Light Painting a Lamborghini: The Night I Froze My Ass Off

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Light Painting a Lamborghini: The Night I Froze My Ass Off

I don’t update my blog anywhere near as much as I used to and I hope to change that in 2018. 

This week marks the fourth time I’ve done a revamp of my personal website. As times change, I try to keep up with design styles of websites so my business doesn’t look like it’s wearing a technological leisure suit. Many of my current photo galleries don’t reflect my most recent work and there are a lot of great photos I shot years ago that are worthy of being samples of my work but I just haven’t gotten around to putting the photos online. Shame on me.

As I’m going through folder after folder of photos I came across one that I never got around to putting on my website, on my Facebook page, or anywhere else, which is really stupid because of how much work into this photograph. Last year I decided to finish a photography project that began seven years prior. The post-processing of this project was so daunting that let a lot of hard work sit on a hard-drive, untouched for years. Not long ago, I decided to finally conclude what I started so long ago.

Back in 2010 I had a contract with a local exotic car rental company who wanted me to get some creative photos of their fleet to use in their brochures, on their website, and so forth. Of course, I talked them into loaning me some of the cars for a few days because, as I explained to them, it would take a considerable amount of time to move the cars to different locations in which to shoot. So every few weeks, I’d get a loaner of a new Ferrari, Rolls Royce, or a Bentley. Unbeknownst to me, I was the talk of my neighborhood for a while According to my next door neighbor, the hubbub in the area was that either I was a drug dealer or that I recently hit the lottery.

One day I got a call that the company (who unfortunately is no longer in business) had acquired a shiny new, green Lamborghini. They wanted a lot of photos of this thing and I was more than happy to oblige them. Needless to say, I really racked up the miles in this thing. I did shoots out in the dessert, around the city, or anywhere else I could take this Italian beauty. (Photos from several other shoots I did with this car have been published in major magazines, used on commercial projects, and even once was hanging on the wall of a local photo lab. It’s gotten a lot of mileage (no pun intended). All that was fine, but then I got a call from one of my best friends and fellow colleagues, Adam Shane. His suggestion is that we do some sort of light painting shoot with the car…something neither of us had ever done on a big scale before. I LOVED the idea…I was in, but I also had no idea what I was getting involved with when I said “yes”.

Shot of the Lamborghini at one of my favorite hidden spots outside of Las Vegas where I like to do a lot of my car and motorcycle shoots. Using this photo, I was able to make the photo below:

 

In Photoshop, the background was completely masked out and a new one was created.

For those of you wondering what “light painting” is, it’s a technique in photography where you typically do long exposures of a subject at night, using light as method of “painting” during that exposure to create a certain effect. Some photos are accomplished with just one photo in the camera, ours however was much more complicated. The effect we were going for was to illuminate small portions of the car for each of what would become many different photos that we would later combine in Photoshop. The problem with Las Vegas is that it’s a VERY bright city at night, as anyone who has ever traveled here will tell you. So much so, that we figured we needed to get way out of the city to accomplish our mission. We chose to do our project on Kyle Canyon Road, on top of Mount Charleston. It was the last night I had access to the car and we had a general idea of what we were doing but the whole idea was planned out in less than a few hours. We were two creative on a mission…not a well-planned out mission, but a mission nonetheless: to get some amazing photos of a Lamborghini at night! Armed with two cameras, a laptop, and a flimsy flashlight duct-taped to a painters pole, we were off!

Cars like this are not exactly known for their fuel economy. Here I am filling up the tank of our Lamborghini for our trip up to the mountains.

It was December of 2010, and while we had a general idea of where wanted to shot, we never truly location-scouted for this shoot at all. So there we were, my friend driving his car, and me driving a $250,000 exotic sports car, looking for a place to take photos at 10 o’clock at night, when it was completely black outside, where the temperature was 10 degrees below freezing. We drove around up near the Mount Charleston hotel looking for a place that had snow, trees, a wide enough area to shoot in, and where some sleepy driver coming down the hill wouldn’t smash into us. Eventually, we found our spot. We had trees, a nice shooting angle, a view of stars in the sky, and some snow. While the road looked terrible, we figured we would just fix that in post.

“I just realized I forgot to bring a jacket” I said to my friend. “Ugh…now that I think about it, I didn’t bring one either!” he replied. At least I was wearing something with long sleeves. He was donning cargo pants and a t-shirt. So there we were, setting up cameras on tripods, which we tethered into a laptop inside his car (with the engine and heater running). “Tethering” is a technique where you attach a camera to a computer either through a cable or wireless connection so as to have the photos transfer from the camera to the computer in real time. This allows you to see exactly what you just shot on a bigger screen so you can make adjustments as necessary. Some software allows you to control the camera remotely as well, adjusting settings and snapping the photo as needed, which is what we were doing.

