There is no Photoshop trickery happening here. This image was captured in one take using a single long exposure photograph. Blah blah blah blah, or you can just watch this video. Jump below for the details.
This large scale light painting of a Christmas tree was made in our backyard. On the ground the tree was 55 feet tall and about 25 feet wide. It appears short and fat because of the angle of the photograph. I had the camera, and video camera, in a stairwell window at the back of our house. I’m at least four storeys (someone asked, that is in fact the correct spelling) in the air because our property drops quite a bit. We are in the mountains. But the back lot is nice and flat. I used rope to lay out the tree and enlisted the family and some conveniently located neighbors to move the lights around.
The kids were in the middle of the tree swinging the light sabers (see below) in circles to make the “ornaments” and Mars walked back and forth to make a “garland.” The Moms (Mary and Jill) made the tree outline by waving two light sabers each as they walked along the rope, invariably racing at the end of each take to finish in time. I used a kitchen timer and called out the remaining seconds.
I wanted to do some light painting myself so I took the tripod and camera outside and made some “Nöels” in green and red. Nöel (Which I now know should be spelled “noël” – oof, embarrassing. I was in the dark!) is way easier than trying to write “Merry Christmas,” backward mind you, in the dark, before the time runs out and the shutter closes. Plus, Nöel is so short I was able to turn the light on and off for each letter, and add the umlaut over the “o.” I put a strip of four of these inside the card, along the top.
We did something similar for the family shot on the back of the card. For this one I used another camera, mounted on separate stand, just for the flash. That way I could move the lights around to make the frame, then get back into position before the second camera flashed, which would make us visible in the photo taken by the first camera. Staggering the timers on the two cameras so that the flash would happen after I was done drawing, but before the shutter closed on the first camera was a challenge. Have I mentioned we were in the dark? The image came out too dark on the card but the original looks good.
This was a fun card to make, but I was stressing about the execution. I mentioned to my friend Gary a couple months ago that I was worried about the logistics and he said something like “only you would have a Christmas card with logistical challenges.” Why do things the easy way? Walk hard.
More post performance photo fun:
See more of our light painting pictures at Flickr.
Camera: Canon G9, 15 second shutter time, ISO 100, some other stuff I can’t remember
Lights: Light sabers from FlashingBlinkyLights.com, only $36 for 12 (Note to parents: some items at FBL are PG13); one regular flashlight for the garland. Sourcing some good lights was probably the toughest part. I looked everywhere, poi stuff, glow sticks, gels, etc. This idea needed large swaths of light and these sabers were perfect, and cheap!
People: 2 moms, 6 kids (one toddler helping Paris), and a gigantic whining dog with me in the stairwell