy
UdA Art Editor

David welcome to Univers d'Artistes !

I have been looking through your amazingly diverse gallery and noticed that, along with the wonderful infrared images, it appears that I could say you specialise in lightpainting.
Would that be a fair statement or is this something you are particularly interested in at present ?

DM - Thanks. I think obsession might be a better word, but that's always been the case with me. I've been lightpainting since 2002 and before that I was utterly obsessed with Kodak HIE Infrared film, which is sadly now discontinued. When I heard that piece of news I finally got around to converting my old Nikon D100 to infrared, so that old obsession is returning - with the added advantage that I'm lightpainting in infrared too.

Art Model and Actress Chelsea Darling

Art Model Askara

I would love to hear some of your techniques - how you work with a concept through to creation.

DM -

For me photography is a visual medium, so I like things to be visually compelling and hopefully memorable.

The basic idea behind a shot will usually be quite simple - a model in a spiral of light, glowing guitar strings, Pandora's box - whatever springs to mind. Working out how to achieve it sometimes takes a while, but once that's done the objective is to capture just one image. I never show out-takes or B shots or different angles. For me that dilutes the impact of the shot.

Looking at your gallery, I see you also do a collection of fine art figure such as 'Repose' which is a stunning b&w image. I believe you told me this model was due a lie down after a hard set - please share with us what that was ?


DM - That shot was taken immediately after I shot the poledancer image, Revolution, so the model had spent about an hour throwing herself around a pole. It was immensely hard work, but she kept at it until we nailed it. A lot of things had to come together all at the same time for the exposure to work. After that we took Repose, and infrared nude shot, which is very simply lit with a single sweep of a torch.

One of the things I like most about lightpainting is the ability to be very precise with the placement of the light on shots like this.

Direction, intensity and placement can all be varied along the length of the figure both to highlight and to conceal.

Art Model Chrissie Red

Art Model Nicole

I love your style and really feel that it is completely unique and something I haven't played with yet but hope to. Have you any tips for beginners ? Anything to be aware of and so forth ?

DM - Thank you. I've written a lightpainting tutorial that answers the practical side of that question - mcaleavy.org/techniques/lightpainting - but as a more general tip I would say be prepared for things to take quite a long time. It might take several hours to get just one image, so it pays to be somewhat single-minded and have a very patient model.

"Modelling Light"
Art Model Charlotte

What do you say to the models you work with or do they see from your portfolio and website what they will be contributing to your work ?

DM - I don't really have a particular approach to that. I've shot professionals, amateurs and friends. I do prefer working with people who have an interest in the work that I'm doing though.

Do you ever run out of ideas ? You really do seem to be such a creative for different concepts, something I love about your work, it all feels fresh.

DM - I don't think it's really possible to run out of ideas - there are just too many techniques I haven't had a chance to explore yet. Wet Plate Collodion is top of my long-term list. Often it's just a lack of time or a missing element that means they sit on the shelf for a while.

I would love to hear about "Revolution" as that to me, is amazing and I'm sure the readers here would enjoy learning from you.

Art Model Jade

DM - Ah, that's quit a good example of an idea that that did sit on the shelf for a couple of years.

I've shot several images with that technique and shooting a poledancer was something I really wanted to do. Unfortunately I didn't know any poledancers until I met Jade, who also happens to have a pole. In the end it turned out to be a lot more difficult than I had anticipated.

She's wrapped in a wire that glows when powered by a small battery pack so that as she moves in the dark she leaves a trail of light behind her.

To get the shot she had to make two revolutions around the pole and hit her mark in the dark so that I could the lightpaint her into the image with a torch. It took quite a few takes, but she really nailed it in the end.

David, would you be so kind to choose 3 of your favourite images for me and share with me, why they stand out so much for you as an image/photograph/artwork ?

DM - Sticking purely with nudes, I would pick these three. I'm not sure I can really explain why they stand out for me though :

Art Model ERosanne

For me what makes this one, apart from Erosanne, is the colour of the light. A lot of that seems to have to do with the age of the bulb, and here it was just perfect.

"Electroshock Therapy"

This is one of my first experiments with blue light. I was given a blue LED keyring and I immediately wanted to use it to light an image. Blue turned out to be quite a difficult colour to work with so I don't use it a lot, but it really brought this one to life.

Art Model xskinx

This was a grab shot taken with a Holga on Ilford HP5+ in the last five minutes of the shoot. There wasn't even time to lace up the corset...

I would like to ask you if you have anything you wish to share with the readers before we complete our interview ?

I'm currently working on a new high fashion magazine, Posed, due to launch this September. It's a very different thing for me and I'm really excited about it.

A book of my lightpainting work"Flashlight" is available from
It contains 53 images representing 26 of my favourite models, without whom none of this would be possible.

Thank you so much for your time, your invaluable tips and for enthusing quite a few of us that havent' already to go and play with lightpainting. I look forward to seeing more of your creations in the near future.

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