For a commercial assignment I recently worked on, the client asked for a specific shot of the gate at the entrance to their estate. I had already submitted several shots of the gate, but it was open in all of them. The client asked for a shot with the gate closed, so it would show the M on the gate.
As I try to do with everything, I wanted to give the client something different. I knew if I shot the gate at night it would be different by default from what the client had seen before or from what was expected, but that alone wouldn’t make it good enough for me. I thought of the idea of making the M stand out prominently in a glow. And I wanted to do something with shadows and light rays. If I shot the gate during a heavy fog, I could backlight the gate and get the light rays and I could shine a flashlight on the M to make it stand out. But as is too often the case with assignments, time is not your friend. I couldn’t wait for a foggy night.
So I created my own fog. I always carry a bag of smoke bombs in my truck. (Doesn’t everyone?) I attached a powerful flashlight to a tripod behind the gate, shining directly on the M to backlight it. Then I lit a couple of smoke bombs and laid them on the ground in front of the tripod. The smoke caused the light rays that appear to emanate from the M. The shadows on the ground would happen with or without the smoke, but for the final shot to work the way I wanted, I needed those rays in the air.
In separate exposures, I shined a flashlight directly on the M to make the central portion of it stand out, and I light painted the poles supporting the gate. I stacked all the exposures as layers in Photoshop and changed the Blend Mode to Lighten. I also intentionally shot during the first hints of morning twilight, to get that deep blue in the sky.
I should mention that I had a vision of the final image in my mind long before I went out to shoot it. This wasn’t a case of making whatever shot I could, but rather going out to complete the vision. I had worked out all of the possible scenarios before I got there, so once I started shooting, it would go as smoothly as possible and I’d be certain to get the shot before losing the twilight. The completed image looks exactly as I had envisioned it.
The lesson is always prepare your mind and your gear ahead of time whenever it is practical to do so. And make sure you always have a bag of smoke bombs in your car.
backlighting, blue hour, commercial assignment, dawn, flashlights, light painting, smoke bombs, twilight