Light Graffiti Artists: Exclusive Interview with MRI

mri ryan warnberg and michelle mcswain light graffiti

Call it lightpainting, light drawing, or light graffiti – whatever the label, the work of NYC duo MRI is fun, energetic, and chock full of awesome.  Using a Canon 5D, a wide angle lens, 10-30 second exposures and lots of crazy lights, the team creates amazing images in which streaks and streams of light take center stage.  WebUrbanist recently had the opportunity to talk to Michelle McSwain and Ryan Warnberg, the two halves of MRI, about their unique photography method.

WU: How many tries does it usually take to get to the image you were hoping for?
MRI: Quite a few…we will start with an idea and keep shooting it until it feels right.

WU: How and why did you start doing light drawing photography?
Ryan: I had seen some lightpainting online at one point, and I fell in love…the only problem is I didn’t know how to do it in front of a camera.  I had just started dating Michelle, who was already an amazing photographer, so I asked her one day “can we do this?  Is this even possible?” and she knew exactly what to do.  So I got us our first LED light and we got to work.
Michelle: Yea, I remember the day Ryan sent me some images online to check out and we were both hooked. I brought all my camera equipment to his rooftop one night and that’s where we made those first images of the gun and wings.
light gun mri light drawing photography
mri light wings lightpainting photography

WU: Do you always have a goal in mind when you start shooting, or are your photographs more spontaneous in nature?
Michelle: We usually start out with some what of a vague idea, but most of the time it is just trial and error.
Ryan: Yeah, we just get in front of the camera, and the ideas start flowing.  It’s a blast.  And as we keep shooting, we just get more and more inspired, to the point that we are bouncing ideas off each other all night long.

[Be sure to click on each of the photos below for a larger view and the artists’ comments about the picture.]

MRI: After that first night, our big idea for MRI (Michelle and Ryan Illumination) was to include other people, to offer our services for hire and let other people know how easy and fun it really is. We don’t think of art as a lofty, unattainable thing, we want to offer the opportunity to make some memorable images to everyone. Last year, we had the opportunity to do a piece for Lyor Cohen, VP of Warner Music Group, we did some ads for a light company, and we really have the most fun when we include other people, getting them in front of the camera to flail some lights around and have a good time. You can see more of our work on our MRI blog at as well as our flickr at–r–i.  You can contact us at mrilightpainting [at] gmail [dot] com.