So there we were, staring at this car in what little starlight we had available to us. We played Rock Paper Scissors to see who was going to get stuck in the cold first, and the other Adam lost, so out he went into the cold to start the light painting process. One shot at a time, we took turns using a flashlight on a boom arm to illuminate one small portion of the car. For 15 seconds the camera shutter stayed open while we waived a flashlight over a corner of a fender, or a tire, or a portion of the hood…all around the car we did this. For the interior, the dome light in the Lamborghini wasn’t sufficient to get us good light in there so we crouched inside (as best we could inside a Lamborghini) with our flashlight and waived it back and forth inside to get the right look. Of course, we shot different photos of the car with lights on and off and brake lights on and off too, so we could see what that would look like when we did the editing. It wasn’t long though before we ran into our next problem…batteries. Little did we know that the lithium-ion batteries that our cameras used don’t respond to cold temperatures very well. We were shooting with long exposures, which means that the shutter in the camera needs to be held open for a longer than normal time which takes a lot of power. That, mixed with the outside temperature, we shot about 10 photos before our batteries died. Not good. While we each carry extra batteries, at this rate we never would be able to finish this shoot with how fast they were dying. After some rummaging in his car, my friend discovered the thing that would save us…HAND WARMERS! We broke the seal and attached them to the cameras with rubber bands. The warmth from the hand warmers wound up saving us that night.

After 4 hours of photography of the car in the sub-freezing temperatures, it then it occurred to us that we needed to get the surroundings too. At first we started with our flashlight, but then that died and we had no more D-Cell batteries for it. So, we turned on the headlights to his car, and proceeded to drive the length of our patch of highway to get the trees, the road, and everything around us lit. Our last photo of the set was taking a shot of the beautiful star-filled sky just before the sun started to rise. When we were finished, the last photo was shot at 4:41 a.m.

Here are some of the many photos we shot of the light-painting of our Lamborghini. Notice some of the photos where you see one of us with the flashlight, which was later masked out in that layer of the finished image. Our mission here was to get a photo of just one portion of the car:

On this shot, I captured some snow in the treads of the tire, which I later wound up removing.

Photo I shot of the interior with the dome light on and a flashlight lighting up the dashboard. Notice you can see how dark the sky was behind the car.

NOW COMES THE HARD PART

Neither of us had ever done anything on this magnitude before. The only thing we had to go on was some advanced tutorial on light painting that we saw on a photography blog, buried in the deep, dark recesses of the web. I got buried in other projects but after a few weeks, my friend finished his version of the photo. All I heard during the process through was how much of a pain it was to do. It was so discouraging that no matter how much he taunted and encouraged me to finish up my version, I procrastinated doing it for years.

Fast-forward to 2017. I’m home sick with a cold and I’m bored out of my mind. I didn’t want to leave my house and I had caught up on all my work. “Maybe I should work on that Lambo photo?” I thought to myself, and that’s what I did. My friend was right, it was a huge pain in the butt. Everything I was told about how to work on this photo was true. The endless layer masking in Photoshop, color adjustments, etc. When working in Photoshop, one of the most common techniques is to use layers when you are editing or creating arwork. Using layers is like adding transparent film (think of the film your teachers used on an overhead projector when you were in school) where each layer has a part of a drawing, a photograph, or an adjustment on the layer below it. “Layer Masking” is a technique where you mask off a piece of a layer to reveal the layer below that without destroying information on the layer you are masking. This way you can go back and adjust things in that layer again later on. In the case of our Lamborghini, it wasn’t a few layers we were working with, it was a LOT of layers. 112 of them to be exact. Of course, the more layers you add, the larger your file gets which means the slower your computer runs when editing such a behemoth.

A small sample of the many Photoshop layers used in the creating of the finished image.

When we were taking our photos of the car using the flashlight, every single photo was designed to just use a small portion of the overall scene, so when we waived the flashlight over a small corner of the fender, all we needed for that layer was the fender. The rest of the scene got masked out. Using this method, we combined layer after layer after layer and after about 20 hours of work, you could see an entire car, almost like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. After that, it was layering in the road, the background, etc. The road, being dirty and full of oil spots, required an additional hour or two to clean that up as well as fixing other blemishes to the photo I didn’t like. I made one version with the headlights on and didn’t like it, so the finished photo just has the running lights on to show more detail in the headlight housing, which I thought looked really interesting.

By the time I was finished, I was in for 32 hours of staring at a computer screen editing this photo. Finished, the final file size was 1.1 gigabytes. I’m really happy with the result, and I gained a wealth of knowledge on photography and post-processing during the process which I would later use on other projects that were nowhere near as complex. It’s a really cool photo but all things said and done, I’m pretty confident I’ll never want to do anything like this again…it was just way too cold out.  Here is the finished photo:

 

Incidentally, the person I did this with is now my business partner and he and I have owned one of the largest corporate photography companies in Las Vegas for several years now, www.lasvegascorporatephotographers.com. If you’re looking to have some advanced photography and Photoshop work done though, please don’t hesitate to contact me today!

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